The Value of Azure Stack as an IaaS Platform
Fri, 21 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0000|
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The Value of Azure Stack as an IaaS Platform
Out in the field with customers and partners, we hear an awful lot about what people think Azure Stack is and isn't, what its capabilities are, and where it should or shouldn't be used when needs arise for an on-premises solution.
"There's no point in just moving existing VMs into Azure Stack, there are already established virtualization platforms with rich ecosystems which will run them just the same and for a lower cost'"
"Sure Azure Stack can run VMs, but it's really designed as a PaaS first platform, not for IaaS."
"Azure Stack is a platform for modern applications, there's no point in just using it for VM workloads."
"I already have an IaaS platform that I'm depreciating over the next four years, I don't need another more expensive one to do the same thing."
Each of the above is a commonly held belief about Azure Stack, and each of them is definitely built around a grain of truth, while at the same time missing or not embracing much of the larger picture around Azure Stack, and indeed Azure and other public cloud platforms.
To be fair this isn't anyone's fault in particular; Azure Stack is a nascent product, and as such messaging around it has pivoted multiple times since it was first announced over three years ago. It wouldn't have been seemly to have been seen to be competing with Hyper-V in any way, and so it was announced and positioned as a PaaS-first play, bringing the rich goodness of Azure platform services back to the edge! While that's still true, at the same time it really does do Azure Stack a massive disservice.
To be clear - Azure Stack is a brilliant IaaS platform for running VM workloads, and takes us leaps and bounds beyond traditional virtualization.
Ok, in retrospect, that wasn't so clear - let's break it down.
Virtualization, Advanced Virtualization, and IaaS are three distinct capabilities which are often conflated.
Infrastructure as a Service isn't simply the ability to run virtual machines, it's a set of management constructs on top of a hypervisor on top of a fully automated infrastructure which support and deliver the essential characteristics of a Cloud computing platform.
This isn't a new message from Dell EMC, in fact it's been consistent for quite some time now. Rather than rehash previously trodden ground, I'll instead just recap with a link to Greg's excellent blog below.
A lot has changed in Azure Stack in the last year and a half though, and that in and of itself isn't surprising, nor should it be. Azure Stack updates are released on a regular basis, bringing with them new capabilities and improvements, including of course in the IaaS space.
Over and above the monthly updates, and far more importantly though, customers have now had their hands on Azure Stack for over a year since official GA launch, and we have a much better idea of the interesting, innovative, and sometimes downright cool scenarios they're using Azure Stack for in the real world.
Of course the available Azure PaaS Services are used with gusto, that goes without saying - people prefer to use native PaaS features wherever they can! The Azure App Service and Azure Functions are my personal favourites. Below is a quick Twitter poll I ran, just to gauge if indeed this was general sentiment, and while decidedly unscientific, the results were interesting.
But while Azure Stack is indeed a great PaaS platform, it is definitely not a PaaS only platform, and nor for that matter is Azure by any stretch of the imagination.
Indeed one of the fastest growing parts of Public Azure today is through the migration of existing (appropriate) workloads into Azure as VMs, and don't worry we'll cover off what appropriate means a bit later on. This doesn't involve any day one workload transformation or changes to how applications are running, it does typically bring some immediate benefits though, and those benefits are largely the same, or dare I say… consistent, in Azure Stack.
Firstly, and probably most importantly, you don't need to design, deploy, or manage any of the underlying hypervisor or software defined constructs. All of the extremely complex virtual infrastructure which goes into running a platform like Azure Stack is delivered as an appliance, consistent every time.
In most businesses, large portions (if not the majority) of an ops team's time and energy goes into the ongoing management of the infrastructure which supports their workloads. Azure Stack is designed to give pretty much all of that time back. In Azure Stack, all of the hypervisor components, the host OS, the software defined networking, the software defined storage, and everything that goes around and supports them is delivered as a turnkey solution, and then patched and updated automatedly as part of regular Azure Stack updates, albeit scheduled by you, the admin.
Each of the dozens of Virtual Machines running on top of the platform to support and deliver Azure Stack itself are locked down and delivered to you as a service. Azure Stack updates are delivered on a mostly-monthly cadence, and while they take some time to run, they are fully automated end to end. This includes not just the hypervisor and software defined constructs, but also the ongoing patch and update all of the virtual infrastructure required to deliver Azure Stack itself.
Through Dell EMC, OEM updates are also automated through our Azure Stack patch and update tool, a unique capability in the Azure Stack OEM market. One of the greatest benefits a true cloud platform delivers is automating you away from the hum drum to where you can spend your time most valuably. Where any part of that solution from bare metal to cloud isn't automated, not only is there potential for human error and configuration drift, your valuable time is also being wasted. Today, uniquely, Dell EMC provides you both that consistency and that time back.
The second benefit to Azure Stack comes through its consistency with Public Azure. Any time and skills investment into learning Public Azure automatically translates to Azure Stack, and vice versa. Any infrastructure as code templates developed through the likes of ARM or Terraform can, with some caveats, work across each platform. Potentially most importantly though, Azure is a mature platform which has been around for many years now, and as such has a robust and well established community.
Many of the challenges you'll encounter, solutions you'll want to deploy, or knowledge you want to gain have already been round the houses in Public Azure. There are many, many public repositories of infrastructure templates out there in the community just waiting to be deployed, and many knowledgebases and courses ready to be scoured for knowledge.
Take the Azure Stack Quickstart Template Gallery for example. There are dozens of pre-built templates there covering a plethora of IaaS application use cases, everything from a single Windows or Linux VM to an Ethereum consortium blockchain infrastructure, and a huge amount in between. Each of these templates can be used as a starting point, or in some cases a finishing point, for deploying your own IaaS infrastructure in Azure Stack.
When you enter into the Azure Stack community, you also enter the wider Azure community, and having a community that well established and open is of incredibly value.
The Azure Marketplace is an IaaS-centric 'app store' for the cloud, where software vendors certify through Microsoft and then make available golden images of their software to anyone who wants to deploy it into Azure. Sometimes the resultant VMs are managed by you, sometimes they're delivered as more of an appliance-based offering. Sometimes they're a single VM, sometimes a whole infrastructure will be deployed to deliver the service requested.
The marketplace is one of the most well used parts of Azure, and again note that its focus is not in other Azure PaaS services. It's in delivering as much value from IaaS as possible, giving you images you know you can trust, which have been battle-tested at hyperscale, and which are typically kept up to date by the very people who create the software running on them.
This same marketplace experience exists in Azure Stack, and through it you have the ability to choose which marketplace images you want to syndicate to your own Azure Stack. Every image isn't downloaded by default, as they take up some space, so you choose what ones make sense to you, and then make use of them knowing that they're the exact same images as you would deploy in Public Azure.
Benefit #4… to #n
There are many more benefits to 'just' running virtual machines in Azure Stack, from the automated patching of SQL workloads, to the continued three year support of Windows and SQL Server 2008/R2 workloads, to being able to access cloud constructs like object, table, and queue storage, to leveraging VM Scale Sets for horizontal scalability of traditional workloads, to pre-validation for compliance standards like PCI DSS, to service measurement for chargeback, to built-in load balancers, to built-in site to site VPN capabilities, to managed disks and the removal of VM disk and storage management, to extensions providing features to VMs like anti-virus and VM patch and update, to integration of those IaaS workloads with higher tier PaaS capabilities… and so it goes on. The benefits are myriad, and in retrospect should be unsurprising given the popularity of Public Azure for IaaS workloads.
An Azure Stack Operator does still have administrative tasks to carry out it's true, but they are not the same as a virtualization admin, or even an advanced virtualization admin. As we've said, all of the underlying infrastructure that delivers the Azure services is delivered 'as a service', so as ever in cloud your attention is pushed higher, focusing on more rapid update cadence, capacity management, offering services, chargeback, and other more cloud-centric operating tasks.
Azure Stack doesn't replace virtualization
There are two core routes to IaaS workloads entering an Azure Stack:
If you're deploying a fresh infrastructure, you may be doing it to create a new application, or to deploy your own in-house application, or to install a third party vendor's application. For the first two of these, Azure Stack can provide a great platform assuming you follow cloud application development patterns for resiliency. For the third, you're largely in the hands of the vendor. If they require specific hypervisor features, or shared storage between VMs, or specific CPU:RAM:Storage ratios, or high performance OS disks, or… well, all the same reasons an application can't be deployed into Azure apply to Azure Stack.
There's an enormous mass of software out there which will never be rewritten for a cloud-native environment, and yet more which is suited best to environments with more customizability than Azure or Azure Stack provides. For those workloads, existing virtualization platforms with their rich and well established ecosystems remain the best place to run them, even if deploying fresh.
If you are deploying a fresh infrastructure over which you have application control, there's a whole host of cloud-native tooling available to transform how you design, manage, and maintain that application. Infrastructure as Code, VM Scale Sets, Service Fabric and Kubernetes templates, and more all exist to allow you to apply the same DevOps principals to your VMs in Azure Stack as you can in Azure.
Migrating VMs to Azure Stack is largely the same in principle as migrating VMs to Azure, and just like in Azure, consideration needs to be given to the workload and how (and indeed if) it will run well within the cloud environment. Typically some resizing will need to be done to fit an Azure Stack VM 't-shirt' size, and testing will need to happen to ensure the workload performs as expected. For these reasons and more, when evaluating Azure Stack as a platform it's critical that you evaluate it against the workloads you'll be running, not just the aggregate CPU/RAM/Storage you think you'll need.
Probably the most important consideration for any deployment or migration into Azure or Azure Stack is that these are platforms designed for cloud workloads. The most fundamental difference between a cloud workload and a traditional workload is that workload availability should be delivered and accounted for by the application, not by the infrastructure. That's not to say that Azure Stack isn't a highly available and resilient platform within a rack, it is, however if a workload needs to be but cannot be resilient (and in particular resilient across site or rack if needed) without traditional hypervisor or storage technologies, then it may not be best suited to run in a cloud platform.
Never Forget: Azure Stack is Azure
Azure Stack is undoubtedly an incredibly powerful IaaS platform, boasting features like the Azure Marketplace that don't even exist in other on-premises platforms. If your workload can be deployed or migrated into Azure Stack, and it does perform well, then all of the above benefits will apply to it. You'll find yourself with an up to date, patched and secure environment, which gives you the time back to start working on higher tier PaaS services without being additive to existing tasks.
Ultimately though the core of the matter is that when you deploy or migrate virtual machines into an Azure Stack environment, you're not just making use of a hypervisor, you're gaining the power, the ecosystem, and the community of the Azure Cloud, and that's a glorious place to be.
Related Blog Posts
Back Up Azure Stack Workloads with Native Data Domain Integration
Tue, 13 Aug 2019 00:00:00 -0000|
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Back Up Azure Stack Workloads with Native Data Domain Integration
Azure Stack is designed to help organizations deliver Azure services from their own datacenter. By allowing end users to ‘develop once and deploy anywhere' (public Azure or on premises), customers can now take full advantage of Azure services in various scenarios that they otherwise could not, whether due to regulations, data sensitivity, latency, edge use cases, or location of data that prevents them from using public cloud.
Dell EMC co-engineers this solution with Microsoft, with added value in automation of deployments, patches and updates, along with integration of various key solutions to meet our customers’ holistic needs. One such value add which we're proud to have now launched is off-stack backup storage integration, with Data Domain.
Backup in Azure Stack
Backup of tenant workloads in Azure Stack requires consideration both from an administrator (Azure Stack Operator), and tenant perspective. From an administrator perspective, a mechanism has to be provided to tenants in order to perform backups, enabling them to protect their workloads in the event that they need to be restored. Ideally the storage used to hold this backup data long term will not reside on the Azure Stack itself, as this will a) waste valuable Azure Stack storage, and b) not provide protection in the event of outage or a disaster scenario which affects the Azure Stack itself.
In an ideal world, an Azure Stack administrator wants to be able to provide their tenants with resilient, cost effective, off-stack backup storage, which is integrated into the Azure Stack tenant portal, and which enforces admin-defined quotas. Finally, the backup storage target should not force tenants down one particular path when it comes to what backup software they choose to use.
From a tenant perspective, protection and recovery of IaaS workloads in Azure Stack is done by in-guest agent today, often making use of Azure Stack storage to hold the backup data.
Microsoft provides native integration of Azure Backup into Azure Stack, enabling tenants to backup their workloads to the Azure Public cloud. While this solution suits a subset of Azure Stack customers, there are many who are unable to use Azure Backup, due to…
- Lack of connectivity or bandwidth to Public Azure
- Regulatory compliance requirements mandating data resides on-premises
- Cost of recovery - data egress from Azure has an associated cost
- Time for recovery - restoring multiple TB of data from Azure can just take too long
Today, Dell EMC Data Domain leads the purpose-built backup appliance market, holding more than 60% of the market share. Data Domain provides cost-effective, resilient, scalable, reliable storage specifically for holding and protecting backup data on-premises. Many backup vendors make use of Data Domain as a back-end storage target, and many Azure Stack customers have existing Data Domain investments in their datacentres.
Data Domain and Azure Stack Integration
Extending on our previous announcement of native Isilon integration into Azure Stack, Dell EMC have continued work with our partner CloudAssert, to develop a native resource provider for Azure Stack which enables the management and provisioning of Data Domain storage from within Azure Stack.
This resource provider enables Azure Stack Operators to provide their tenants with set quotas of Data Domain storage, which they can then use to protect their IaaS workloads. Just like with other Azure Stack services, the Operator assigns a Data Domain quota to a Plan, which is then enforced in tenant Subscriptions.
In the tenant space, Azure Stack tenants are able to deploy their choice of validated backup software - currently Networker, Avamar, Veeam, or Commvault - and then connect that backup software to the Data Domain, with multi-tenancy* and quota management handled transparently.
With a choice of backup software vendors, industry leading data protection with Data Domain, and full integration into the Azure Stack Admin and Tenant portals, Dell EMC is the only Azure Stack vendor to provide a native, multi-tenancy-aware, off-stack backup solution integrated into Azure Stack.
Data Domain data protection services are offered as a solution within the Azure Stack admin and tenant portals, by integrating with the VConnect Resource Provider for Azure Stack. Data Domain integration with the VConnect Resource Provider delivers the following capabilities:
- Managing Data Domain storage quotas like maximum number of MTrees allowed per Tenant, or storage hard limits per MTree
- Managing CIFS shares, NFS exports and DD Boost Storage units
- Honoring role-based access control for the built-in roles of Azure Stack - Owner, Contributor, and Reader
- Tracking the usage consumption of MTree storage and reporting the usage to the Azure Stack pipeline
From within the Azure Stack Tenant portal, a tenant can configure and manage their own backup targets. From the create backup target wizard, the connection URL and credentials are specified which will be used to connect to the Data Domain infrastructure.
The three protocols supported by Data Domain - namely CIFS, NFS and DD Boost protocol - can be optionally disabled or enabled. Creation of CIFS shares, NFS export, and DD Boost storage unit is allowed based on this configuration.
A full walkthrough of how to configure and manage Data Domain functionality in Azure Stack is included in the Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack Data Domain Integration whitepaper.
While Data Domain functions as the backend storage target for IaaS backups, backup software still needs to be deployed into the tenant space to manage the backup process and scheduling. In this release, we support the following backup vendors:
Commvault Simpana v11
Veeam backup and replication 9.5
*Avamar currently supported for single tenant scenarios, not multi-tenancy.
A tenant, or a cloud operator providing a fully managed service, will deploy their backup software of choice in their tenant space, configure it to use Data Domain as the backend storage target, and immediately have the ability to store their backup data off-stamp, in a secure, protected, and cost-effective platform which respects Azure Stack storage quotas.
With the release of the VConnect resource provider for Data Domain in Azure Stack, Dell EMC is reaffirming its commitment to the Azure Stack market and to our customers, by continuing to innovate and lead the market in Azure Stack innovation. The understanding that Azure Stack does not live in a silo, but instead needs to integrate and extend into the wider datacentre landscape is a key tenet of the Dell EMC Azure Stack vision, and we're committed to continuing to uniquely innovate in this important space.
To find out more about Data Domain integration for Dell EMC Cloud for Microsoft Azure Stack, please contact email@example.com.
Azure Stack and SQL Server: Best of Friends
Mon, 08 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0000|
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Azure Stack and SQL Server: Best of Friends
On July 9th , 2019, support for SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 will end - at the time of writing this blog, this is tomorrow. By the time you read this, it'll likely have passed.
This means the end of regular security updates, leaving your heritage SQL server workloads unprotected from the latest security vulnerabilities. Note that this is end of support (EOS), not end of life (EOL), as there are still options available for you to protect these workloads, and further extend their lifespan.
Today there are effectively four options available to customers in this situation:
Upgrade and modernize your SQL server workloads
This is the best solution - while it's tempting to simply extend the life of existing workloads, SQL 2008 is over 10 years old now, and the features and capabilities available in modern versions put it to shame. If it's possible to upgrade and modernize, this represents your best path forward.
We recognize though that there are many workloads which simply cannot be upgraded - sometimes this is due to technical dependencies, sometimes it's due to the sheer scale of the task. Regardless of the reason, there are three additional options available for those who cannot upgrade their 2008 workloads.
Pay for extended support
As with any Microsoft product which has reached EOS, the option exists to purchase extended support, to buy some more time to either upgrade or retire the product, and ensure security protection for the duration of those activities. This is not a cheap option, and adds a significant overhead to already hefty SQL Server licenses - typically adding 75% to the cost of licensing.
Recognizing this, Microsoft have made additional options available to customers, to help them avoid the additional (and often unplanned) overhead of paying for extended support.
Migrate workloads to Azure
SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 workloads migrated or 'lifted and shifted' into Azure are eligible for three years of free security updates. In addition, any SQL Server 2008 Enterprise licenses with Software Assurance can make use of Azure Hybrid Use Benefits (AHUB), and can be migrated directly into Azure with no licensing impact.
While this is a superb offer, it falls short for many enterprise customers in a few key areas.
Firstly, SQL server workloads never operate in isolation - they're part of a wider application stack, and often other parts of an application cannot be migrated to Azure. Moving a database backend into an Azure datacentre and leaving other components on-premises typically introduces unacceptable latency, particularly when discussing older versions of SQL Server like 2008 and R2.
Secondly, while AHUB is great for those customers who operate Enterprise Core licenses and have maintained Software Assurance (SA), all of those companies with investments in other licensing mechanisms and who don't have SA will need to re-purchase their licenses, often not at insignificant cost, in order to move their workloads to Azure.
Thirdly, even for customers who can technically move their workloads to Azure, and who have the appropriate licenses in place to avoid having to buy them again, there are often a myriad of regulatory compliance reasons preventing migration into Public Azure datacentres. For these customers, migration to Azure just isn't an option, and yet paying for extended support is unpalatable from a cost perspective.
For customers who fall into any of these three categories, a fourth option exists.
Migrate workloads to Azure Stack for three years of free extended support
Azure Stack is an extension of Azure on-premises, and as such delivers the same extended support for Windows and SQL 2008/R2 as Public Azure, with three years of support included for all such workloads migrated into Azure Stack.
Azure Stack doesn't live in isolation or at arm's length from the rest of your infrastructure, it operates within the same four walls as your existing systems, and as such can integrate with them easily without the latency penalties which can come from Public Cloud solutions.
In addition to bringing some Azure licensing benefits on-premises - for example pay as you use licensing for Windows Server - Azure Stack also obeys many of the same licensing laws as other on-premises solutions. So while Azure Hybrid Use Benefits only apply to Enterprise Core licenses with Software Assurance in Public Azure, typically existing licenses can simply be migrated into Azure Stack with no impact, regardless or version or presence of SA. As ever, make sure to validate your licensing position with your licensing reseller/specialist to ensure you're in compliance with all requirements.
Because you own and operate Azure Stack, the regulatory compliance issues which can prevent migration to Public Azure simply don't exist within Azure Stack, and companies can migrate their workloads while remaining in full compliance with country, region, or industry regulations. Additionally, Azure Stack can operate in a fully disconnected mode, making it a great choice for both highly regulated dark sites, and sites with limited/no connectivity.
As if this wasn't compelling enough, customers are finding that when comparing the cost of implementing Azure Stack vs the cost of paying for extended support, not only do they get a modern, evergreen, Azure-consistent IaaS and PaaS ready platform, but it's actually saving them substantial amounts of money while providing significant benefits!
Going beyond End of Support
Over and above extending the life and value of SQL 2008 workloads though, Azure Stack is a fantastic platform for operating SQL Server workloads in general. Azure Stack offers some unique capabilities not offered by other on-premises environments, as well as unlocking some of the greatest value adds in modern SQL Server variants.
Infrastructure as Code
One of the most valuable capabilities in any cloud-native platform is the ability to define your infrastructure in Infrastructure as Code (IaC) templates. In the same way that the same source code should always generate the same binary when compiled, an IaC template will always generate the same environment every time it's applied. Infrastructure as code removes the problem of configuration drift, and enables the DevOps concept of cattle vs pets.
Because Azure Stack is an extension of Azure, we benefit from much of the extensive Azure ecosystem already in place, including pre-defined IaC templates. In the Azure Stack Quickstart Templates gallery there are templates for deploying a SQL 2014 Always on Availability Group in non-HA mode, SQL 2014 Standalone server, and SQL 2016 Always on Availability Group with HA enabled. These templates can be very easily edited and moulded to your individual purposes.
In order to deploy this SQL 2014 template, only four parameters need to be filled in - a domain name, a SQL Service account name, an admin username, and a password. After entering these parameters, the template will deploy a full end to end SQL environment.
Not only does the template provision and configure a SQL server, but also an Active Directory environment, public IP Address, load balancer, and a network security group to manage north/south/east/west traffic external to the VMs. In short - a fully functional end to end SQL and AD environment, with just a few clicks.
Of course there are existing templates for deploying full always on availability groups, different versions of SQL, and extensions for joining to an existing domain rather than deploying a new one.
For SQL 2008R2 workloads, there is a marketplace image available to deploy SQL 2008 R2 SP3, so instead of migrating in a full VM, it's often worth looking at deploying a fresh VM and just migrating in the database or databases. Further down in this blog you'll see some of the benefits to this approach come to light.
Azure Stack benefits massively from being a part of the wider Azure ecosystem, where there's a plethora of official and community content to build on top of. With Azure Stack you don't start from scratch, you stand on the shoulders of giants and reap the efforts of a decade-old community.
Backup and Recovery
As ever, Backup and Recovery remains a critical consideration with any SQL Server workload, and in this regard Azure Stack has you covered as well.
Built into the SQL IaaS Extension in Azure Stack (and of course in Public Azure) is the ability to configure automated backup of your SQL server workloads. You can backup user databases and system databases, configure a retention period, encrypt your backups, configure frequency of full backups, tweak the backup window… all of this and more is available out of the box and manageable via the Azure Stack portal, via ARM templates, or any automation tooling of your choice.
This means that when you deploy a SQL workload from Infrastructure as Code template, you can include the backup configuration in that template, and know that your workload is protected immediately from time of deployment. Backup isn't an additional step, it's just an inbuilt part of your deployment process.
By default, these backups will be stored in a storage account within your Azure Stack scale unit - you may want to keep some recent backups locally on the Azure Stack itself to enable rapid restore activities, while you probably want to store older backups outside the Azure Stack itself, both to take advantage of lower cost storage, and to protect from failure of the scale unit itself.
When combined with Dell EMC support for Isilon storage natively managed within Azure Stack, you can have a fully automated end to end off-stack backup solution for SQL server workloads, all managed natively from within Azure Stack and deployable from ARM template.
Restore operations are just as important as backup operations, and here we can use native features to rapidly recover from our backups as well. Within SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS), or using your choice of PowerShell or other automation tools, databases can be restored directly from Azure blob storage accounts, and this includes Azure Stack blob storage.
Because backups will always be relatively local to the SQL server - either running in the same Azure Stack on the same physical storage, or off-stack in an Isilon or similar storage device in the same premises - restore time can be significantly enhanced vs restoring from a Public Azure blob storage account, where bandwidth and hence restore time is limited by your connectivity outside the datacentre.
As you can see, just running SQL Server workloads in Azure Stack confers upon them a host of protection options and benefits, every one of which can be automated.
Patch and Update
Patch and update of any IT environment is vital, and so it is with SQL workloads too, with maintenance of security updates and minor patches being both important, and traditionally a drain on IT resources. The SQL IaaS Extension within Azure Stack provides the opportunity to automate the deployment of these Windows and SQL updates - those marked important - while still allowing IT admins to choose if and when to deploy major releases which could have potential workload impact.
Within the SQL Configuration Blade in the VM Configuration, a patch schedule can be enabled and configured, with a defined maintenance window to ensure updates are completed or rolled back in an acceptable and known timeframe.
If you have a need to delve deeper and automate additional patch and update capabilities, including deployment of new major releases or cumulative updates, Azure can be used to enable full Update Management of Azure Stack workloads. For SQL Server alone though, the built in functionality described here can provide an auditable and automated mechanism for keeping on top of important updates, with no dependencies outside your datacentre.
SQL Server 2019 - Polybase
Within SQL Server, from 2016 onwards, there exists a wonderful feature called Polybase. While we won't do a deep dive into it here - instead saving that for a future blog - it's something that's very much worth considering in the context of Azure Stack, given some of the new scenarios it can unlock in the on-premises datacentre.
We know that one of key inhibitors to customers moving wholesale to public cloud providers is the problem of data gravity - where large datasets on premises are just too large to migrate to the public cloud, and where an application ecosystem has built around and is now sticky to and 'orbiting' these datasets, precluding their migration as well.
As we know, Azure Stack provides the ability to run Azure services within the existing four walls of your datacentre, delivering significant management, automation, and development benefit both to IT Pros and to Developers. Deploying Azure Stack adjacent to a location locked data-gravity bound environment can in and of itself unlock new opportunities for application modernisation, however it's in conjunction with Polybase in SQL Server 2019 that some of the coolest opportunities come to light.
We've seen already that running SQL Server within Azure Stack confers upon it certain benefits by default, around patch and update, backup, monitoring, automated and repeatable deployment and scaling, and more. Data gravity often precludes existing workloads moving into Azure Stack though, and often times the workloads aren't SQL workloads anyway. This is where Polybase comes to the rescue.
In a nutshell, Polybase enables the querying of and access to data in external data sources - some of which are detailed in the below diagram - without moving that data into SQL Server itself. Developers can use features like the Azure App Service, Azure Functions, or Azure marketplace images in Azure Stack IaaS, query 'external tables' in SQL 2019, and communicate with these external data sources entirely through T-SQL.
All operations are offloaded from the SQL environment to the data source which holds the data, so load addition to the Azure Stack environment is minimal, and developers now no longer need to maintain different libraries for different data sources. The requirement for ETL is removed or at least minimsed, and querying against multiple disparate data sources becomes a significantly simpler proposition.
In short - by delivering an Azure Stack solution in conjunction with SQL Server 2019 Polybase, IT Pros can deliver their developers a platform which allows them to develop in an Azure consistent way, using Infrastructure as Code and Azure Marketplace images, as well as some hugely powerful Azure PaaS features, while significantly simplifying the way they access existing data sources.
As Azure Stack continues to grow and mature, we'll see less of Azure Stack being discussed as a silo, and more of these integration scenarios, where Azure Stack is not just the enabler for otherwise untenable scenarios, but also the core driver to data centre modernisation, standardisation, and developer agility in the context of the entire datacentre estate.
Bringing Value to any SQL Variant
From the most modern variants right back to those at the end of extended support, Azure Stack is able to provide significant value add to any SQL Server workload.
Migrating your existing SQL 2008/R2 workloads into an Azure Stack today reduces your management burden, gives you three years of free extended support and security updates, opens up new and valuable scenarios and opportunities, and even potentially saves you money over paying for extended support.
Migrating your workloads to Azure Stack and extending the life of those SQL 2008 environments isn't the end of the road though. With an Azure Stack in your datacentre you're now running a modern, evergreen cloud platform, consistent with public Azure, with the time and space to explore workload modernisation in a safe and secure environment.
These are a few of the ways Azure Stack brings new value to your on-premises database platforms, regardless of version. Whether it's extending the life of your heritage workloads, enhancing all SQL workloads with new management and support capabilities, or bringing the power of Azure IaaS and PaaS to your datacentre, SQL Server and Azure Stack are the best of friends, and very much designed to operate better together.