First look: Microsoft Azure Stack hits the ground running

Technical preview of Microsoft's hybrid cloud platform drives just like Azure, drawing on the same APIs, tools, and templates

First look: Microsoft Azure Stack hits the ground running

Microsoft's latest attempt to square the circle of on-premises IT and cloud services, Azure Stack brings what Microsoft describes as a "cloud consistent" platform into the data center. "Cloud consistent" means that Azure Stack offers the same portal, management, and devops tooling as the Azure cloud service -- although it's not built on the same underlying software, but instead extends Windows Server 2016.

Consistency makes all the difference when delivering a hybrid cloud platform, which by definition should allow the seamless migration of applications from on premises to the cloud and back again. Azure Stack has the same APIs as Azure, and it offers the same self-service IaaS and many of the same PaaS features. You'll be able to write code once, and deploy it to either on-premises servers or the Azure cloud simply by changing the deployment target in Visual Studio. Similarly, you can use the same PowerShell management scripts on both platforms, as well as the familiar Azure portal.

The first technical preview of Azure Stack will be available for download on Friday, January 29. Microsoft will continue to update the preview throughout 2016, with a final release due sometime toward the end of the year, after the release of Windows Server 2016. I was able to spend some time working with Azure Stack during a recent visit to Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Wash.

Your own private Azure

While much of the Azure platform will run on Azure Stack, Microsoft decided that some services should operate in a hybrid mode, with Azure Stack consuming these services from the Azure cloud. It's an approach that makes a lot of sense. After all, if you're going to use Azure Active Directory to handle user authentication, then you're not going to want to run it on premises. With Azure Stack drawing on Azure AD, you have a single authentication infrastructure for on premises and the cloud, using Active Directory synchronization to map your local Active Directory to Azure AD.

In much the same way Azure Stack will depend on Azure's backup and recovery services, allowing you to use the Azure cloud as a recovery target for on-premises Azure Stack applications. While integration with the Azure cloud simplifies the deployment and management of Azure Stack, it does mean that you're going to need an Azure subscription to get the most out of Azure Stack.

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