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Microsoft Azure Stack HCI adds Arc, virtual desktop support

Azure Stack HCI users now have more management features, better integration with Arc and the ability to run Windows virtual desktops.

Microsoft improved Azure Stack HCI this week and integrated it with core cloud offerings including Azure Arc, giving the hyper-converged infrastructure service more purpose in the enterprise.

These new features and others in Azure Stack HCI version 21H2, launched during Microsoft's virtual Ignite conference this week, address infrastructure, management and security of Azure Stack HCI clusters. A few of the infrastructure updates include GPU enablement for AI and machine learning, the ability to do a soft kernel reboot, and thin provisioning capabilities.

Management-level improvements allow administrators to carry out multi-cluster monitoring and create and manage virtual machines (VMs) from an Azure portal, as well as guest operating systems inside VMs.

In terms of security updates, the server core is part of all Azure Stack HCI integrated systems that can now offer baseline protection against present and future security threats, according to Microsoft.

The latest version is also Azure Arc-enabled by default, offering administrators visibility across multiple deployments to access whatever Azure service best suits their needs, the company said. Both third-party and internal corporate developers gain self-service machine control from Azure to help organize and better control distributed virtualization environments. Also, managed service providers and system integrators can use all these new capabilities with Azure Lighthouse for better scalability.

More tightly tying Azure Stack HCI to Azure Arc makes sense given the emphasis being placed on remote workers located at home, branch offices and edge locations, according to one analyst.

"This is a pretty significant move given how much Microsoft is investing in Azure Arc," said Gary Chen, IDC's research director of software-defined compute. "I think you will see a lot of uses for HCI among multiple edge locations, so connecting it to Azure Arc seems a natural thing to do."

The tighter integration could also be an attempt to work better with hybrid cloud offerings provided by Microsoft's OEM partners, allowing users to extend workloads across environments.

"It looks like a way to be friendlier with hardware vendors such as Dell," said Ezra Gottheil, principal analyst with Technology Business Research. "They are trying to catch up with their partners' hybrid clouds approach and Azure Stack HCI is one of the ways of doing that. It gives users a chance to use their own data center or those of others and make them all look seamless."

In addition, Microsoft delivered Azure Virtual Desktop for Azure Stack HCI. The new offering, now in preview, lets corporate users launch a more modern cloud service for desktop and application virtualization, with support for a number of on-premises applications. Users can now use the new infrastructure services with both Windows 10 and 11.

Lastly, Microsoft unveiled a handful of updates for Windows Server on Azure, including Azure Automanage, which allows IT admins as well as internal developers to automate a number of IT management operations.

New features in Automanage, which supports Windows Server, Linux virtual machines on Azure and Azure Arc-enabled servers, allow IT admins to do custom configuration profiles to Windows and Linux VMs, support Azure Arc-enabled server VMs on Azure Stack HCI, and apply Automanage services to Linux and Windows Server VMs residing on all Arc-enabled servers.

The new version of Automanage for Windows Server includes a feature called Hotpatch, capable of quickly deploying security updates with having to reboot a server. Other features include SMB over QUIC lets admins safely access new file servers remotely over untrusted networks, and Extended Network for Azure, which permits migration of Windows Server workloads to Azure while preserving the original IP addresses.

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