Understanding the Azure Hybrid Cloud On-Ramp

Most organizations approach the cloud without a formal strategy. They pick a pain point, like backup and disaster recovery, as a starting point with the hope of adding more services as they become more cloud savvy. What often happens, however, is the organization ends up with multiple point cloud capabilities, using different cloud services and software. The result is a cloud environment that is as complicated as their on-premises data center. While a step-by-step approach has merit, those steps need to lead down a common path.

The organization should attempt to standardize on a cloud solution that provides a single console to manage both on-premises and cloud functions. An example is Microsoft Azure Stack hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Azure Stack HCI enables an organization to start using the cloud for HCI management and to integrate Azure directly into the Windows Admin Center.

Windows Admin Center

Windows Admin Center is a simple and lightweight management console with tools familiar to a Windows Server Administrator. It installs quickly and can manage on-premises servers in the data center almost immediately. The solutions can manage physical servers, HCI and Hyper-V virtual machines (VM). Windows Admin Center also integrates with Azure services to enable the first steps to a hybrid cloud data center.

Azure Site Recovery and Azure Backup

Data protection and disaster recovery is one of the most appealing use cases for hybrid cloud. Leveraging the cloud for these functions means a significant reduction in on-premises infrastructure as well as the potential elimination of a dedicated DR site.

Azure Backup is a simple, cost effective backup solution. It can backup the on-premises Azure HCI stack, including SQL workloads, without requiring an investment in additional on-premises infrastructure. It also protects Azure Virtual Machines. Azure backup leverages Window’s VSS snapshots and Linux’s fsfreeze capabilities to provide application consistent backup. Data can be encrypted and retained to meet various compliance requirements. Deletion of backup data can be set to require multi-factor authentication for protection against a malware attack. All backup resources are managed from the Azure central backup management portal making the solution ideal for multi-site and hybrid cloud environments.

Azure Site Recovery, also included with Azure Stack HCI, enables organizations to deploy replication, failover and recovery processes automatically. Recovering from a disaster requires that multi-tier applications have services brought up in the right order. Azure Site Recovery includes the ability to sequence this order so that recovery is an automated one-click process.

Azure Cloud Witness alleviates the challenges that multi-site clusters and clusters without shared storage face. A witness is used to verify that an outage has occurred and that failover should occur. In a typical cluster, each node casts a “vote” as to whether site failover should occur. A two-site cluster with the witness may create a “false-positive” and prevent a failover. Cloud witness provides the organization with a third site to host the witness.

Azure Monitor is another Azure service available to Azure Stack HCI customers. It provides a unified cloud based monitoring console to store all the operational telemetry generated by the HCI environment. It can leverage Azure compute to reveal hidden patterns in the environment by using an advanced analytic engine. It also provides an interactive query language as well as built-in machine learning constructs. Azure Monitor provides complete monitoring of applications, VMs and networks.

Lastly, Azure Stack HCI customers can leverage the Update Management service to manage operating system updates of both Windows and Linux servers, both on-premises and in the Azure cloud.

Conclusion

Stepping into the cloud and beginning the hybrid cloud journey is often overwhelming, especially if the organization tries to take a holistic approach to deployment. Azure Stack HCI customers have a hybrid cloud path built directly into the infrastructure. VMs can run directly in Azure and the available data services described above allow rapid adoption of key cloud services without creating cloud silos.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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