Microsoft has released the first Technical Preview of Azure Stack, a platform designed to let organisations deploy an on-premise private cloud that is as close as possible to the technology behind the Microsoft Azure public cloud service, easing the path to a hybrid cloud that spans both environments.
Available to download for evaluation from 29 January, the Technical Preview of Azure Stack is the first chance that customers will have to try out the technology since Microsoft announced it at the firm's Ignite conference in Chicago last May.
At its simplest, Azure Stack can be regarded as a version of the Azure public cloud packaged so that it can be deployed on servers running in a customer's own data centre. It is designed to bring Azure-like orchestration capabilities to organisations that want it, or "bringing the cloud goodness to your data centre", in the words of one Microsoft executive.
However, it is also a key part of Microsoft's hybrid cloud strategy, as customers running Azure Stack will find it easier to extend to the Microsoft Azure cloud thanks to the large degree of consistency across the two platforms.
"Microsoft believes that enterprises have to approach cloud as a model, not a place," said Mike Neil, Microsoft's corporate vice president for enterprise cloud, announcing the preview on the Microsoft Azure blog.
"To translate this model into reality, customers need a consistent cloud platform that spans hybrid environments. Only Microsoft is able to deliver on this need in a manner where the platform is proven in hyper-scale public cloud and extended to private and hosted clouds."
The Azure public cloud and Azure Stack share a standardised architecture, including the same portal, a unified application model and common DevOps tools, according to Microsoft. The application model for Azure Stack is also based on Azure Resource Manager, which will enable developers to follow a single approach to building applications, regardless of whether they end up running on Azure or Azure Stack.
Microsoft is not alone in trying to make hybrid cloud more practical by making the technology at either end of the network connection more consistent.
VMware has adopted a similar strategy but in reverse, building out a vCloud Air public cloud based on the vSphere technology that many enterprise firms already operate in their data centres, while HPE has based its cloud strategy on OpenStack, offering its own distribution to enterprise customers while service provider partners offer hosted versions of the same platform.
However, Neil said he believed that Microsoft can deliver hybrid capability in a way that other vendors cannot.
"We have a deep understanding of enterprise requirements for both developers and IT professionals acquired through many years of delivering transformational data centre technologies," he said.
"And with Azure Stack, we're now doing the hard work of translating these learnings for on-premise environments so customers can benefit from speed and innovation of the cloud model without location constraints. Microsoft is the only company that can bring the full power of a true hybrid cloud platform to our customers."
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