Windows Azure Pack brings the interface of Windows Azure -- well, Microsoft Azure now -- to your own servers and lets you create an infrastructure as a service offering for your internal customers, for external parties or for both. The best part about it? The control of all of it rests with you, but the burden of requesting and provisioning can be delegated and automated. Let's take a look.
How the Windows Azure Pack works
The real appeal of the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server is that it gets you well on your way to creating your own private cloud. Using the simple interface the Azure infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering provides, you can create offerings for your organization's departments and internal customers that puts the power of self-service IT at their fingertips.
For example, you could have a group of servers that makes up your private cloud. As the administrator, you can define offerings -- for example, a small-, a medium- and a heavy-load service. Each service might consist of a certain virtual machine (VM) configuration and spread across different physical hosts for fault tolerance, a certain network setup and a specific guarantee of service availability. These can all be offered through a portal, so when one department comes to you and needs a website set up, you can point the department to the portal. Within a few clicks, the department can get its service set up and running, with all the complexity of ordering and configuring hardware completely abstracted away.
You can also create website clouds that remove the provisioning of VMs from the equation. These shared websites can specifically host ASP.NET, PHP and Node.js Web applications, and include a gallery of common and popular open source Web applications to simplify new site creation. It also integrates with source control systems such as Git.
These website clouds exist at the site level, with their hosting being done across a set of VMs you configure once and then essentially forget. It is quite handy, especially for businesses that create multiple websites all the time and need a way to get them spun up and ready quickly without much involvement from the IT department.
A note about Windows Azure Pack
The Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server requires Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2 -- no previous release is being supported -- to host the portal and services. The individual offerings and VMs you can offer within your portal, however, can be any version of Windows that's supported under the Hyper-V hypervisor.
Commercial hosts will also find the Windows Azure Pack (WAP) to be a useful tool that offers infrastructure services out to the larger Internet. The portal works in the same way, but along with your normal packages, there is also a mechanism for chargeback of hosting costs and the ability to run promotions and coupons for limited-time upgrades and special services.
Getting started with the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server
The WAP is designed to bring the convenience of the super-large Microsoft Azure service down to the quantity of servers and other iron we mere mortals have in our own data centers and server closets. With this, it's safe to assume there are some reasonably heavy hardware requirements. This is for fault tolerance purposes -- as the WAP will attempt to spread workloads around all the available machines in a private cloud -- and for capacity's sake as well. The idea here is to host many workloads, not just one or two, so you can fully reap the benefits of delegation and automation.
Microsoft has made available the Windows Azure Pack: Portal and API Express package, which puts all components of the option on one machine, which is great for testing and learning how the WAP works. You can download the single machine stack installer on this Microsoft page.
You'll essentially need to dedicate eight machines to your private cloud, if not more for the full monty, but these eight machines can either be physical or virtual. Make sure each machine has two processors, at least 4 GB of RAM and 40 GB of available hard disk space. As noted, each machine needs to be running Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2. Then, you can download the Web Platform Installer, which is a handy toolkit for deploying greenfield installations of Web applications that are based on IIS.
From there, it's a matter of playing around in the administrator portal and configuring your services and offerings. If you are familiar with Microsoft Azure, you will feel right at home. It's literally some of the same code and structures the mainstream Azure public cloud service uses -- try it out today.
About the author:
Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. Jonathan also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is president of 82 Ventures LLC, based in North Carolina, and is currently an editor for Apress Media LLC, a publishing company that specializes in books for programmers and IT professionals.