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What admins need to know about Azure Stack HCI

Despite all the promise of cloud computing, it remains out of reach for administrators who cannot, for different reasons, migrate out of the data center.

Many organizations still grapple with concerns, such as compliance and security, that weigh down any aspirations to move workloads from on-premises environments. For these organizations, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) products have stepped in to approximate some of the perks of the cloud, including scalability and high availability. In early 2019, Microsoft stepped into this market with Azure Stack HCI. While it was a new name, it was not an entirely new concept for the company.

Some might see Azure Stack HCI as a mere rebranding of the existing Windows Server Software-Defined (WSSD) program, but there are some key differences that warrant further investigation from shops that might benefit from a system that integrates with the latest software-defined features in the Windows Server OS.

What distinguishes Azure Stack HCI from Azure Stack?

When Microsoft introduced its Azure Stack HCI program in March 2019, there was some initial confusion from many in IT. The company offered a similarly named product called Azure Stack, which uses the name of Microsoft’s cloud platform, to run a version of Azure inside the data center.

Microsoft developed Azure Stack HCI for local VM workloads that run on Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition. While not explicitly tied to the Azure cloud, organizations that use Azure Stack HCI can connect to Azure for hybrid services, such as Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery.

Azure Stack HCI offerings use OEM hardware from vendors such as Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo that is validated by Microsoft to capably run the range of software-defined features in Windows Server 2019.

How is Azure Stack HCI different from the WSSD program?

While Azure Stack is essentially an on-premises version of the Microsoft cloud computing platform, its approximate namesake, Azure Stack HCI, is more closely related to the WSSD program that Microsoft launched in 2017.

Microsoft made its initial foray into the HCI space with its WSSD program, which utilized the software-defined features in the Windows Server 2016 Datacenter edition on hardware validated by Microsoft.

For Azure Stack HCI, Microsoft uses the Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition as the foundation of this product with updated software-defined functionality compared to Windows Server 2016.

Windows Server gives administrators the virtualization layers necessary to avoid the management and deployment issues related to proprietary hardware. Windows Server’s software-defined storage, networking and compute capabilities enable organizations to more efficiently pool the hardware resources and use centralized management to sidestep traditional operational drawbacks.

For Azure Stack HCI, Microsoft uses the Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition as the foundation of this product with updated software-defined functionality compared to Windows Server 2016. For example, Windows Server 2019 offers expanded pooled storage of 4 petabytes in Storage Spaces Direct, compared to 1 PB on Windows Server 2016. Microsoft also updated the clustering feature in Windows Server 2019 for improved workload resiliency and added data deduplication to give an average of 10 times more storage capacity than Windows Server 2016.

What are the deployment and management options?

The Azure Stack HCI product requires the use of the Windows Server 2019 Datacenter edition, which the organization might get from the hardware vendor for a lower cost than purchasing it separately.

To manage the Azure Stack HCI system, Microsoft recommends using Windows Admin Center, a relatively new GUI tool developed as the potential successor to Remote Server Administration Tools, Microsoft Management Console and Server Manager. Microsoft tailored Windows Admin Center for smaller deployments, such as Azure Stack HCI.

Windows Admin Center drive dashboard
The Windows Admin Center server management tool offers a dashboard to check on the drive performance for issues related to latency or when a drive fails.

Windows Admin Center encapsulates a number of traditional server management utilities for routine tasks, such as registry edits, but it also handles more advanced functions, such as the deployment and management of Azure services, including Azure Network Adapter for companies that want to set up encryption for data transmitted between offices.

Companies that purchase an Azure Stack HCI system get Windows Server 2019 for its virtualization technology that pools storage and compute resources from two nodes up to 16 nodes to run VMs on Hyper-V. Microsoft positions Azure Stack HCI as an ideal system for multiple scenarios, such as remote office/branch office and VDI, and for use with data-intensive applications, such as Microsoft SQL Server.

How much does it cost to use Azure Stack HCI?

The Microsoft Azure Stack HCI catalog features more than 150 models from 20 vendors. A general-purpose node will cost about $10,000, but the final price will vary depending on the level of customization the buyer wants.

There are multiple server configuration options that cover a range of processor models, storage types and networking. For example, some nodes have ports with 1 Gigabit Ethernet, 10 GbE, 25 GbE and 100 GbE, while other nodes support a combination of 25 GbE and 10 GbE ports. Appliances optimized for better performance that use all-flash storage will cost more than units with slower, traditional spinning disks.

On top of the price of the hardware is the annual maintenance and support fees that are typically a percentage of the purchase price of the appliance.

If a company opts to tap into the Azure cloud for certain services, such as Azure Monitor to assist with operational duties by analyzing data from applications to determine if a problem is about to occur, then additional fees will come into play. Organizations that remain fixed with on-premises use for their Azure Stack HCI system will avoid these extra costs.

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Juniper Mist roadmap includes SD-WAN, security integrations

Juniper Networks plans to broaden the reach of its cloud-based Mist AI engine from access points and switches to security and SD-WAN products on the wired and wireless LAN.

The vendor plans to finish by the middle of next year integrations between Juniper Mist and cloud-based versions of Sky Advanced Threat Prevention (ATP) and Contrail Service Orchestration (CSO). The former is Juniper’s malware detection service, and the latter is the management software for the company’s Contrail SD-WAN.

“[The integration] is something which has just started, so it’s beyond the design board,” said Sujai Hajela, who heads the Juniper company Mist. Hajela was CEO of Mist before Juniper acquired it this year.

Juniper bought Mist in an attempt to catch up with Cisco and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, in the wired and wireless LAN market. Both companies are market leaders, according to Gartner’s latest Magic Quadrant report.

Before Mist, Juniper partnered with other vendors to combine wireless LAN technology with its campus switches. Today, Juniper has a wired and wireless portfolio with cloud-based analytics and management tools competitive with products from Cisco and Aruba. The latter two vendors introduced their cloud offerings in June.

Juniper Mist integration use cases

Hajela expects to formally release the Mist, CSO and Sky ATP integrations by early in the first half of 2020. At that time, the Mist AI engine will provide correlations on data drawn from access points (APs), Juniper’s EX campus switches, Contrail SD-WAN and Sky ATP.

The product integrations will let Mist’s AI engine solve a broader set of network problems on Juniper-based networks. Instead of stopping at APs and EX switches, the software could discover other bottlenecks, such as congestion on a LAN circuit managed through the Contrail SD-WAN.

With Sky ATP data, Mist could identify devices on the network that are infected with malware, giving IT staff the option of quarantining the group or booting them off the grid.

Pricing

Juniper plans to offer future Mist AI capabilities through a tiered pricing model. A standard tier, for example, would provide state information on network operations while a higher-priced tier would include advanced remediation of problems. Another level could consist of location-based services for retailers or asset management in a hospital.

“We’re going to provide you with a single, full vertical stack of software, and [let] you decide,” Hajela said during a recent interview.

Vendors focusing on installed base

Juniper’s Mist acquisition gives the vendor a wireless product it can sell to companies using the vendor’s networking gear. In 2018, Juniper ranked sixth in the global market for campus switching, according to Gartner.

However, some Juniper customers are keeping an open mind when it comes to their wireless LAN. The University of Washington is watching all the leading networking vendors as it draws up plans to transition to next-generation wireless technology, particularly Wi-Fi 6 and 5G.

The emerging technologies are disruptive enough to require significant changes to Washington’s campus network. “There’s just a huge point of change — of brand-new architectures — happening in the next year,” said David Morton, director of networks and telecommunications at the school.

Today, Washington’s wireless LAN comprises between 17,000 and 18,000 Aruba APs. The university manages the network with HPE and Aruba software and runs the campus’s wired network on Juniper switches.

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For Sale – HP Z620 Graphics Workstation / Gaming PC. Xeon 6 Core, 32Gb Ram, GTX1660Ti 6Gb, SSD (£400)

Really interested in this to use as HTPC but I can’t reach your asking price. I have no need for the following:

HDD1 : 1.5Tb
HDD2 : 1Tb
DVD ReWriter
OS : Windows 10 Pro (Fully Licenced)
Wifi : Gigabyte WB1733D-I . (2×2 AC Wifi and Bluetooth 5)

Would you be willing to remove these items and sell at a reduced price?

I’m in Birmingham, about 65 miles away but willing to collect.

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For Sale – HP Z620 Graphics Workstation / Gaming PC. Xeon 6 Core, 32Gb Ram, GTX1660Ti 6Gb, SSD

Really interested in this to use as HTPC but I can’t reach your asking price. I have no need for the following:

HDD1 : 1.5Tb
HDD2 : 1Tb
DVD ReWriter
OS : Windows 10 Pro (Fully Licenced)
Wifi : Gigabyte WB1733D-I . (2×2 AC Wifi and Bluetooth 5)

Would you be willing to remove these items and sell at a reduced price?

I’m in Birmingham, about 65 miles away but willing to collect.

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Microsoft seeks broader developer appeal with Azure DevOps

Microsoft has rebranded its primary DevOps platform as Azure DevOps to reach beyond Windows developers or Visual Studio developers and appeal to those who just want a solid DevOps platform.

Azure DevOps encompasses five services that span the breadth of the development lifecycle. The services aim to help developers plan, build, test, deploy and collaborate to ship software faster and with higher quality. These services include the following:

  • Azure Pipelines is a CI/CD service.
  • Azure Repos offers source code hosting with version control.
  • Azure Boards provides project management with support for Agile development using Kanban boards and bug tracking.
  • Azure Artifacts is a package management system to store artifacts.
  • Azure Test Plans lets developers define, organize, and run test cases and report any issues through Azure Boards.

Microsoft customers wanted the company to break up the Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) platform so they could choose individual services, said Jamie Cool, Microsoft’s program manager for Azure DevOps. By doing so, the company also hopes to attract a wider audience that includes Mac and Linux developers, as well as open source developers in general, who avoid Visual Studio, Microsoft’s flagship development tool set.

Open source software continues to achieve broad acceptance within the software industry. However, many developers don’t want to switch to Git source control and stay with VSTS for everything else. Over the past few years, Microsoft has technically separated some of its developer tool functions.

But the company has struggled to convince developers about Microsoft’s cross-platform capabilities and that they can pick and choose areas from Microsoft versus elsewhere, said Rockford Lhotka, CTO of Magenic, an IT services company in St. Louis Park, Minn.

Rockford Lhotka, CTO, MagenicRockford Lhotka

“The idea of a single vendor or single platform developer is probably gone at this point,” he said. “A Microsoft developer may use ASP.NET, but must also use JavaScript, Angular and a host of non-Microsoft tools, as well. Similarly, a Java developer may well be building the back-end services to support a Xamarin mobile app.”

Most developers build for a lot of different platforms and use a lot of different development languages and tools. However, the features of Azure DevOps will work for everyone, Lhotka said.

Azure DevOps is Microsoft’s latest embrace of open source development, from participation in open source development to integrating tools and languages outside its own ecosystem, said Mike Saccotelli, director of modern apps at SPR, a digital technology consulting firm in Chicago.

In addition to the rebranded Azure DevOps platform, Microsoft also plans to provide free CI/CD technology for any open source project, including unlimited compute on Azure, with the ability to run up to 10 jobs concurrently, Cool said. Microsoft has also made Azure Pipelines the first of the Azure DevOps services to be available on the GitHub Marketplace.

Asus RT-N66U router (white) and open reach fibre modem

for sale is a mint and complete asus rt66u modem with an open reach fibre modem.

Router is fully complete in box with all paper work and accessories.
Modem is supplied with psu and cables.

Price and currency: £45
Delivery: Delivery cost is included within my country
Payment method: Bt or ppg
Location: Pembs Wales
Advertised elsewhere?: Advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I have no preference…

Asus RT-N66U router (white) and open reach fibre modem

Exchange 2007 end of life creates on-premises vs. cloud choice

Exchange 2007 will reach end of life in April 2017 as Microsoft discontinues support for the messaging platform….

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Organizations have three choices: Staying with Exchange 2007 — without assistance or updates from Microsoft, upgrade to another on-premises Exchange Server platform, or move to Office 365. But before making a decision, IT admins and business leaders need to evaluate all options.

Since its release 10 years ago, Exchange Server 2007 has been significant improved. In that time, Microsoft released three versions of Exchange Server: Exchange 2010, 2013 and 2016, which complicates the decision to upgrade or migrate mailboxes to the cloud. In either an upgrade or migration scenario, IT must overcome some technical hurdles: maintain the system within the company’s servers, or shift email to Exchange Online?

Use these guidelines during an Exchange 2007 upgrade — whether it’s to a new platform or to the cloud.

Consider the need

As Exchange 2007 end of life nears, the most critical factor is to understand business needs. Are Office 365 services or an on-premises implementation necessary? Once enterprise IT reaches that decision, the organization can determine if it is ready to jump to the new Exchange platform.

Know the complexity involved with an Exchange 2016 migration

An upgrade from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2016 — the latest version of Microsoft’s on-premises messaging platform — requires a two-stage move because the two platforms cannot coexist.

An upgrade from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2016 — the latest version of Microsoft’s on-premises messaging platform — requires a two-stage move because the two platforms cannot coexist. Exchange administrators first need to set up a new installation of Exchange 2013 and move mailboxes from Exchange 2007 to 2013. Then, they must install Exchange 2016 and move the mailboxes again. As Exchange 2007 end of life creeps closer, Microsoft recommends that organizations that want to continue to host the platform in their data centers use this method.

Understand the cost involved with moving to the cloud

Migrating from Exchange 2007 to Office 365 is far less complex than moving from Exchange 2007 to Exchange 2016; it also offers an easier path to Exchange Online. There are many tools available in the marketplace, such as Skykick and MigrationWiz, to assist administrators with an Office 365 migration. Microsoft also offers financial assistance under its FastTrack program to assist qualifying customers during the process.

Get PowerShell skills

New instances of Exchange, either on premises or in the cloud, depend on PowerShell for common maintenance and configuration tasks. As Exchange 2007 end of life looms, admins with deep Exchange 2007 experience should brush up on their scripting skills to ensure they can address some tasks in Exchange 2016. PowerShell scripts allow administrators to perform many tasks in bulk, whereas the administration web interface often requires some tasks to be performed individually. Here is an example, which shows how to configure multiple mailboxes with specific retention policies where the users belong to a specific department:

Get-Mailbox -OrganizationalUnit “Finance” -ResultSize Unlimited | Set-Mailbox -RetentionPolicy “RetentionPolicy-Finance”

Evaluate Exchange Online’s additional services

Many of Microsoft’s Office 365 plans include multiple services. This means anyone who wants to migrate email to the cloud can use existing workloads within different plans. Business users can benefit from services such as SharePoint Online, Skype for Business, conferencing, Office Planner and Office Groups. They also should look at advanced email security capabilities, such as Advanced Threat Protection, safe attachments and URL detonation, with the bundled plans in cloud-based Exchange.

Upgrade client to support new Exchange versions

Upgrade end-user machines to support the new platform; pay special attention to Outlook. Some end users may still use the Outlook Web App client in the browser. However, organizations with a larger user base must upgrade Microsoft Office on clients, although that can disrupt users across the board. Microsoft recognized the Office deployment had to change, and the company now gives IT access to new deployment tools that enable them to more easily and efficiently push the latest Office client applications to end-user machines.

Microsoft provides qualifying Exchange 2007 administrators with technical assistance for moving from the legacy Exchange 2007 to Office 365. It also provides the steps for a move to Exchange 2013 or 2016 on its website.

Next Steps

Experts weigh Exchange 2016 features and capabilities

Four quick tips for Exchange troubleshooting

Many factors at play in an Exchange Server commitment

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