Microsoft - Jan 7, 2022

Microsoft Ignite 2021 – Part III: Azure.

In this three part series, my colleagues Michael Stachowski, Florian Vees, and I bring you the most important news about modern work, Azure, and security from Ignite 2021. To conclude this series of blogs, today, we’ll be looking at the Microsoft Azure platform.

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And in case you missed the first two parts, here they are:

I find the the sheer amount of updates and new features over the last few years on the Azure platform very impressive. It shows that Microsoft is strongly focussing on development. But many other demands of the market are also being catered for and slowly implemented. This is good for Microsoft, of course, but most of all for the customers through the ever-growing range of Microsoft services and integration of other vendors. Moreover, the usability is also growing through more flexible services that every customer can adjust and put together however they need.

In this blog, I’ll share with you my personal highlights of the second Ignite 2021 and give you my take on it.

Azure Stack HCI.

One of these highlights is the new 21H2 update for Azure Stack HCI, offering many interesting updates. I have to admit that I was sceptical of Azure Stack HCI at first—mostly regarding its potential to compete with the other established solutions on the market. With the last update though, I see that it’s a game-changer that offers many benefits for Azure Stack HCI solutions and therefore the users.

One major advantage is that Microsoft is making more and more native Azure services work on Azure Stack HCI. This means that you can now run containers with AKS (Azure Kubernetes Services) and various PaaS services such as SQL instances and web applications on a Stack HCI. Microsoft has gone a step further here than simply being able to operate simple Windows and Linux machines.

Update 21H2 also provides another service as Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) can now also be run by an Azure Stack HCI cluster. This offers users exiting new options such as viewing latency sensitive applications for end users on a desktop.

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An additional new feature in the 21H2 update is called “Azure Benefits for Windows Server” and enables Azure capable Windows Server 2022 versions to run on Azure Stack HCI. This allows features such as hot-patching to be used for security updates without restarting. You read that correctly—without restarting!

If you have an older version of Windows Server or SQL though, and are not ready or able to upgrade, you can also switch to Azure Stack HCI and receive free additional security updates—and still on the Azure cloud platform. A successful feature to make it far easier for users to switch over to the new cloud world. Many companies today are still using Server 2008 and Server 2012 that require urgent protecting.

There is also the new option of directly paying for Windows Server guest systems’ licence costs via the linked Azure subscription. I see this as an elegant solution for licensing versions of Windows Server that have not yet been purchased.

Azure Arc.

Microsoft laid the foundation stone for hybrid and multi-cloud environments some time ago with Azure Arc. It allows customers to use the benefits of the comprehensive security and management features of Azure for their Windows, Linux, SQL Server and Kubernetes deployments in their on-premise data centres and with other cloud platform providers. It forms a kind of bridge between Azure and other worlds in that it allows you to use the benefits without having an Azure environment. These types of environments can be both local data centres as well as other cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Expansions in this area for Azure Arc were announced at Ignite, with the most exciting being the enhanced integration of Azure Arc in VMWare vSphere, Making it possible to manage virtual machines based on VMware directly in the Azure portal. In a first step, administrators will be able to create, configure and delete virtual machines based on vSphere templates—a much longed-for feature which is now being implemented.

The previously mentioned Azure Stack HCI solutions will also be automatically activated in Azure Arc in the future, and so it will also be manageable directly from Azure. This is as much about controlling the cluster hosts themselves as well as the virtual machines on the cluster.

Find out more on this here.

Microsoft Defender for Cloud.

With the Defender for Cloud (previously Azure Security Center and Azure Defender), Microsoft is not only changing another name, but is making a clear commitment to integration in the entire Defender family. Of even greater interest, however, is the native support of multi-cloud environments—in this case, the integration of AWS services. Defender for Cloud analyses AWS configurations and compares them to security best practices, displaying them in the Secure Score. Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) can also now be integrated—another step towards Microsoft Azure becoming the central hub for multi-cloud environments in the future.

Summary.

In terms of Azure, Microsoft is very much focussed on the development of technologies and functionalities that make it easier for customers to get the most out of it. This is very clear when you look at the innovations related to hybrid and multi-cloud environments. The ongoing pandemic and related accelerated digitalisation play not insignificant roles here, either. Many businesses have to act and expect cloud services that work—something that Microsoft can provide with its portfolio that covers the fields of modern work, security and the (multi-cloud) data centre. In addition, customers won’t just be using the one cloud platform in the future, which is why it’s important to have functionality that allows for the management and back up of multi-cloud environments.

If we’ve got you interested, you can see an overview of all updates from the latest Ignite 2021 here.

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Published on Jan 7, 2022.