Microsoft’s new approach to hybrid: Azure services when and where customers need them
As business computing needs have grown more complex and sophisticated, many enterprises have discovered they need multiple systems to meet various requirements – a mix of technology environments in multiple locations, known as hybrid IT or hybrid cloud.
Technology vendors have responded with an array of services and platforms – public clouds, private clouds and the growing “edge” computing model – but there hasn’t necessarily been a cohesive strategy to get them to work together.
“We got here in an ad hoc fashion,” said Erik Vogel, global vice president for customer experience for HPE GreenLake at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “Customers didn’t have a strategic model to work from.”
Instead, he said, various business owners in the same company may have bought different software as a service (SaaS) applications, or developers may have independently started leveraging Amazon Web Services, Azure or Google Cloud Platform to develop a set of applications.
At its Ignite conference this week in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft announced its solution to such cloud sprawl. The company has launched a preview of Azure Arc, which offers Azure services and management to customers on other clouds or infrastructure, including those offered by Amazon and Google.
John “JG” Chirapurath, general manager for Azure data, blockchain and artificial intelligence at Microsoft, said the new service is both an acknowledgement of, and a response to, the reality that many companies face today. They are running various parts of their businesses on different cloud platforms, and they also have a lot of data stored on their own new or legacy systems.
In all those cases, he said, these customers are telling Microsoft they could use the benefits of Azure cloud innovation whether or not their data is stored in the cloud, and they could benefit from having the same Azure capabilities – including security safeguards – available to them across their entire portfolio.
“We are offering our customers the ability to take their services, untethered from Azure, and run them inside their own datacenter or in another cloud,” Chirapurath said.
Microsoft says Azure Arc builds on years of work the company has done to serve hybrid cloud needs. For example, Azure Resource Manager, released in 2014, was created with the vision that it would manage resources outside of Azure, including in companies’ internal servers and on other clouds.
That flexibility can help customers operate their services on a mix of clouds more efficiently, without purchasing new hardware or switching among cloud providers. Companies can use a public cloud to obtain computing power and data storage from an outside vendor, but they can also house critical applications and sensitive data on their own premises in a private cloud or server.
Then there’s edge computing, which stores data where the user is, in between the company and the public cloud – for example, on their customers’ mobile devices or on sensors in smart buildings like hospitals and factories.
That’s compelling for companies that need to run AI models on systems that aren’t reliably connected to the cloud, or to make computations more quickly than if they had to send large amounts of data to and from the cloud. But it also must work with companies’ cloud-based, internet-connected systems.
“A customer at the edge doesn’t want to use different app models for different environments,” said Mark Russinovich, Azure chief technology officer. “They need apps that span cloud and edge, leveraging the same code and same management constructs.”
Streamlining and standardizing a customer’s IT structure gives developers more time to build applications that produce value for the business instead of managing multiple operating models. And enabling Azure to integrate administrative and compliance needs across the enterprise – automating system updates and security enhancements – brings additional savings in time and money.
“You begin to free up people to go work on other projects, which means faster development time, faster time to market,” said HPE’s Vogel. HPE is working with Microsoft on offerings that will complement Azure Arc.
Arpan Shah, general manager of Azure infrastructure, said Azure Arc allows companies to use Azure’s governance tools for their virtual machines, Kubernetes clusters and data across different locations, helping ensure companywide compliance on things like regulations, security, spending policies and auditing tools.
Azure Arc is underpinned in part by Microsoft’s commitment to technologies that customers are using today, including virtual machines, containers and Kubernetes, an open source system for organizing and managing containers. That makes clusters of applications easily portable across a hybrid IT environment – to the cloud, the edge or an internal server.
“It’s easy for a customer to put that container anywhere,” Chirapurath said. “Today, you can keep it here. Tomorrow, you can move it somewhere else.”
Microsoft says these latest Azure updates reflect an ongoing effort to better understand the complex needs of customers trying to manage their Linux and Windows servers, Kubernetes clusters and data across environments.
“This is just the latest wave of this sort of innovation,” Chirapurath said. “We’re really thinking much more expansively about customer needs and meeting them according to how they’d like to run their applications and services.”
Top image: Erik Vogel, global vice president for customer experience for HPE GreenLake at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with a prototype of memory-driven computing. HPE is working with Microsoft on offerings that will complement Azure Arc. Photo by John Brecher for Microsoft.