Azure Stack – The Fabric Layer

With more and more details coming available on Microsoft Azure Stack we can see the direction Microsoft is taking and giving us a peek under the hood of Microsoft Azure itself.
Azure Stack will be consistent with Azure and Microsoft is bringing the Azure bits to your datacenter with Azure Stack, we will get the same portal and all the great features (like Azure Resource Manager) it brings us.

The one thing that is not consistent with Microsoft Azure is the fabric layer and in this post I will give some more insight on the infrastructure side.

Hyperscale & Software-defined datacenter

“In computing, hyperscale is the ability of an architecture to scale appropriately as increased demand is added to the system.”

Microsoft Azure is running hundreds of datacenters, offering hundreds of services in 27 regions world-wide. The scale is immense.
For Microsoft to scale appropriately as demand increases it means scaling by scale units consisting of about 20 racks, with nearly 1,000 servers in total at a time to provide enough hardware resources for the services of Microsoft Azure. To make sure not every component landing on the hardware is installed manually by engineers the Software Defined Datacenter approach is used.
In the Software Defined Datacenter approach all components are provisioned without manual interference and are delivered in an as-a-service model.

Microsoft had to innovate and gain experience to use this concept in production for Microsoft Azure.
And the good news is, next year Microsoft is bringing the gained experience and knowledge of the past years to her customers!

Windows Server 2016 contains all the software defined components needed to build your own Software Defined Datacenter and is based on the same concepts as Microsoft Azure.


Hyper-V & Storage Spaces Direct

In the summer of 2015 I already published a post on the Hyperconverged technology that Windows Server 2016 is bringing us.
Hyperconverged makes your infrastructure drastically less complex especially because there are no shared physical components.
If you need extra storage or compute power, just add an extra server to your cluster and you’re ready to go!
Does this come close to a hyperscale approach already?

Network controller

Now there is only one more obstacle: all the network devices in the network such as switches, firewalls, load balancers and VPN devices. To comply with the hyperscale requirements we also need those devices to be software-defined: hello Network controller!
With Network Controller you can automate the configuration of network infrastructure instead of performing manual configuration of network devices and services. The Network Controller can also replace some of the network devices required and provide a way to automatically provision network services.

Just as with Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct, the Network Controller uses a distributed design which makes it highly scalable and very usable in a hyperscale approach.
The Network Controller automatically configures newly discovered network devices and removes any manual configuration, when adding a new host to your hyperconverged configuration the host is automatically enrolled with all the necessary components.


Do you need more Firewall or Load balancer capacity? Just add a Network Controller, it will sync with the master server and start processing requests when ready.

Azure Stack

I can hear you thinking “All great stuff, but where does Azure Stack come in?”
The software-defined components offered by Windows Server 2016 are very useful, but you do not want to manage these components manually. Azure Stack comes with multiple “User Facing Services”, such as the self-service portal, which is offering all kind of services based on the underlying fabric for your tenants.
The User Facing Services will communicate through the Resource Providers with the underlying fabric to actually create services such as a virtual machine or a storage account.


In contrast to Windows Azure Pack, where we needed System Center to perform tasks on the underlying fabric, Azure Stack does this by directly communicating with the resource providers.
Microsoft Azure Stack will manage all the software defined components and be used to provision services on the fabric.


With the software defined components that Windows Server 2016 is offering in combination with Microsoft Azure Stack, Microsoft is providing all the tools you need for your own Software Defined Datacenter. Although in Azure Stack, the hardware underneath will be different from Azure, the hyperscale architecture, the “software defined everything”-approach and the power of API-driven resource providers make it an awesome piece of work that allows businesses to really build a hybrid cloud with a very high degree of consistency between Azure and Azure Stack.

Thank you for reading my blog.
If you have any questions or feedback, leave a comment or drop me an email.

Darryl van der Peijl

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