Microsoft recently released the new version ofAzure Stack HCI, the solution that allows you to build hyper-converged infrastructures (HCI) to run virtual machines in an on-premises environment and that involves an easy and strategic connection to Azure services. Customers who are now facing a modernization of their data centers may be wondering which product to use. Windows Server 2019 and Azure Stack HCI are intended for different and complementary purposes. This article explains the main differences between the two products and provides guidance on the different scenarios of use.
What is Azure Stack HCI?
With the arrival of Windows Server 2019, Microsoft introduced the solutionAzure Stack HCI, which allows the execution of virtual machines or virtual desktops in an on-premises environment, being able to have a wide connection to the different services offered by Azure.
This is a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), where different hardware components are removed, substitutes from the software, able to combine the layer of compute, storage and network in one solution. In this way there is a transition from a traditional "three tier" infrastructure, composed of network switches, appliance, physical systems with onboard hypervisors, storage fabric and SAN, toward hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI).
In December 2020, Microsoft released the new Azure Stack HCI solution, deployed as an Azure hybrid service, namedAzure Stack HCI version 20H2 that introduces important changes.
When to use Windows Server 2019?
Windows Server 2019 is a multi-purpose and highly versatile server operating system that allows you to activate dozens of roles and hundreds of features. Windows Server 2019 can be used to:
- Host virtual machines or run containers.
- Enabling one or more server roles included in the operating system, such as Active Directory, file server, DNS, DHCP or Internet Information Services (IIS).
- Traditional infrastructure involving bare-metal systems.
When to use Azure Stack HCI?
Azure Stack HCI builds on the essential components of Windows Server and has been specially designed and optimized to provide a powerful Hyper-converged platform. The new version ofAzure Stack HCI adopts the well-established technologies of Windows Server, as Hyper-V, software-defined networking and Storages Spaces Direct, and adds new specific features for running on-premises virtual machines.
The use of Azure Stack HCI is eligible if:
- You want to modernize your infrastructure, adopting a simple hyper-converged architecture based on established technologies. Suitable for both existing workloads in the main datacenter and branch office scenarios.
- You want to expect an extension of the on-premises solution by connecting to Azure. This aspect guarantees a constant innovation, the evolution of cloud services and the possibility to take advantage of a common set of tools, simplifying the user experience.
The solution calledAzure Stack HCI can also be configured with Windows Server 2019, but the new version ofAzure Stack HCI introduces important innovations affecting the following areas::
- Dedicated and solution-specific operating system
- Virtual machine disaster recovery and failover capabilities inherent in the solution
- Optimization of the Storage Spaces resync process
- Updates of the entire stack covered by the solution (full-stack updates)
- Native integration with Azure services and Azure Resource Manager (ARM)
For more information on this subject I invite you to read the article "The new Microsoft solution for hyper-converged scenarios".
Other aspects to consider
Costs of the solution
Despite Azure Stack HCI is running on-premises there is an Azure subscription-based billing, just like any other Azure cloud service. The billing model is simple and provides a fixed daily cost based on the total number of cores present in the physical processors that make up the cluster.
In the new billing model there is no minimum or maximum number of cores to be licensed, much less a minimum activation duration. An important aspect to consider is that for Windows guest virtual machines and paid versions of Linux, these licences should be included separately. The subscription-based cost is only for the software and does not include the hardware of Azure Stack HCI.
For more details on costs please visit the Microsoft's official page.
Enabling Azure Stack HCI
There are two options to activate a solution based on the new version of Azure Stack HCI:
- Buy a hardware solution validated by one of the Microsoft partners, with pre-installed Azure Stack HCI software.
- Install the Azure Stack HCI software, which includes a free trial version of 30 days, on new hardware or already purchased, as long as it is present in the catalog of solutions specifically tested and validated by the various vendors.
Support provided for the solution
Azure Stack HCI, becoming in effect an Azure solution, is covered by Azure support with the following features:
- Support will be provided by a team of experts dedicated to supporting the new solution Azure Stack HCI.
- You can easily request technical support directly from the Azure portal.
- You can choose from different support plans, depending on your needs.
Despite the new version of Azure Stack HCI is based on technologies also present in Windows Server 2019 it should be specified that these are two solutions that are now intended for different and complementary purposes. Despite also Windows Server 2019 allows you to activate hyper-converged solutions, if you're making an investment right now to activate such a solution, consider adopting the new solution Azure Stack HCI. Indeed, thanks to the changes introduced, you can get a very complete hyper-converged scenario proposition, more integrated and performing. An aspect to be carefully evaluated is that of costs, as they have a significant impact.