Analysis Microsoft's formal announcement of Azure Stack changes the cloud market forever, by giving us three distinct types of cloud.
Today we have pure-play public cloud from AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM or what I've heard described as “hybrid virtualization” – the ability to stretch an on-premises private cloud into the public cloud.
Azure Stack gives us a new way to cloud by bringing cloud services into your very own bit barn.
The significance of this is that it also brings cloud-native development practices on-premises. That's important because infrastructure-as-a-service is lovely, but also kind of dull: it's just someone else's computer. The more interesting and valuable parts of the cloud are the API-enabled services ready to run at public cloud scale. Whether offered by clouds themselves or residents of their marketplaces, those services offer developers a wonderful array of tools.
The chance to build an on-prem application that can consume those services and be consistent with the public cloud is significant because it means organisations can develop cloud-native applications that by running on-premises address the “three y's” - sovereignty, security and latency.
Microsoft's almost alone with this offering (Nutanix's recent deal to have its stack run in Google's cloud is close), so has an interesting differentiator for now.
AWS has a cloud-first-and-only ideology, balanced with a meagre effort at hybrid virtualization. Azure Stack won't stop the AWS juggernaut, but may slow its momentum a little as it gives Windows shops more reason to consider Azure. Azure Stack also gives users in places AWS doesn't operate a fine on-ramp to the cloud, without latency hassles. And with Microsoft having partners everywhere, users beyond AWS' footprint are ripe for the picking.
VMware has more to lose. The company has a strong network of small-scale cloud partners, plus bigger friends like IBM and - soon – AWS. But Virtzilla's very much a hybrid virtualization player – it's not big on consuming cloud services yet and appears to be defending vSphere in its facilitation of cloud-native structures like containers and microservices inside VMs.
Gartner research director Michael Warrilow told The Register he thinks that's a weakness, by asking “Does your hypervisor matter in the public cloud? If you can get public cloud in house does the hypervisor matter any more?” The Register's virtualization desk thinks lots of VMware-on-Microsoft users will ask themselves the same question when they next come to refresh either VMware licences or servers. So will those contemplating hyperconverged infrastructure.
Which isn't to say Microsoft is out of the woods. The company's announcement of Azure Stack says it is ready to order, not yet ready to run! Systems won't ship until September. And Gartner's Warrilow says the details are still hazy on just how much of Azure will be encapsulated in Azure Stack, suggesting that “Microsoft must make sure those little differences don't become big problems in terms of what works on Azure Stack vs. Azure.”
The formal launch of Azure Stack is therefore a turning point. At some future point we'll know if it was a wrong turn, or an off-ramp to somewhere interesting that not all of the chasing pack could follow. ®