Written by Cosmos Darwin, Principal PM Manager on the Azure Edge & Platform team. Follow him on Twitter @cosmosdarwin.
Today at Microsoft Build, we’re announcing new ways that Azure Stack HCI can help you operate your Azure Arc-enabled hybrid infrastructure, including the general availability of the Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), an all-new Preview channel for the operating system, Azure Monitor Insights (Preview) for multi-cluster monitoring, availability in new regions, a more flexible free trial, and more. Let’s dive in.
Azure Kubernetes Service is GA
The biggest news, as Satya Nadella underscored in his keynote this morning, is the general availability (GA) of AKS on Azure Stack HCI. With AKS, IT and Ops teams can run modern container-based apps, including Azure Arc-enabled services, side by side with traditional virtualized apps on Azure Stack HCI, with the same push-button managed Kubernetes experience as in Azure public cloud. GA means that AKS is ready for production use: we’ve made countless improvements in response to your feedback, Azure Support is ready to provide technical help, and regular-price billing will start soon.
Before you purchase infrastructure, you need to evaluate it thoroughly. That’s why Azure Stack HCI offers a free trial, and it’s why today we’re making changes to ensure that your evaluation is set up for success. First, we’re doubling the trial duration from 30 days to 60 days. Second, the trial period now begins when you register your cluster. This means you don’t need to rush through initial set-up: you can rack and cable your environment, configure the network, install the software, and form the cluster at your own pace. Then, register to start creating or migrating workloads, and enjoy a full 60 days to test that Azure Stack HCI meets your requirements.
These changes apply to all current and future trials, worldwide, as of May 3rd 2021. For example, if you already registered your cluster and had 7 free days remaining, you now have 37 days remaining. If you haven’t registered your cluster yet, when you do, your free trial will automatically start at 60 days.
In our first six months since general availability, we’ve seen overwhelming demand for Azure Stack HCI all over the world. Our team is working hard to make our service available in more regions, and this month we’re taking a big step: Azure Stack HCI is generally available in Azure China. If you’re in China, you can now download Azure Stack HCI from azure.cn, register your cluster with the China East 2 region, and enjoy all the benefits of Azure Stack HCI, including the 60-day free trial. Integrated Systems for Azure Stack HCI are available from Lenovo and Dell in China, backed by a strong local presence to provide the best technical advice and solution support, in addition to validated nodes from many regional partners.
Conveniently activate Windows Server virtual machines
Windows Server is the most popular guest operating system on Azure Stack HCI. Beginning with the June 2021 cumulative update, Azure Stack HCI will support Hyper-V’s popular Automatic VM Activation (AVMA) feature for Windows Server. Customers with existing Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition activation keys can enter them directly into the Azure Stack HCI host using Windows Admin Center or PowerShell. Virtual machines running Windows Server will automatically inherit activation from the host, so you don’t need to manage product keys for each VM separately.
Announcing the Preview channel
Today we’re introducing an all-new way to see what's next for Azure Stack HCI: the Preview channel.
The Preview channel is like the Windows Insider Program but for Azure Stack HCI. Beginning with the June 2021 cumulative update, you can join a secondary (non-production) cluster to the Preview channel and start flighting. Once joined, your cluster will receive pre-release builds of Azure Stack HCI as over-the-air updates, which you can roll out using cluster-aware updating. This is an exciting milestone for Microsoft: it’s the first time we’ve ever enabled flighting for a server product!
Use Windows Admin Center or PowerShell to join the Preview channel:
Join the Preview channel to be among the first to try the 21H2 feature update for Azure Stack HCI, with much-anticipated features like GPU support for clustered virtual machines, intent-driven network configuration with Network ATC, a new dynamic CPU compatibility mode for clusters with mixed-generation hardware, thin provisioning for Storage Spaces Direct, and more.
The Preview channel is for evaluation and testing only. You won’t get billed for Azure Stack HCI. Your cluster won’t be eligible for production support and you might experience bugs, crashes, security vulnerabilities, or data loss. Please share feedback about your experience joining the Preview channel, installing the 21H2 feature update, and evaluating its new features by using the “Azure Stack HCI Preview” support topic in the Azure Portal.
Azure Monitor Insights for Azure Stack HCI (preview)
We increasingly see Azure Stack HCI deployed at the edge, in industries like retail and manufacturing. These customers have hundreds of locations and need to monitor them centrally from a central pane of glass. That’s why today we’re announcing Azure Monitor Insights for Azure Stack HCI, initially available only for clusters in the Preview channel. Azure Monitor Insights builds on Azure Arc integration added in the 21H2 feature update, so you can set it up without leaving the Azure Portal:
The multi-cluster dashboard provides an overview of cluster health; status of host nodes, virtual machines, volumes, and drives; compute, memory, and storage consumption; performance metrics; and more. It’s the same underlying data that Windows Admin Center provides but designed to scale up to 500 clusters at once.
And because the solution builds on Log Analytics and Azure Monitor Workbooks, it’s extensible: you can collect additional logs or metrics and customize your own dashboards. Let us know which views would be most useful for your organization! Comment below or use the “Insights for Azure Stack HCI” support topic in the Azure Portal.
Today’s announcements are an example of how Azure Stack HCI continuously gets better over time, with regular updates and new features for all subscribers. In the coming months, you can expect more new features, new regions, new solutions, and for the 21H2 feature update to graduate from the Preview channel to general availability.
On behalf of the team here in Redmond, thank you for choosing Azure Stack HCI.
We’re counting on your feedback to shape our future roadmap, so please keep it coming!