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Microsoft hybrid cloud strategy expands with Azure Arc

Azure Arc will bring Microsoft's public cloud management tools together for use by customers on any type of infrastructure. The move underscores the drive toward hybrid cloud deployments as customer needs evolve.

ORLANDO -- Microsoft wants to shore up its position in hybrid cloud computing through a technology framework dubbed Azure Arc.

Arc, which was launched at Microsoft's Ignite conference, appears to be less a brand-new endeavor than a packaging and extension of existing Azure technologies. Available in preview today, Arc will bring "Azure services and management to any infrastructure," Microsoft said.

With Azure Arc, customers will be able to use Azure's management capabilities to get Windows and Linux server farms under their control. Arc also provides the means to manage Kubernetes-based container clusters "on any infrastructure across on-premises, multi-cloud and edge," Microsoft claimed.

"This is a good example of Microsoft listening to its users' wants for cloud consistency and simplification," said Stephen Elliot, program vice president of management software and DevOps at IDC. "Customers live in a multi-cloud world, and they are now considering what tools to use to standardize with on certain tasks and to simplify their multi-cloud operating model."

Arc and the Microsoft hybrid cloud strategy will be discussed in depth this week at Ignite. In recent remarks, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella signaled such an announcement was slated for the conference, the company's largest enterprise-focused event.

This is a good example of Microsoft listening to its users' wants for cloud consistency and simplification.
Stephen ElliotProgram vice president, IDC

While the details released ahead of Ignite were somewhat scarce, Arc will involve services such as Azure Resource Manager, Azure Cloud Shell, Azure Portal and Azure Policy. That array of technologies meets the needs of developers, IT operations teams and cybersecurity professionals.

Pricing and planned general availability for Arc wasn't available.

Azure Arc points to hybrid cloud realities

Arc bears some resemblance to Google Anthos, that company's multi- and hybrid cloud platform for running Kubernetes-based workloads on public cloud and on-premises environments. Anthos, a fully managed service from Google in conjunction with many prominent systems integrators, became generally available in April.

In that sense, Arc is playing catchup with Anthos. It also arrives in preview just about a month before the expected general availability of AWS Outposts, which brings AWS public cloud capabilities into customer data centers via specialized racks managed by AWS.

The Microsoft hybrid cloud push has an edge over AWS in this regard, given that its Azure Stack appliances have been available since 2017. Also this week at Ignite, Microsoft unveiled Azure Stack Edge, a version of the product geared for applications that need computing power oriented closely to a given location, rather than a central data center.

The Ignite agenda shows plenty of sessions dedicated to Azure Stack, but the onus will be on Microsoft to clearly spell out how Azure Stack and Arc co-exist from a technological and strategic standpoint.

While Microsoft didn't over-emphasize the use of Arc on rival public clouds, its "any infrastructure" pledge indicates this will be possible.

To that end, if Arc proves successful, it may prompt AWS to join Microsoft and Google in offering its native software as a means for multicloud deployments.

Overall, there's no question that enterprises need workload portability across public cloud and on-premises deployments for legal and performance and sometimes performance reasons, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.

"What matters is a high degree of identicality, i.e., the same services being available across the supported platforms," Mueller added.

The top-tier cloud providers are racing each other to come up with solutions to address the cloud management needs of corporate users' private infrastructure, said Rhett Dillingham, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. The broader a cloud provider's hybrid cloud platform can reach, the better the management consistency value they can deliver across an enterprise's private infrastructure and public cloud use, he said.

"At the same time, the provider gains strategic customer application visibility, enabling them to better advise and cross-sell the enterprise on the integrated value of their other development, operations and security services," he said. "This includes easing any public cloud application migrations to their own platform."

Dillingham notes this is the reason VMware is trying to accelerate the adoption of its Cloud Foundation platform for hybrid cloud environments, while at the same time building out its complimentary cloud services portfolio. Similarly, it is why Google delivered Anthos in order to extend its platform reach to private infrastructure and why IBM acquired Red Hat for its OpenShift platform and management software for its hybrid cloud.

"So now Microsoft is delivering Azure Arc to extend its Azure-based cloud management reach in private [cloud] infrastructure beyond its initial base of Azure Stack deployments to users' existing application portfolios and edge computing environments," Dillingham said.

Microsoft also announced that Azure Arc users will have the option to deploy the data services of its Azure SQL database for PostgreSQL Hyperscale on any private infrastructure running a Kubernetes cluster, which helps broaden the services for the purpose of cross-selling.

"This puts Microsoft in a better position to compete for broad hybrid cloud infrastructure management within each enterprise, in particular with those enterprises with VMware, AWS and their joint hybrid cloud offers," he said.

IDC's Elliot added, however, that Azure Arc must fit into exiting developer workflows and be easy for users to adopt.

"GitLab is no doubt part of the on-ramp discussion," Elliot said. "It also presents another Azure capability that can reduce the migration friction from traditional app stacks onto Azure Cloud."

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