Azure Arc will be made available on both local Windows and Linux servers as well as Kubernetes clusters or an instance of Kubernetes that Microsoft is making available on Azure Stack for on-premises IT environments. With these announcements, Microsoft is, for the first time, extending its hybrid cloud computing strategy beyond systems running a version of the Azure operating environment on an on-premises IT environment.
Jason Zander, executive vice president for Microsoft Azure, told conference attendees Azure Arc creates an opportunity for IT organizations to extend the best DevOps and cloud management practices employed on Azure to on-premises IT environments. Rival cloud service providers, he noted, are only paying lip service to hybrid cloud computing.
In addition to extending the Azure management plane to on-premises IT environments, Microsoft today extended its portfolio of edge computing platforms capable of running instances of Azure Stack to include previews of commercial series and rugged series for Azure Stack Edge. Configurable with graphical processor units and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) capable of running machine learning algorithms in harsh environments, the ruggedized instance of Azure Stack Edge even includes a portable server designed to be carried in a backpack.
To complement those systems, Microsoft is also previewing a range of additional services for Azure Stack, including a fully managed, real-time data ingestion service designed to stream millions of events per second from any source to build data pipelines the same way the company does on the Azure cloud; a cloud database management service for Microsoft SQL Server and Postgres; and an Arc-enabled application programming interface (API) management platform.
While Microsoft generally would prefer organizations to adopt Azure Stack as an on-premises extension to Azure cloud, not many organizations have the robust modern server infrastructure in place required to run Azure Stack. Azure Arc is an effort to extend the reach of Azure to multiple types of edge computing platforms without requiring organizations to deploy yet another operating system. Alternatively, organizations can employ a diverse range of Kubernetes distributions, of which there are now more than 70 that have been certified by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). Most organizations at this stage have yet to standardize on a single distribution of Kubernetes.
It’s unclear what the appetite is for extending the management plane Microsoft created for its Azure cloud to on-premises environments. However, as the scope of the hybrid cloud management challenge facing organizations grows as various new forms of edge computing manifest, Microsoft clearly sees an opportunity to increase the scope and reach of its cloud platform strategy. Each edge computing instance is essentially a smaller instance of a cloud platform for which most IT organizations will not have the tools required to manage at scale. In fact, many IT organizations might not even attempt to deploy workloads at all on those platforms without something equivalent to Azure Arc to manage and secure those environment first being in place.