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What are the Azure Stack HCI features?

An Azure Stack HCI system relies on Windows Server 2019 to deliver the software-defined compute, storage and networking technologies that integrate with the OEM hardware.

IT shops that want tighter integration between the Windows Server OS and an HCI platform have a few choices in the market, including Azure Stack HCI.

Microsoft offers two similarly named but different offerings. Microsoft markets Azure Stack as a local extension to the cloud, essentially Azure in a box that runs in the data center. The company positions Azure Stack HCI, announced in March 2019, as a highly available, software-defined platform for local VM workload deployments. Organizations can also use Azure Stack HCI to connect to Azure and use its various services, including backup and site recovery.

Azure Stack HCI is fundamentally composed of four layers: hardware, software, management and cloud services.

Who sells the hardware for Azure Stack HCI?

Azure Stack HCI capitalizes on the benefits associated with other HCI offerings, such as high levels of software-driven integration, and common and consistent management. OEM vendors, including Dell, Fujitsu, HPE and Lenovo, sell the Azure Stack HCI hardware that Microsoft validates. The hardware is typically integrated and modular, combining portions of compute, memory, storage and network capacity into each unit.

What OS does Azure Stack HCI use?

The Azure Stack HCI platform runs on the Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition. Using this server OS provides the familiar Windows environment, but also brings core components of the HCI software stack, including Hyper-V for virtualization, Storage Spaces Direct for storage, and enhanced software-defined networking features in Microsoft's latest server OS.

How is Azure Stack HCI managed?

Azure Stack HCI capitalizes on the benefits associated with other HCI offerings, such as high levels of software-driven integration, and common and consistent management.

A critical part of an HCI platform is the ability to provision and monitor every element, which means management is a crucial component of Azure Stack HCI. Organizations have several management options such as Windows Admin Center, System Center, PowerShell and numerous third-party tools. Management in Azure Stack HCI emphasizes the use of automation and orchestration, allowing greater speed and autonomy in provisioning and reporting.

What role does the Azure cloud play?

Organizations that purchase Azure Stack HCI have the option to connect to a wide range of Azure services. Some of these services include Azure Site Recovery for high availability and disaster recovery, Azure Monitor for comprehensive monitoring and analytics, Azure Backup for data protection, and Azure File Sync for server synchronization with the cloud.

What's the primary use for Azure Stack HCI?

When exploring whether to purchase Azure Stack HCI, it's important to understand its intended purpose. Unlike Azure Stack, Azure Stack HCI is not explicitly designed for use with the Azure cloud. Rather, Azure Stack HCI is an HCI platform tailored for on-premises virtualization for organizations that want to maximize the use of the hardware.

The decision to buy Azure Stack HCI should be based primarily on the same considerations involved with any other HCI system. For example, HCI might be the route to go when replacing aging hardware, optimizing the consolidation of virtualized workloads, and building out efficient edge or remote data center deployments that take up minimal space.

IT decision-makers should view the ability to utilize Azure cloud services that, while useful, are not the primary motivation to use Azure Stack HCI.

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