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Unraveling the Mystery: Differences between Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI 

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

I’ve watched the development of hybrid cloud offerings in Azure, specifically Azure Stack Hyper-converged Infrastructure (HCI) and Azure Stack Hub. These are two distinct solutions and, in this blog post I will guide you through differences, similarities, use cases, and share key takeaways.  

Source: Microsoft

Understanding Azure Stack HCI 

Azure Stack HCI is an on-premises hybrid cloud solution designed to power virtualized applications in tandem with Azure services. Its foundation lies in three pillars: Hyper-V, Software-Defined Networking (SDN), and Storage Spaces Direct. Azure Stack HCI particularly shines in scenarios requiring a minimal server footprint and low latency to resources, such as remote offices and branches. It enables the virtualization of classic enterprise applications, such as Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL Server, and is an excellent choice for roles like File Server, DNS, DHCP, IIS, and Active Directory. One key advantage of Azure Stack HCI is its unrestricted access to Hyper-V features, an element that distinguishes it from Azure Stack Hub. Additionally, Microsoft has announced a public preview for Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) for Azure Stack HCI, allowing organizations to bring all the benefits of AVD on-premises.  

Understanding Azure Stack Hub 

Azure Stack Hub is an integrated system that enables Azure services in your data center, even in disconnected scenarios. It essentially operates as an instance of the Azure Resource Manager (ARM), creating a consistent hybrid environment for application development and deployment. It shines in scenarios requiring strong multi-tenancy enforcement and support for modern DevOps practices, making it an excellent choice for service providers, enterprise private clouds, and DevOps teams. Azure Stack Hub’s deployment as an integrated system from OEMs, distinct from Azure Stack HCI’s more flexible platform, enhances its ability to provide a consistent Azure experience on-premises. 

Similarities Between Azure Stack HCI and Azure Stack Hub 

Despite their individual characteristics, Azure Stack HCI and Azure Stack Hub share a mission to bring Azure services into your data center. As members of the Azure Stack family, they provide a hybrid cloud experience, combining the advantages of public cloud capabilities with the security and control of on-premises data centers. They help extend Azure management and services to on-prem, thus allowing you to maintain a consistent cloud strategy irrespective of workload placement. 

Differences Between Azure Stack HCI and Azure Stack Hub 

While they share a mission, Azure Stack HCI and Azure Stack Hub differ notably in operational models, infrastructure requirements, and ideal use cases. Azure Stack HCI excels in situations requiring flexibility, minimal server footprint, access to Hyper-V features, and AVD. It provides direct access to software-defined infrastructure technologies, offering a practical solution for replacing aging infrastructure. In contrast, Azure Stack Hub encourages the development of new skills, requires a larger server footprint, and provides a more controlled Hyper-V environment for consistency with Azure. Azure Stack Hub’s lack of exposure to software-defined infrastructure technologies sets it apart from Azure Stack HCI. 

Use Case Scenarios 

The suitability of Azure Stack HCI or Azure Stack Hub largely depends on your organization’s specific needs. In this article, Microsoft covers the canonical examples. Below, I created two sections generalizing these use cases. 

Azure Stack HCI Use Cases

Azure Stack HCI is ideal for scenarios requiring the virtualization of legacy applications, replacement of aging infrastructure, or maintaining a lower server footprint, such as in remote offices and branches. It also supports the AVD service, making it a solid choice for organizations with a remote workforce to:  

  • Run virtualized workloads, such as virtual machines and AVD  
  • Deploy and manage HCI clusters in remote or branch offices, while still benefiting from centralized management and integration with Azure services 
  • Modernize Remote Desktop Server (RDS) environments  

Azure Stack Hub Use Cases  

Azure Stack Hub, is perfect for organizations needing to run PaaS (platform-as-a-service) services on-premises in a disconnected scenario, enforce strong multi-tenancy, or support modern DevOps practices. Azure Stack Hub’s uniformity with Azure provides consistent hybrid development and runtime environment. It allows organizations to:  

  • Run Azure PaaS in disconnected or low-bandwidth environments 
  • Maintain control data and ensure compliance with local regulations by keeping data on-premises 
  • Reduce latency and improve performance for applications that require real-time data processing 

Key Takeaways 

Azure Stack HCI is ideal for smaller footprints, legacy application support, and running AVD. If simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and a traditional IT approach align with your requirements, Azure Stack HCI could be your ideal fit. 

Azure Stack Hub is suitable for disconnected scenarios, enforcing multi-tenancy, and implementing DevOps practices. If you’re leaning towards innovation, disconnected scenarios, multi-tenancy, and DevOps practices, Azure Stack Hub would be the better choice. 

Regardless of your pick, both bring the power of Azure services to your data center, offering flexibility, scalability, and modern cloud capabilities.  

Conclusion 

In conclusion, Azure Stack HCI and Azure Stack Hub are potent hybrid cloud solutions, each with strengths tailored to specific use cases. Your choice should align with your organization’s unique needs, regulatory requirements, and strategic goals. A deeper understanding of the similarities and differences between Azure Stack HCI and Azure Stack Hub equips you to make informed IT decisions that will bolster your business objectives and digital transformation journey. 

References 

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