Written by Cosmos Darwin, Senior PM Lead on the Azure Edge & Platform team at Microsoft. Follow him on Twitter @cosmosdarwin.
Today we’re announcing the general availability of Azure Stack HCI, the new subscription service for hyperconverged infrastructure from Microsoft Azure. As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, IT organizations are grappling with how to manage infrastructure that spans the cloud and on-premises. Consistent hybrid tools and experiences have never been more important. Azure Stack HCI brings together the familiarity and flexibility of on-premises virtualization with powerful new hybrid capabilities. With Azure Stack HCI, you can run virtual machines, containers, and select Azure services on-premises with management, billing, and support through the Azure cloud.
Ready for production
General availability means that Azure Stack HCI is ready for production use. Based on your feedback during the Public Preview and our own internal measurement, version 20H2 is the most robust release of our software-defined infrastructure stack that has ever shipped. The Azure Stack HCI operating system is available worldwide, in 18 languages. The Azure Stack HCI cloud service is available in three Azure regions, East US, West Europe, and Southeast Asia, with more regions planned every few weeks going forward. Resources are no longer labeled ‘Preview’ in the Azure Portal, and there are new and updated management extensions for Windows Admin Center available in the extension feed.
Starting today, production-level technical support for Azure Stack HCI is available from Azure Support. Whether you’re experiencing an issue or just have a question, our dedicated team of engineers are standing by and ready to help. They’ve been training and drilling for months to provide the best support experience possible, in close collaboration with our solution partners.
Partner solutions and Integrated Systems
The most important news today is that partner solutions are ready for purchase, including a new kind of solution called an ‘Integrated System’.
Integrated Systems are the fastest and easiest way to get up and running with Azure Stack HCI. Every Integrated System is jointly engineered and supported by Microsoft and the solution partner to deliver a seamless appliance-like experience. You can order an Integrated System directly from the solution partner as a multi-node configuration with the Azure Stack HCI software preinstalled. Every Integrated System offers Windows Admin Center management extensions, including (at least) new snap-in extensions for full stack updates during deployment and during cluster-aware updating. With an Integrated System, software, firmware, and drivers are constantly tested and re-tested together to ensure compatibility and optimum performance.
Integrated Systems are available today from DataON, Dell Technologies, and Lenovo:
In addition to Integrated Systems, there are more than 200 pre-validated nodes for Azure Stack HCI from 24 solution partners worldwide. This broad selection lets you choose the right hardware for your needs, from the partner who offers the best service and support in your region. Solutions are available from 2 to 16 nodes in a variety of form factors, ranging from very small – with just 4 cores and 64 GiB of memory – up to very large, with 256 cores, 8 TiB of memory, and over 1,000 TB of storage.
Today we’re also announcing a new validation program to officially recognize third-party software utilities such as backup and monitoring agents that are permitted to run directly on the Azure Stack HCI host operating system. The first five participating vendors are Altaro, Commvault, Datadog, Veeam, and Veritas.
Roadmap sneak peek General availability is just the beginning. Because Azure Stack HCI is a subscription service, it will continuously get better as regular feature updates unlock new capabilities for all subscribers. This is a significant and exciting departure from traditional on-premises software. In the coming months, you can look forward to new regions, new partners, new solutions, and most of all, new features!
Here’s a first look at some features coming in 2021:
Restart in seconds with kernel soft reboot
To minimize the disruptiveness of software updates in Azure datacenters, our engineers developed a unique technology called ‘kernel soft reboot’ that makes it possible to reboot the host operating system while bypassing the lengthy pre-boot sequence, like firmware initialization and hardware power-on self-test. Reboot duration is reduced by up to 10 times compared to a classic reboot.
Check out this astonishing demo using an AX-740xd Integrated System:
Kernel soft reboot is coming to the Azure Stack HCI operating system in 2021.
Manage from the cloud with Azure Arc
In early 2021, every Azure Stack HCI host node will become Arc-enabled by default to facilitate management from the Azure Portal. With Azure Arc, cloud capabilities such as Azure Monitor, Azure Policy, and select Extensions are just a click away. For example, you can use Azure Policy to configure monitoring across all your Azure Stack HCI nodes, even if you have thousands of clusters in different locations around the world.
Because Azure Stack HCI is an extension of Azure, management built-ins that are included free on Azure are also included on Azure Stack HCI. For example, you’ll get unlimited use of services like Azure Policy and Configuration Management at no additional charge (as opposed to their regular off-Azure pricing).
Here’s an early look at the Azure Arc integration coming to Azure Stack HCI in 2021:
Intent-driven host networking
Based on your feedback and inspired by how we operate our own Azure datacenters, the new feature ‘Network ATC’ provides intent-based control to simplify and automate host networking configuration for Azure Stack HCI. With just one command, you can configure every physical adapter, the virtual switch, VLANs, RDMA, and more, across every node in an Azure Stack HCI cluster. Beyond initial configuration, Network ATC ensures consistency by detecting and correcting configuration drift, so you can be confident that your networking matches the validated and supported best practices from Microsoft. Take a look:
Network ATC is coming to Azure Stack HCI in 2021.
In Azure, we use partitioning technology built on SR-IOV to securely deliver GPU acceleration to virtual desktops and other virtual machines. Over the next several feature updates, these innovative GPU technologies are coming to Azure Stack HCI, complete with friendly administrator management in Windows Admin Center:
Note for Preview customers
If you’re already running the Public Preview of Azure Stack HCI, just apply the latest over-the-air updates to reach OS build number 17784.1408 (KB4592441) or later. You don’t need to reinstall to transition to the GA build, although you do need to re-register. Active subscriptions will receive an email notification in January 2021 that regular-price billing will start soon. For more information, visit Azure.com/Pricing.
General availability is an important step toward realizing our vision with Azure Stack HCI: to bring together the familiarity and flexibility of on-premises virtualization with powerful new hybrid capabilities, as a subscription service that continuously gets better over time. On behalf of the team in Redmond, I’m grateful for all your feedback during Public Preview, and we hope you’ll keep it coming in the new year.
We can’t wait to see the incredible things you’ll do with Azure Stack HCI.