I’ve broken this post into two, to make it easier to digest. Today we’re all about background to Azure Stack and why now is the right time for this product.

I’ve been excited about Microsoft’s plans to offer an on-premises version of its cloud infrastructure offering for the longest time. While there are many cases of organizations that are completely in the public cloud, for every one of those there are literally hundreds of organizations whose needs are subtly different – organizations with a geographic, connectivity or regulatory reason to retain at least some of its infrastructure footprint on premises. And so the news, all those years ago, that Microsoft would offer some kind of on-premises cloud was both fascinating and exciting.

It’s fair to say that the process hasn’t exactly been plain sailing, and Microsoft has had a few goes at getting this right. As I’ve written before, I’m also a little worried that there isn’t more clarity about exactly what Azure Stack isn’t.

It is for this reason that I took the time to engage in a lengthy (apologies in advance!) question and answer sessions with Natalia Mackevicius, the Director of Program Management for Azure Stack. I wanted to get deep into the thinking behind Azure Stack, the direction they’re taking it, and exactly what it is (and, perhaps more importantly, isn’t.)

And so, without any further ado, here goes my epic Q&A.

Hi Natalia, can you start by giving readers a quick introduction to who you are and what your role is within Microsoft?

I am Natalia Mackevicius, the Director of Program Management for Azure Stack. For the past 2.5 years, I’ve been working on Microsoft’s hybrid cloud strategy to bring the value of Azure to customers datacenters, with Azure Stack. I’ve been at Microsoft for 15 years. Prior to Azure Stack, I was the Director for the Partner and Customer Ecosystem.

So Azure Stack sounds like an interesting product offering, and one which really bridges the gaps that most real-world customers have between workloads which can run in the public cloud, and those that need some private infrastructure. Can you give us a sense of the vision you have for Azure Stack?

Many companies have enjoyed huge competitive advantages from large-scale assets – – like brick-and-mortar facilities or large-scale equipment. That said, businesses are seeing nimble startups and traditional competitors take advantage of the next generation of computing to outpace them with innovation. That puts many of our customers in a position to do two things at once – begin the process of a technology infusion to business assets and at the same time build the next generation of line of business applications.

Azure enables them to change the way they do business, and work to move the center of gravity of their IT investments to the cloud. But there are still durable scenarios that require more customization than what is possible in Azure. Azure Stack is a key component of extending the Azure platform for digital transformation on-premises to complete those scenarios.

We see the durable scenarios for Azure Stack clustered around two points of view on data: either 1) there is a latency problem when moving data between locations, or 2) policy requirements have established rules around the management of the data itself.

Lastly, we see customers who have assets on premises that over time they want to move to the public cloud – typically, large scale systems of record, such as mainframes, that require real-time processing. Customers are looking to modernize those applications, and over time move them to the public cloud.

For cases where it isn’t best for an application to bring the data to Azure services in Microsoft facilities, Azure Stack is a vessel for customers to bring Azure services to the data in their own facilities.

Why is the time right for a product like Azure Stack? What is it about cloud adoption rates and trends that make you think that it is the right product, at the right time?

Every time a new platform emerges, in this case cloud, there’s an explosion of different tools and techniques competing to take full advantage of it. At the same time, vendors are continually evaluating and refining what the platform does well and how it needs to evolve. Over time, the architectures, tools, and platform come into focus. This shift has taken longer with cloud due to the magnitude of the disruption. But it’s still the same pattern.

We’re entering the phase with Azure, and with the industry in general, where cloud application architectures and tools are becoming more established. Azure Stack represents the recognition that the public cloud-only approach was missing out on key durable customer scenarios – improved latency and compliance requirements, for example – that require the ability to run cloud applications on-premises.

Microsoft is in the unique position to deliver something to help take the next step forward. One of the things that makes Azure Stack distinctly different from other attempts at Private Cloud, is that it brings the Azure application platform to customers as a coherent whole, not a random assortment of parts that a customer must assemble.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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