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Will Azure Stack features and functionality be the same as Azure?

Microsoft plans to release Azure Stack by mid-2017 to bring the Azure platform down to Earth -- but don't expect all the features in Microsoft's cloud to appear right away.

In March 2017, Microsoft released its third technical preview of Azure Stack -- the company's latest effort to give customers access to Azure services in their own data centers -- but will Azure Stack features and functionality match what users get from the cloud platform now?

Don't expect that, at least not immediately. Microsoft's Azure Stack is still relatively early in its development, so it lacks some of Azure's native features. Technical preview 3 (TP3) of Azure Stack is currently available for testing and evaluation for proof-of-concept (POC) purposes. Azure Stack TP3 POC carries numerous system requirements and imposes some important restrictions, which may change when Azure Stack hits general availability, expected in mid-2017.

First, Microsoft designed TP3 deployment for one computer. The deployment includes all the components needed to establish an Azure Stack environment for testing and to experiment with APIs. Since TP3 is limited to one system, however, there may be limited compute and network resources left for actual workloads. This severely limits scalability and performance, so TP3 is not suitable for production environments.

Azure Stack hardware recommendations

Microsoft said TP3 has improved administrative security and alert features, and said it plans to add Azure Functions, VM extension syndication and multi-tenancy support to Azure Stack.

For the computer, Microsoft recommends a dual-socket system with 16 cores and 128 GB of RAM. For the operating system, the system should have one solid-state drive (SSD) or hard disk drive (HDD) drive with at least 200 GB free for the Windows Server 2012 R2 (or later) OS. For Azure Stack components and data, Microsoft recommends four SSD OR HDD drives with at least 250 GB capacity. The computer should also support second-level address translation for optimum Hyper-V performance. Deployment also requires an internet connection, Azure account and Azure Active Directory. Organizations can use Active Directory Federation Services to deploy TP3 when internet is not available. Azure Stack systems can connect to Azure with remote desktop or virtual private network technologies.

Adopters can use this Azure Stack deployment script to confirm systems meet hardware and software requirements.

Coming attractions

There are more Azure Stack features in TP3, which builds on TP2. In addition to bug fixes and improvements in performance and stability, TP3 adds Azure Virtual Machine Scale Sets to improve workload scalability, and Azure D-Series VMs for data-intensive tasks, such as big data. Administrators can create and use templates that are consistent with Azure, and Azure Stack can use content from Azure Marketplace.

Microsoft said TP3 has improved administrative security and alert features, and said it plans to add Azure Functions, VM extension syndication and multi-tenancy support to Azure Stack. These functions will be followed by support for new workloads, including blockchain, Cloud Foundry and Mesos templates.

TP3 should be the last major technical preview before the platform goes live. However, Microsoft expects to update Azure Stack frequently after release. Organizations can continue to test and experiment with Azure Stack when the POC will be renamed to the Microsoft Azure Stack Development Kit.

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Azure Stack alternatives

Potential adopters should remember Azure Stack is not the only platform for private and hybrid clouds. There are other options similar to OpenStack that have more history and offer a proven open source feature set along with a noteworthy base of community support.

Azure Stack is still in beta and may not offer the same breadth of community support. But OpenStack can be difficult to set up and manage, while Microsoft said Azure Stack is comparatively easy and streamlined to align with existing Azure models. Azure Stack and OpenStack both present a wealth of APIs and benefit from extraordinary extensibility and third-party integrations. Ultimately, Microsoft shops -- especially shops that use Azure -- may have the easier time with Azure Stack.

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