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Why Microsoft Azure Stack is destined to fail

Microsoft touts Azure Stack as a way to bring public cloud benefits to on-premises environments. But, for many businesses, the sales pitch doesn't match their needs.

Microsoft Azure Stack promises to bring the managed, self-service nature of Azure's public cloud down to hardware that your organization owns and controls. Microsoft believes its hybrid cloud strategy requires this appliance, which fits between racked servers and Azure's giant server farms with a quintillion Xeon CPUs.

There's been a lot of talk about Microsoft Azure Stack, but it's going to fail for a few reasons.

Changes have plagued the project

It doesn't bode well that Microsoft Azure Stack has already been scrapped and restarted as something entirely different. There is an expression that no plan, no matter how well conceived, survives initial contact with the enemy. But it seems Microsoft was quick to rework Azure Stack when it encountered resistance to its first incarnation.

Then, in the latter half of 2016, customers complained when Microsoft noted Azure Stack would require new, specialized hardware from major vendors, such as Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Furthermore, organizations that bought the new hardware would have to wait until mid-2017 to merge Azure with new on-premises hybrid cloud investments. Microsoft relented somewhat after significant negative customer feedback when it offered a "single-server" version of Azure Stack to do some of the tasking and tooling.

Between the product being continually reshaped and the limited availability of expensive Azure Stack-certified hardware, it's clear that a move to a Microsoft-designed hybrid cloud environment will be an expensive proposition -- and one that involves lifting and shifting, not transforming.

Self-service usually involves IT

The concept of replicating self-service automation and cloud-style control panels within an organization is misguided. In conversations with administrators and other IT personnel, what they want is either the public cloud for some workloads for features that public cloud providers uniquely offer or in-house control of the data so that they can manage the entire process from the start.

I have not found many IT departments that say the need to automate self-service with hybrid cloud on their data center hardware is a pain point. It's too difficult to develop this control plane on the disparate hardware and networking investments these departments have made over the years. Also, most business-side users lack the skills to use a hybrid cloud correctly, such as how to use a self-service private cloud panel, make intelligent choices about provisioning virtual resources for workloads, and make use of something that differs from available templates that require IT intervention.

Is hybrid cloud a solution in search of a problem?

I don't completely dismiss the hybrid cloud concept. There is plenty of room in the marketplace for options that work both on premises and in public clouds. Many organizations have business needs and software requirements that dictate certain workloads belong in the cloud for better fault tolerance, geographic distribution, bursting capability and so on. Many businesses will need to run applications and workloads in Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS), and they will need the tooling to manage those workloads, understand usage, monitor the operation and troubleshoot the failures.

Likewise, there are plenty of workloads that, no matter how hard Google, Microsoft and AWS try, will never run in the public cloud. Some businesses won't do it for regulatory reasons, or they don't have the technical expertise, or some more nuanced combination of the two.

It's time for Microsoft to realize the cloud is not the answer for everyone. For midsize organizations, the cloud is a limited destination. There are many reasons to do things inside your own data center. Microsoft is right about its concept of a hybrid cloud arrangement in which IT manages on-premises workloads and other workloads move into Azure or AWS as needed. However, it misses the bigger picture: Microsoft Azure Stack only addresses the need for self-service of in-house compute resources. It is a poor answer for a problem that many organizations just don't need to solve.

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