Microsoft Azure Stack packs a punch for server apps

The new feature could transform workload management and blur the lines between public, private and hybrid clouds.

Shortly after Microsoft made Azure available to its customers, it introduced a software component called Azure Pack. The component was designed to provide an Azure-like experience for managing on-premises resources, especially for organizations deploying private clouds.

Microsoft recently announced the availability of Azure Stack, which, like its predecessor, is designed to deliver the Azure experience in house. But there are major differences between Azure Stack and the similarly named Azure Pack.

Azure Pack looks like and behaves similarly to Microsoft Azure, but Azure Pack runs in an organization's own data center and only offers a small subset of the features available through Microsoft Azure. Azure Pack is essentially a collection of Web interfaces that allow for self-service provisioning.

In contrast to Azure Pack, Azure Stack is nearly identical to Microsoft Azure. It's yet to be released, but Microsoft claims it will change the way enterprise workloads are deployed and managed by blurring the lines between public, private and hybrid clouds.

How Azure Stack affects workloads

Azure is Microsoft's public cloud offering for infrastructure as a service and platform as a service. Microsoft customers use Azure to create cloud-based virtual machines, websites, databases and applications.

At its Ignite conference, the company presented Azure Stack at as an alternative to Azure. During the keynote address, Microsoft said its customers wanted to perform Azure-style provisioning but wanted to run the resulting workloads in their own data centers. Brad Anderson, corporate vice president for cloud and enterprise, said that Azure Stack would give customers all of Azure to run in their data centers -- in other words, Azure Stack could be thought of as Azure on-premises.

It's easy to dismiss Azure Stack as a new toy for those who are averse to the cloud. However, there is more to Azure Stack than a shiny new interface. Azure Stack's real power is in its ability to make workloads portable.

Consider Windows 10. One its most important features is the ability to run universal apps, which are designed to run on any Windows 10 device. These apps should be able to run on a PC, a tablet, a phone or any other device that runs Windows 10.

Azure Stack does the same thing for server applications that Windows 10 does for desktop applications. Microsoft has made it so developers can write a server application so it can be deployed anywhere. An application could be installed to Azure, Azure Stack or to a service provider cloud.

This new approach to application installations bundles all of an application's resources into a common namespace. This bundling allows the components to be recognized as one part of an application and resources to be treated as a single, cohesive unit. These resources can include anything from permissions to blob storage.

To underscore this point, Microsoft performed a demo at Ignite in which an application ran in Azure and then also ran on-premises using Azure Stack. The company also showed how the application could be launched in either location by using a few simple lines of location-specific PowerShell code.

Although this demo illustrated how an application could run in a location an administrator chooses, the more important point was that Microsoft created a set of tools that can consistently manage both public and private clouds using a common tool.

Administrators can finally manage local workloads and cloud-based workloads in exactly the same way. These tools, along with Azure Stack, should give administrators a far greater degree of flexibility to deploy and manage their enterprise's workloads.

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