Azure Stack HCI is Microsoft’s offering in the Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) space that is widely being adopted as the new datacenter technology in the IT market today. HCI reduces the need for individual, separate, 3-tier datacenter architecture which is often difficult and expensive to set up, maintain and upgrade by combining multiple hardware devices into one. On top of it, Azure Stack HCI is the purpose-built operating system by Microsoft that leverages Azure Arc capabilities to help you achieve potential for a true single pane of control and management regardless of where the infrastructure lives – the right way a hybrid infrastructure should be. If you’re not very familiar with Azure Stack HCI, I’d encourage you to check out this learning path we recently concluded to learn more.
However, AzS is only the one half of your HCI infrastructure. Since AzS is simply only an Operating System, you first need the HCI hardware to install it on. And Microsoft relies on its validated OEMs to provide the HCI hardware that is reliable, easy to set up and maintain.
Today, Dell is leading the HCI market with its range of amazing and trusted HCI offerings and Azure Stack HCI space is no different. Dell offers the complete solution to all your AzS needs with its range of AX devices that will cover everything you need from POC, purchasing the H/W and AzS OS, initial setup, and even on-going maintenance for both hardware and software. Dell is the one-stop-shop for all your AzS HCI investment.
As part of the Dell EMC Integrated Solutions for HCI, Dell offers two flavors. Dell EMC Integrated Solutions for Azure Stack HCI (Azure Stack HCI or AzS) and Dell EMC Integrated Solutions for Windows Server HCI (Windows Server HCI). The fundamental difference here is the corresponding base operating system they run on the HCI hardware as a virtualization platform. Let’s discuss each and compare to help you understand which is the one that works the best for your organization.
Azure Stack HCI vs Window Server HCI
These solutions are two different offerings, but they do share some similarities at the base level. Let’s talk about them first.
Hardware underneath remains the same for both lines of products – factory-ready, certified, validated AX nodes. There are several different models with different compute, storage, and processor options you can select from. We will talk about the AX nodes in detail soon in a different article.
They’re both fully productized, meaning you’ll get support from Dell from end-to-end right from the POC to implementation to day-to-day tech support.
They’re both capable of running a broad portfolio of configurations, may it be entirely on-prem or in a hybrid configuration, to remote branch offices to big production datacenters.
Both provide the world-class hypervisor platforms built on software-defined capabilities (Hyper-V for compute, Storage Spaces Direct for Storage and Azure-inspired networking). You can run Windows or Linux or Kubernetes clusters on top of both platforms as you like.
You can leverage your existing skills as datacenter administrators or Azure administrators to both the platforms and use the same tools you’re familiar with for management such as Windows Admin Center (WAC), System Center suite, or PowerShell.
You can use Dell’s OpenManage integration with WAC as a plugin to manage, automate and monitor everything about your HCI clusters on both platforms. We will talk more about this in upcoming blogs.
Both platforms offer you the capability to leverage some Azure services such as Site Recovery, Backup, Update Management, Azure Monitor, etc. However, it slightly changes in the way it implements this on each platform which we will talk about later.
Since the base Operating System on Windows Server HCI is the Windows OS, it is licensed the same as traditional Windows OS licensing model. On the other hand, since Azure Stack HCI is an Azure service, it is consumed as any other Azure resource, based on pay-as-you-go model.
While both OS have an exciting roadmap of updates and new features, these updates are consistently and automatically delivered to Azure Stack HCI as an Azure resource while updates to Windows Server OS are aligned with the traditional Windows OS update cycles.
The focus of Windows Server OS is on being the best VM guest and a traditional server. And since it is a VM guest OS, it has all the roles and features and the runtime framework you’d need to run all the Windows workloads, applications etc. While since Azure Stack HCI is a purpose-built OS specifically designed to be the best virtualization host, it does not include all the other roles and features. The applications run on the guest VMs.
Previously, I mentioned that while both solutions can integrate with Azure to leverage some Azure services, there is a difference in the way in which it is achieved. Windows Server HCI integrates to Azure via the WAC extension, while Azure Stack HCI being a native Azure resource is integrated more deeply with Azure portal.
Now that we’ve discussed the main similarities and differences between two products, let’s answer the million-dollar question. When should I use what?
Use Windows Server HCI when:
- You want to modernize your on-prem Hyper-V infrastructure but no big need for hybrid cloud capabilities.
- Your deployment is air-gapped – meaning if there’s no internet connection available.
- You’re constrained by the traditional Windows Server licensing model.
- If your traditional data replication and recovery approaches are meeting the SLAs.
Consider using Azure Stack HCI when:
- You’re looking to operate your on-prem resources and Azure resources from a single pane of glass or you want to leverage cloud-native services also to your on-prem resources.
- Since Azure Stack HCI is licensed on consumption model, you can move to OPEX model instead of CAPEX for licensing your virtualization hosts.
- There is Azure connectivity.
- Since Azure Stack HCI has built-in DR feature (stretched clusters), it drastically improves your time to get the business back on track in an event of a disaster.
- Azure Stack HCI is where Microsoft (and Dell) is focusing on as the technology of the future, so it’s time to move!
Now that we’ve covered in brief what the similarities and differences are between both the solutions, I hope it accelerates your plans to give your on-prem infrastructure a make-over! If you want to know more details, I encourage you to check out this video comparing the two solutions.