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Azure Stack for the SQL Server Professional

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In my previous post about SQL Server related services in the cloud I mentioned about Azure Stack. Therefore, I have decided to do an overview of Azure Stack for the SQL Server Professional in today’s post. 

One thing I have noticed when I have presented my latest session is that not many people know about it. In fact, the most people that have known about it when I have presented are a handful of people in Germany.

In the past I have looked into deploying it for a business, so I thought I would share some findings here. This is aimed mostly at SQL Server Professionals, but others might find it useful as well.

What is it?

Basically, Azure Stack is where you can buy an appliance from a hardware vendor. You then plug it into your site and use it the same as you do with Azure in the cloud. Alternatively, you can pay a service provider to manage it remotely for you.

In other words, it’s Microsoft’s attempt to have a true hybrid cloud infrastructure environment. With this you can have a similar fabric for a cloud platform on-site that you use on the internet. 

The Azure Stack fabric and the portal are based on the Azure Resource Manager (ARM) fabric which Microsoft uses in Azure.  Technically you are hosting a subset of Azure within your own infrastructure, for your use.

Why use it?

You would use this if you wanted an environment locally that had a similar administration and deployment experience as you do in the cloud. Which could be a requirement from one of your managers whilst your company is looking for a new provider.

The Azure Stack fabric and the portal are based on the Azure Resource Manager (ARM) fabric which Microsoft use in Azure.

SQL Resource Provider

I mentioned in my previous post that Azure Stack offers its own SQL Service. This is called the SQL Resource Provider. You can think of it as a toned-down version of Azure SQL database. Because like Azure SQL Database it presents a single database.

To avoid repeating books online you can read all about here. However, I do highly recommend seeing it in action in this video.

SQL Server on Virtual Machines

You can create virtual machines in Azure Stack just like you can do in Azure in the cloud. Which means you can run SQL Server on those Virtual machines.

Typically, the Azure Stack admin must either download images from Azure of Virtual Machines with SQL Server installed. Alternatively, they can also publish customized ones for them to be available Azure Stack.

It uses the same machine size options as in Azure. However, compared to the ones available in Azure only certain Virtual Machine sizes are available. You can view which ones are available here.

Costs

It’s been a while since looked but I will say these appliances come at a premium cost. Initial costs were in the six-figure area, and they do recommend buying more than one. However, there is flexibility on how to pay for them. So, I recommend contacting the hardware partners.

You might think that because you have paid for the appliance you can install anything you want to in Azure Stack without paying any additional costs. However, this is not always the case.

In some situations, you get charged a reduced cost. Information about what you use in Azure Stack is stored and sent to Microsoft on a regular basis for billing.

In other situations where this is not possible there is an option to pay a fixed fee instead. You need to investigate which option is best for you.

Azure Stack Development Kit

Now you can test Azure Stack out before you buy it by installing the Azure Stack Development Kit. To install it you do need a server with a decent spec, and by decent I mean this.

As you can see you need a decent server with lots of disks. Hence a server that was used for a Big Data proof of concept would be ideal for it.

Another thing to be aware of is that you can’t just download and install this in a standalone environment. You need Azure connectivity and an account in Azure Active Directory (AAD) to get going.

Note that the install set for this is large (around 15GB), and it basically extracts a larger VM image to be used. Once you got to the stage of entering your AAD details and the main part of the process gets going you might as well go home and leave it to finish.

Azure Pack

Now some of you are probably reading this and thinking to yourselves that Microsoft done this before with Azure Pack. And you are right to a degree.

Azure Pack allowed you to run some of the same features you used in Azure in your own datacenters. Instead of an appliance you could get servers to mimic Azure.

As you could tell with the portal layout it was based on the old Windows Azure format. Even though some companies still use it, it is effectively been phased out. Therefore, if you are still using it keep an eye on it’s support end dates here.

Final word

I hope you enjoyed todays post. If you have used Azure Stack and have a few words to say about it yourself feel free to do so with a comment.

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