Hidden in Microsoft's announcement of the public beta for its Azure Analysis Service was word of another big data development: the SQL Server 2016 DW Fast Track Reference Architecture.
It sounds innocuous and even downright useful. Microsoft has, in its words, "collaborated with a number of our hardware partners on a joint effort to deliver validated, preconfigured solutions that reduce the complexity and drive optimization when implementing a data warehouse based on SQL Server 2016 Enterprise Edition."
However, this sounds a lot like the "validated, preconfigured solution[s]" Microsoft has declared its sole delivery method for Azure Stack in hybrid deployments. If Microsoft is building a hybrid cloud future where every significant part, from database to compute, requires specific hardware, that's going to turn off a lot of IT.
With Azure Stack, the in-house component of Microsoft's plan to deliver a hybrid Azure experience, you'll get the full-blown version only if you buy a preconfigured box courtesy of Microsoft and a hardware partner. Don't pop out that corporate Amex card yet; Azure Stack won't even be available until mid-2017.
The reasoning isn't totally absurd. Microsoft claims it needs tight control over the hardware in order to deliver an experience it feels comfortable stamping with its logo. That says as much about the demands of Azure Stack as it does Microsoft's insistence on delivering a worthy product.
The requirement also hints at dedicated hardware for Azure as a good business model. Given Microsoft's talk about revamping its other enterprise products, the hardware-centric strategy might not stop with Azure Stack.
Consider SQL Server 2016. One of its most ballyhooed features, the stretch database function, allows data to be remotely echoed (aka stretched) to Azure based on user-established rules. Backup and full-blown migration to Azure are also part of that package. It's a toss-up whether SQL Server is being made "cloud-friendly" or "cloud-first," given how a larger slice of Microsoft's future -- and that of nearly every other major IT vendor -- is cloud-bound with each passing year.
In that light, Microsoft could in time promote a reference-hardware implementation of SQL Server 2016 as the prime interface for Azure, alongside other dedicated hardware. The same pitch would apply: Use our certified hardware combo to get the best possible results. Pay upfront for a proven solution, and you'll save more money in the long run.
This could be good as long as it's not the only hybrid Azure option. It might even be tolerable if major parts of the Azure hybrid cloud aren't held back from users who don't take the forklift upgrade.
The real detail to note isn't whether Microsoft will push dedicated Azure hardware for various aspects of the hybrid cloud. Rather, it's how much will be available for enterprise users who don't go that route.