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Microsoft Azure Stack gets channel partner attention

Microsoft cloud partners are watching developments with Microsoft's Azure Stack, a hybrid cloud technology spanning Microsoft and service provider data centers.

TORONTO -- Channel partners are keeping an eye on Microsoft Azure Stack, which has been making inroads among customers since its January debut as a technical preview.

Azure Stack is Microsoft's hybrid cloud platform that takes the essence of the company's public cloud technology and packages it for deployment in service provider or end customer data centers. Azure Stack uses the same APIs that Azure employs, so developers can build apps using .NET or open source technology that can exist in a private data center or the public cloud, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft Azure Stack was mentioned this week during addresses at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group, noted during his keynote talk that Azure Stack provides consistency via common management APIs and development services, whether a "cloud solution" is deployed in a Microsoft data center or in a service provider's facility.

But partners suggested that the limited discussion on Azure Stack belies the activity behind the scenes.

"Our understanding is customers have responded well to the concept, so that is definitely where we are going to go," said Chris Woodin, director of Microsoft sales operations at Softchoice, an IT solutions and managed service provider based in Toronto. He added the company has yet to create a refined service offering around Microsoft Azure Stack.

Softchoice, which offers Azure implementation services as a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP), reported in May 2016 that it has experienced 300% growth in Azure use among its customers over the previous two quarters compared to the same time span in 2015.

Rackspace, which recently became a CSP 2-Tier cloud distributor, is also watching Azure Stack. Jeff DeVerter, chief technologist for Microsoft technology at Rackspace, said Azure Stack is a "different world" compared with Azure Pack. Azure Pack also aims to move Azure in-house but provides a small subset of the public cloud's capabilities.

Our understanding is customers have responded well to the concept, so that is definitely where we are going to go.
Chris Woodindirector of Microsoft sales operations, Softchoice

Azure Stack, DeVerter said, "is absolutely intended" to be deployed in a multi-tenant data center environment. He said the technology will let organizations deploy Azure behind the firewall or in an environment in which an added level of security is required. That latter case offers partners the opportunity to build more capabilities for the Azure deployment, he said.

David Lucky, director of product management at Datapipe Inc., also cited the appeal of being able to deploy Azure Stack in a private environment. Datapipe, a managed IT services company based in Jersey City, N.J., is among the Microsoft channel partners to detect an uptick in interest in Azure.

Mark Jewett, senior director of product marketing, cloud platform marketing at Microsoft, has been discussing the possibilities of Azure Stack with partners at the Worldwide Partner Conference. He said that the company has been able to glean insights on Azure Stack since the preview began early this year. He said feedback from customers underscores the importance of speed and stability in succeeding with the technology.

In light of this observation, Microsoft is pursuing a strategy around integrated systems, Jewett explained. Initially, the company will work with Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo, which will provide Azure Stack as a turnkey system.

Jewett said the target for delivering those integrated system is mid-2017. In the meantime, Microsoft is expected to issue another technical preview of Microsoft Azure Stack later this year.

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