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Azure Stack hardware bundles emerge for channel

Microsoft Azure Stack, the company's hybrid cloud platform, could provide channel partner opportunities among customers who need an on-premises instance of the Azure public cloud.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Microsoft took the wraps off Azure Stack, and company officials contended the technology is more than just training wheels for the public cloud.

The company used the occasion of this week's Microsoft Inspire conference to announce the official launch of its hybrid cloud platform: Customers can begin ordering Azure Stack hardware bundles from Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise or Lenovo for September delivery. At last year's Microsoft partner event in Toronto, Azure Stack was a technical preview available for download.

Azure Stack lets channel partners and their customers extend Microsoft Azure, the company's public cloud offering, to private settings, such as service-provider or end-customer data center.

Julia White, corporate vice president for Azure and security marketing at Microsoft, said Azure Stack is built for customers focused on hybrid cloud deployment as a "durable, long-term state," as opposed to simply a gateway to a public cloud. Citing Microsoft internal research, White said 84% of customers have a hybrid cloud strategy, adding that 91% of customers view the hybrid cloud approach as a long-term venture.

"It's not just a migration path to the cloud," White said of Azure Stack.

The partner opportunity with Azure Stack includes the ability to create applications and services that can be deployed and managed both on Azure and Azure Stack, White noted. In addition, colocation and hosting providers can take Azure Stack and run it in their data centers, she said.

Azure Stack use cases

It's not just a migration path to the cloud.
Julia Whitecorporate vice president for Azure and security marketing at Microsoft

Use cases for Microsoft's hybrid cloud platform include edge and disconnected environments such as cruise ships that need to run applications in a disconnected way. Regulatory compliance is another possibility: A company with data sovereignty issues, for example, can run a local instance of Azure in its home country. Microsoft also pointed to legacy application modernization as another Azure Stack use case.

Microsoft also disclosed pay-as-you-use Azure Stack pricing, which starts at $0.008 per virtual CPU, per hour for a Windows Server virtual machine and $0.006 per gigabyte, per month for Azure Blob Storage.

Tony Safoian, president and CEO at SADA Systems, a cloud consulting firm in Los Angeles, said his company already uses Azure Stack for some customers. He said the ability to mimic Azure in an on-premises setting represents a business opportunity. "There is certainly a big market for that," he said.

However, SADA Systems is focusing on the public cloud and believes a "middle step" to the cloud won't be necessary for many of its customers.

"We don't invest in things we feel like have a window that may be limited," Safoian said.

Azure Stack hardware bundles: Cisco, Huawei next

Microsoft, meanwhile, plans to roll out Azure Stack in conjunction with additional hardware partners. Mark Jewett, senior director of product marketing at Microsoft, said he anticipates Azure Stack on Cisco hardware will be ready for ordering by the end of 2017, while a bundle for Huawei is slated for the first quarter of 2018.

He said support for the Azure Stack hardware bundles will be coordinated between Microsoft and its hardware partners. He said the support approach will be the same that Microsoft uses in conjunction with Red Hat on Azure. In November 2015, Red Hat partnered with Microsoft to make Red Hat offerings such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux available on Azure.

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