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InfoQ Homepage News Microsoft Innovates Its Azure Multi-Cloud, Multi-Edge Hybrid Capabilities

Microsoft Innovates Its Azure Multi-Cloud, Multi-Edge Hybrid Capabilities

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During the recent Ignite virtual conference, Microsoft announced several updates for their Azure multi-cloud and edge hybrid offerings. These updates span from security innovations to new edge capabilities.

From its inception onward, Microsoft Azure has been hybrid by design, providing customers with services that allow ground to cloud and cloud to ground shifts of workloads. Moreover, Microsoft keeps expanding its cloud platform hybrid capabilities to allow customers to run their apps anywhere across on-premises, multi-cloud, and the edge. At Ignite, the public cloud vendor announced several innovations for Azure Arc, Stack, VMWare and Sphere.


At Ignite last year, Microsoft launched Azure Arc, a service allowing enterprises to bring Azure services and management to any infrastructure, including AWS and Google Cloud. This service was an addition to Microsoft's Azure Hybrid portfolio, which also includes Azure Stack and Edge. Later in 2020, the service received an update with support for Kubernetes. Now Azure Arc has more capabilities with the new Azure Arc enabled data services in preview. Furthermore, the Azure Arc enabled servers are now generally available.


Currently, enterprises can manage the following resource types hosted in- or outside of Azure:

  • Servers - both physical and virtual machines running Windows or Linux.
  • Kubernetes clusters (preview) - supporting multiple Kubernetes distributions.
  • Azure data services (preview) - Azure SQL Database and PostgreSQL Hyperscale services.

In addition to Azure Arc, Microsoft has a hybrid cloud offering with Azure Stack, which allows enterprises to run Azure in their own data centers to adhere to regulatory compliance requirements and have the ability to run disconnected. Azure Stack has been available for over three years now, and Microsoft kept innovating and growing the portfolio of the service. During Ignite, the company announced two new capabilities for Azure Stack:

  • Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS) on Azure Stack HCI in preview allowing customers to deploy and manage containerized apps at scale on Azure Stack HCI, just as they can run AKS within Azure.
  • And the general availability of Azure Stack Hub with GPUs allowing customers to share the GPU efficiently. They can run compute intense machine learning workloads in disconnected or partially connected scenarios leveraging the NVIDIA V100 Tensor Core GPU. Furthermore, there is an NVIDIA T4 Tensor Core GPU available for less compute intensely. These updates to Stack Hub are an addition to earlier updates for the service announced at Build.

Rik Hepworth, CCO at Black Marble and Microsoft Azure MVP, told InfoQ:

Being able to spec a Stack Hub with GPUs opens up compute-intensive scenarios for my customers, drawing on our Azure experience but being able to stay within the secure confines of their infrastructure and I'm excited to see what we can build now. And the arrival of AKS in preview extends the ease with which I can run my container workloads into my Stack Hub. I really cannot overstate the benefit of a single approach to management and delivery that the consistency between Azure and Stack Hub brings to our solutions.

At Build last year, Microsoft announced a partnership with VMWare that enables certified VMware cloud infrastructure to run in Microsoft Azure. As we advance to today, the company now announced the general availability of Azure VMWare Solution, allowing customers to migrate VMware workloads to the cloud. Julia White, corporate vice president, Microsoft Azure, wrote in a blog post:

The Azure service includes the latest VMware Cloud Foundation components such as vSphere, NSX-T, HCX, and vSan, and integrates with a rich set of partner solutions, so customers can continue to use existing tools and skills. In addition, with our licensing offering Azure Hybrid Benefit, Azure is the most cost-effective cloud to migrate your Windows Server and SQL workloads to, whether they run on VMware or elsewhere.

Also, Microsoft released several new edge capabilities with:

  • The general availability of Azure SQL Edge - allowing customers to use the Microsoft SQL data engine in IoT gateways and edge devices.
  • The availability of two new rugged devices – allowing customers to perform machine learning and gain quick insights at the edge by running the Azure Stack Edge Pro R with NVIDIA's powerful T4 GPU and the lightweight, portable Azure Stack Edge Mini R.
  • The availability of Azure Stack Edge with GPUs – allowing customers to run visualization, inferencing, and machine learning at the edge with the Azure Stack Edge Pro series powered by the NVIDIA T4 Tensor Core GPU. 

Hepworth told InfoQ:

The Edge offerings are attractive – an off the shelf solution to the need for rugged, resilient, and efficiently managed compute hosting that is suitable for a range of environments, from mining to manufacture. The steady increase of support for running Azure services on those devices is lighting up more potential scenarios with each release, and the arrival of SQL Edge is an essential component that I am sure will help power those solutions.

And finally, AT&T and Microsoft teamed up to enable enterprise customers to connect their machines and equipment securely by Azure Sphere guardian devices to the cloud seamlessly via AT&T's cellular network, without needing to rely on Wi-Fi systems.


All the innovations combined demonstrates the investment and bet Microsoft is making with its Azure Hybrid portfolio. Moreover, it follows the competition with their hybrid cloud offerings such as Google with Anthos – generally available since April of this year and AWS with their hybrid cloud solutions.

Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research Inc., told InfoQ:

The cloud race has transformed into a competitor who allows enterprises to build code assets once, and then deploys them 'anywhere'. There are not enough developers to build all the next-gen apps demands of enterprises, and certainly not for porting them across clouds and edge platforms. Notice how the term porting is going extinct these days ... so deploy code assets and access data and process data in as many locations as possible, with the same lines of code and pane of glass is the game between the big three, and Microsoft just delivered services, products and plans for it.

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