Microsoft has announced a successor of the current Azure Stack HCI. The current solution is based on Windows Server 2019 using Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct. The new Azure Stack HCI solution is based on a new operating system originating from Windows Server 2019, called Azure Stack HCI.
On our dedicated Azure Stack HCI page, we have explained what the solution is all about. In this blog, we’re diving a little deeper in the details.
Azure Stack HCI Operating System
Azure Stack HCI is not only the name of the solution, but also the name of the Operating System. That means that Azure Stack HCI OS is breaking loose from Windows Server, and the (slow paced) release cadence. The Azure Stack HCI OS will be updates much more frequently like the SAC releases providing new features or improvements at a faster rate.
As Azure Stack HCI is released before the upcoming version of Windows Server, we also get the announced enhancements sooner as expected. Such as;
Full stack automatic updates
Firmware and drives updated through integration with Windows Admin Center. Automatic, no manual intervention needed.
See this screenshot from EMC Dell for the visuals, or take a look at their 7-min video here.
Storage rebuilds 75% faster
Azure Stack HCI includes a completely renewed Storage Spaces Direct repair mechanism! The cluster now tracks the changes in the data at a much finer granularity. This improves rebuild times up to 75%, narrowing maintenance windows further.
Azure Stack HCI also provides us with the Stretched Clustering feature, build on top of Storage Replica. Using this new feature, we can span an Azure Stack HCI cluster over multiple sites providing business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) capabilities.
Azure Stack HCI supports synchronous and A-synchronous replication.
Affinity and Anti-Affinity
With the release of Azure Stack HCI there is a new feature included called ‘VM Affinity and Anti Affinity’.
With Affinity rules you can achieve binding of two or more resources together. For example, you want your front-end webservers and back-end databases servers on the same physical location to avoid latency and increase performance.
With Anti-Affinity, we achieve the exact opposite.
If we want to distribute front-end webservers over multiple physical locations (fault domains) we can use Anti-Affinity rules.
When one physical location is offline due to maintenance or unexpected failure, you make sure your application stays online.
Windows Admin Center
With the release of Azure Stack HCI Microsoft also heavily invested again in Windows Admin Center. Windows Admin Center now includes cluster create options and with that several workflows to created different types of clusters like HCI, HCI+SDN and more.
With these workflows we can setup the cluster completely using Windows Admin Center. Automation in the background makes sure the asked components are installed according to best-practices.
Stripped down OS
Because Azure Stack HCI is intended for HCI clusters only, the OS it will be stripped down from unnecessary features. Meaning, many features that are currently part of the Window Server OS will not be available in the Azure Stack HCI OS…
Current features and roles in Windows Server 2019: 268
Current features and roles in Azure Stack HCI: 193
For example, the Active Directory and related roles such as DNS, Certificate Services, Federation Services, DHCP and Print Services will not be included, and more features might follow.
These features will still be available in the regular Window Server releases, just not in Azure Stack HCI.
Azure Stack HCI Billing
Since Azure Stack HCI is a cloud solution, the billing model will change to a cloud billing model.
Traditional Windows Server licensing
With Windows Server there always has been a licensing model calculated per physical processor core. Depending on the number of physical processor cores in your server, a number of core-packs must be purchased.
Azure Stack HCI licensing
With Azure Stack HCI you are also licensed per physical processor core. The difference with Windows Server licensing is that there is no concept of core-packs, you pay for the amount of physical processor cores in your cluster.
With this model the licensing costs switches from a CAPEX to an OPEX model.
When Azure Stack HCI is down or up-scaled the day-to-day expenses change.
Because the billing is managed through Microsoft Azure we can leverage the tools available to get more insights on costs. For example, with Azure Cost Analyses we can query the information and provide forecasts. In addition, the Azure APIs can be used with third party tooling for cost management.
Guest operating systems not included
One important aspect to note is that guest operating systems are not included in the license, like with Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition.
This means that you will need to license VMs running on the Azure Stack HCI solution.
Azure Connection required once per month
Because the billing runs through Microsoft Azure, the cluster must be registered to Microsoft Azure within 30 days after deployment. After registration the cluster needs to connect to Microsoft Azure once every 30 days to report cluster status. If the cluster is unable to report the cluster will be out of policy.
Support via Azure support tickets.
As cloud solution, the support of Azure Stack HCI falls under the umbrella of Microsoft Azure support. That means that you could request support by going to portal.azure.com and file a support request there for your Azure Stack HCI solution.
Azure Stack HCI resource provider
Microsoft has created a dedicated resource type in Azure Resource Manager for Azure Stack HCI clusters.
By registering Azure Stack HCI clusters to the resource provider in Microsoft Azure an Azure Resource is created that represents the cluster.
Self-service VMs through Azure Portal
Want to offer your users a consistent experience with Azure? You now can.
Azure Stack HCI makes use of the same toolset as Microsoft Azure, including the portal and ARM templates. Using Azure Resource Manager (ARM) you can also delegate access to users in your Azure AD.