Microsoft releases the next-generation of its Azure Stack HCI service

Microsoft is rolling out a preview of Azure Stack HCI v2, which will enable users to run the service on their own servers and include built-in integration with Azure Arc, among other new features.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft users who aren't ready or able to run Azure inside their own or partners' data centers have had another hybrid option to access Azure services: Azure Stack HCI. This week, during its Inspire worldwide partner conference, Microsoft is taking the wraps off its second-generation release of Azure Stack HCI.

Microsoft introduced Azure Stack HCI (hyper-converged infrastructure), a new option to run virtualized workloads on-premises while connecting to Azure, in March 2019. Microsoft characterized Azure Stack HCI as an "evolution of Windows Server Software-Defined (WSSD) solutions previously available from its various hardware partners."

The new iteration of Azure Stack HCI announced isn't based on Windows Server, Microsoft officials said. Instead, it's a new host OS separated from Windows Server, which is designed specifically to run HCI and is integrated with Azure with hybrid by design. 

(Update: To be more precise, the new Azure Stack HCI service no longer requires the customer to buy and manage the Windows Server operating system on the host servers. The new service includes a new custom OS flavor called "Azure Stack HCI." This new flavor does share significant code heritage with Hyper-V Server.)

What else is new and different? Azure Stack HCI v2 includes: 

  • The ability for customers to run Azure Stack HCI on their own hardware if it matches Microsoft's validated node solution. (See this site for more on how to ascertain if existing hardware qualifies.)
  • The ability to manage multiple clusters and VMs running on Azure Stack HCI using Azure Arc, Microsoft's multi-cloud management offering
  • New deployment wizard
  • Inclusion of no cost Extended Security Updates for Windows Server 2008 virtual machines
  • Stretch Cluster for high availability/disaster recovery

The basic platforms supported by Azure Stack HCI include mass-volume commodity systems from vendors like Dell, HPE, and Lenovo. Users might need to buy specialized NICs or HBAs, but many already may own servers that would qualify to run the new Azure Stack HCI offering. 

Azure Stack HCI v2 is a different piece of software that is installed on the metal. This means existing customers will need to do a reinstall. The public preview is out today, July 21; Microsoft has not said when it expects Azure Stack HCI v2 to be generally available.

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