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Microsoft: Why we had to tie Azure Stack to boxen we picked for you

Verification, certainty and stable doors

Microsoft has explained the rationale behind last month’s announcement that you won’t be allowed to simply download Azure Stack and get going.

In July Redmond informed fans the only way they’d be able to get Azure in their own data centres would be on hardware of its choosing.

Specifically, Azure Stack will only come pre-installed on pre-integrated servers from Dell, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and Lenovo. Other OEMs, we’re promised, will follow.

The Dell, HP and Lenovo will come “sometime” in 2017. Azure Stack had been expected by the end of 2016, but the work with to produce integrated systems will mean a delay.

The reason for all this is as simple as if it were Windows. Microsoft can’t guarantee Azure will work properly unless it can integrate and test the software on known hardware that it then validates. Control is therefore vital.

Microsoft’s Vijay Tewari, in a scripted video, spelt things out.

“We can do that with a smaller scale of systems we start with originally and over time as we learn from customers and get feed back we can expand the delivery of hardware we run on and maybe, eventually, run on the hardware they have,” Tewari said.

The fact Tewari said “maybe, eventually” in respect to running Azure Stack on your own hardware plants that option about as firmly in the long grass as is possible. Without this detailed knowledge of the system hardware Azure Stack will be installed on, Microsoft can’t deliver “operational efficiency and stability.”

In other words, Microsoft can’t guarantee Azure would work properly or be able to work with new versions of the Azure cloud software as they are developed.

“Azure iterates very, very rapidly… new services merge all the time, existing services update rapidly and we need to have that approach workable in the customer data centre,” Tewari said.

That integrated system clause caught out many. The Azure Stack preview had been downloadable. Got the right RAM, BIOS and disk space, etc? Come on down. People were angry.

Suddenly, the cost of Azure Stack has jumped because of the need to also purchase a server from Dell, HPE or Lenovo, which bring their own layers of complexity and hurdle-jumping to the simple process of buying. It took out a chunk of opportunity for partners who’d been standing by to customize, integrate and develop architected “solutions” around Azure Stack.

In the era of free Windows 10 downloads to the client and, outside Microsoft, the ability to download OpenStack cloud to whatever you wanted, this is contrarian. The decision to produce Azure Stack on a pre-configured and certified box shouldn’t come as a rude shock in the overall context of Microsoft.

Microsoft’s ability to restrict access to Windows among server and PC makers is what helped make Windows reliable, and thus successful, in the first place. At the high end of life, Microsoft has delivered database appliances, working with the likes of Fujitsu and Bull. Restricting Azure Stack fits that model.

You could have seen this coming

Microsoft first began promising a version of Azure cloud in a box back in 2010 – only then the accepted vogue was cloud “appliance.”

Back then, Microsoft promised Windows Azure appliances would be forthcoming from HP, Dell and Fujitsu with appliances running in the data centres of auction site eBay. The appliances were delayed and then never materialised.

Time has moved on and while private cloud is popular so, too, is public cloud and that’s dominated by AWS with, according to Gartner, Azure a strong number two.

Microsoft’s restricting of Azure Server to a handful of vendors and certifying to a limited set of known hardware configurations will work. But it’s a policy that historically helped usher open-source and Linux towards broad success on servers and HPC.

If Microsoft wants true ubiquity of Azure Server, then it should have turned the whole proposition around. Not fit the hardware to the code but, rather, make the code work with the hardware by letting those from outside do the heavy lifting.

That, however, is called “open source” and open source is as much not part of the Microsoft model as controlling the code and working with verified configurations and a limited number of OEMs is definitely part of the Microsoft model for Windows.

In the meantime, Azure Stack will likely be released but see, as a result, the kind of uptake that will officially rate this six year-plus project as a waste of time. ®

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