Dell EMC announces hybrid cloud platform for Microsoft’s Azure Stack

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With the long-awaited release of Microsoft Corp.’s Azure Stack offering said to be just months away, Dell EMC is hoping to convince customers to use the platform on its own hardware. It’s doing so with the launch of new offering called Dell EMC Cloud for Azure Stack that’s designed to make it simple for enterprises to adopt Microsoft’s new solution.

Dell EMC Cloud for Azure Stack is a hybrid cloud platform aimed at companies that want to deploy Microsoft’s Azure Stack private cloud offering alongside the Azure public cloud. Dell EMC said the platform will help organizations to standardize on the Microsoft Azure ecosystem with automated information technology service delivery for both traditional and cloud-native applications.

Azure Stack is a piece of software that will allow organizations to replicate Microsoft’s Azure cloud in their own on-premises data centers. It’s said to be a central part of Microsoft’s hybrid cloud strategy going forwards, which envisions a future wherein most enterprises will choose to host some of their applications and workloads in public clouds, while keeping more sensitive ones secured in their own data centers, or “private clouds.”

Dell EMC is one of four companies partnering with Microsoft to offer hardware systems for the Azure Stack, with the others being Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Co. and Lenovo Group Ltd. Dell EMC hasn’t revealed a whole lot about the exact make up of its hardware, other than to say it will offer two separate systems based on its PowerEdge servers – and that both are aimed at making it easier for companies to migrate to cloud environments.

Unifying Public & Private Clouds

The Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack is basically a hybrid cloud platform that will act as a kind of unified console for companies to manage both Azure Stack and Azure cloud workloads, Kevin Gray, director of product marketing for the Dell EMC Hybrid Cloud Platform, told SiliconANGLE.

One of the main issues Dell EMC is trying to address with the platform is that of interoperability between public and private cloud resources. The platform does so by allowing companies to easily access, create and share traditional and cloud native application services from the same portal. Dell EMC is also throwing in support services such as “developing and customizing service catalogs, enabling identity and access management systems, and extending monitoring and metering systems to Azure Stack,” so customers can ignore the infrastructure and focus on delivering application services.

“The Dell EMC Hybrid Cloud Platform is designed, upgraded and supported as one with full life cycle support,” Gray said. “This means our customers do not have to invest in building and maintaining their cloud environment and can focus on delivering value added services.”

No doubt Cisco, HPE and Lenovo will make similar statements when they announce their own hybrid cloud platforms for Azure Stack, but until they do it will be difficult for customers to assess which platform is best suited to their needs.

Existing customers of those companies will most likely stick with their current providers, but for the rest of the enterprise the choice will likely come down to the differentiation of services on offer, said Greg Schulz, senior advisory analyst at Server StorageIO and UnlimitedIO LLC.

“The challenge [for Microsoft’s partners] is going to be trying to differentiate themselves not just on price and platforms, but rather on services including integration with public Azure among others,” Schulz said. “After all, they are all using similar components in their hardware. Another differentiating factor will be how the vendors address the low-end, proof of concept, which is what Dell EMC is doing with the PE R630 starter solution, in addition to turnkey rack solutions.”

Cost-efficiency and Increased Flexibility Drive Demand

Another question pertains to the demand for Microsoft’s Azure Stack among enterprises, especially in light of recent studies such as this one from RightScale Inc., which shows that private cloud adoption has actually decreased in the past year.

In an attempt to shed some light on this, Dell EMC commissioned International Data Corp. to conduct a study on the key drivers for hybrid cloud adoption. According to the study, nearly 80 percent of large enterprises with 1,000 or more employees already have a hybrid cloud strategy in place, while just over half said they were already using both public and private cloud infrastructure resources. The main drivers behind adoption were reduced total cost of ownership, security and operational flexibility, IDC said.

The study suggests there will be some demand for hybrid cloud solutions like Azure Stack, but Schulz said it was difficult to be sure in a market that’s still in its infancy. However, he said the large number of Windows Server deployments running on VMware and other cloud environments, plus Linux deployments on Hyper-V and Azure Cloud, suggests that Azure Stack should be well-received.

“Sometimes customers need to see, touch, feel and try something before adopting and deploying new solutions,” Schulz said. “This means it takes time to drive demand, as opposed to industry demand which tends to be more based on whats new or trending in the news.”

In any case, there has been some initial interest. Dell EMC said it’s already taking pre-orders for its hybrid cloud platform and hardware systems for Azure Stack, ahead of the latter’s general availability in the second half of this year.

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