Microsoft previews next Azure Stack HCI release

Also: Marketplace and Remote Support, for when you'd like an engineer to peer at your infrastructure

Microsoft previewed the impending arrival of Azure Stack HCI 22H2 as well as Azure Remote Support and Marketplace during its Inspire partner event.

22H2 will be the first major update to the platform since last year's 21H2. The annual cadence of Azure Stack HCI is now the only option for server fans left bereft by the end of the Windows Server Semi Annual Servicing channel.

Attention this time around has focused on the core hypervisor, storage, and networking. "Storage replication in stretch clusters is faster and you can convert existing volumes from fixed provisioning to thin provisioning," the company said. As well as improvements in networking (such as automatic IP addressing for storage networks), Hyper-V live migration works better for switchless 2-node and 3-node clusters and, perhaps most importantly, the default security posture has been beefed up.

Admittedly, administrators might find some things don't work quite as they did because options that were disabled are now enabled by default (for new installations) but the hardening is a welcome move.

For the uninitiated, Azure Stack HCI is not to be confused with Azure Stack, despite Microsoft's occasionally tortured attempts at branding. In many ways Windows Server still lurks at its heart (the software-defined datacenter edition). The "HCI" stands for hyperconverged infrastructure, which aims to address users that do not wish to jump into Microsoft's cloud wholesale with a hybrid environment combining on-premises infrastructure with Azure.

Also coming up is Azure Remote Support for Azure Stack HCI, meaning that administrators can give Azure engineers access to an on-prem cluster to deal with issues and pick up logs. The functionality is off by default, but once enabled engineers can hop on and run only "Just Enough Administration (JEA)-approved cmdlets." Their activities are recorded for audit purposes and access can be revoked anytime.

The final announcement is the long-awaited arrival of the Azure Marketplace, in public preview form (and at some point in the Autumn). This is a significant milestone for users working with Azure Arc-enabled virtual machine management for Azure Stack HCI since accessing VM images from the Azure Marketplaces has, according to Microsoft, been "a consistent top request."

The integration will give access to the latest fully patched images from Microsoft, and the intention is to add images from third-party publishers in the future.

When the public preview makes an appearance, it will work with an Azure Stack HCI cluster running 21H2 or 22H2. ®

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