Microsoft's going all in to support hybrid and multi-cloud with Azure Arc. Of course they are. So is everybody.
As 2019 winds down, it’s safe to say just about anyone who was a potential candidate for being a cloud-only player is already there. That leaves clouds and vendors alike eyeing big enterprise players who will benefit from taking a cloud-native approach but who need to keep a large part of their infrastructure safely tucked away on premises. Many, if not most, of these enterprises also want to to keep the monolithic legacy applications they use to drive their businesses intact.
There's plenty of business to be found in offering a cloud solution to enterprises that need to move seamlessly between on-premise and cloud solutions. As IBM kept reminding anyone who would listen, back when it was in the process of buying Red Hat for its hybrid multi-cloud play, only 8% of enterprises have undertaken a cloud migration. That leaves a lot of customers with deep pockets ripe for the picking.
Azure, as the world's second largest cloud provider, would very much like to be a part of this perceived migration opportunity. The move with Arc is to make sure that Azure is the one cloud you can't do without.
"Today, we take a significant leap forward to enable customers to move from just hybrid cloud to truly deliver innovation anywhere with Azure," Julia White, Azure's corporate VP, blogged last week as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was unveiling Arc at the company's Ignite festivities. "Today, we are announcing Azure Arc, a set of technologies that unlocks new hybrid scenarios for customers by bringing Azure services and management to any infrastructure."
Azure Arc offers plenty of capabilities to ease a migration to the cloud and will undoubtedly be used by many of those who are already sold on Azure. Whether overly cautious enterprises hop on board is debatable. Almost all enterprise players have been burned once or twice by the fire of vendor lock-in and are wary of ceding control to a single vendor solution, no matter how capable it might be.
Basically, Arc brings support for Azure Resource Manager, which ties together compute resources inside Azure, to resources running outside of Microsoft's cloud — whether the resource is running in an on-prem data center or on another cloud. This means that any server, even if its running behind a firewall or proxy, becomes just another resource as far as Azure is concerned; it just needs to be registered with the Resource Manager first. This includes virtual machines, whether running on-prem on something like VMware vSphere, or in Amazon Web Services or the Google Cloud Platform.
After that, they're ready to be managed by Fabric Controller, Azure's pane-of-glass control plane for managing compute resources.
The same is true for containers. Once registered, external Kubernetes clusters — whether in an on-prem data center running Pivotal on vSphere or in another cloud using managed services such as Amazon's EKS or Google Kubernetes Engine — can be managed the same as if they were running natively using Azure's Kubernetes service, AKS.
Azure Arc can also run managed database services in hybrid and multi-cloud environments, with Azure SQL Database and PostgreSQL Hyperscale currently supported.
All of this makes life easier for DevOps teams, as it allows them to run and deploy their applications, services and systems wherever necessary while managing them from a single control plane. It also allows them to do a bit of integration to harness "must have" monolithic legacy applications with more modern and elastic cloud native applications using containers, microservices and the like.
Ironically, for a multi-cloud offering, the weak spot with Azure Arc is that it puts all eggs in a single company's basket. While it allows user to take advantage of multiple cloud services, it does so using Azure cloud tools — which does little to break the bonds of vendor lock-in. It also means controlling the system from within Azure — unless Azure Stack Hub appliances are added — which does little to break vendor lock-in, but it at least allows control to be brought on-prem.