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Storage Spaces Direct is Now Azure Stack HCI

4 Min. Read


In Windows Server 2016, Microsoft introduced a new type of storage called Storage Spaces Direct (S2D). S2D enables building a highly available storage system with locally attached disks and without the need to have any external SAS fabric such as shared JBODs or enclosures. With S2D, you can deploy two models: The converged model (known as disaggregated) where the storage is separated from the hypervisor running on different hardware, and the Hyperconverged Infrastructure model (known as HCI) where the storage and the hypervisor (Hyper-V) running on the same hardware. This feature is included only in Datacenter edition of Windows Server 2016 or Windows Server 2019. You can find a lot of articles about S2D on my website.

In Windows Server 2019, Microsoft continues to add more and more features and enhancements to the Windows Server Software-Defined solutions (compute, storage, and networking).

Microsoft always recommends building a Hyperconverged solution using a pre-configured system with certified components, tested and validated by the OEM partner(s) and Microsoft to help you build a Storage Spaces Direct cluster with ease. For this reason, Microsoft introduced in the past a program called Windows Server Software-Defined (WSSD) so you can make sure you are running a supported and certified system.

Expanding the Azure Stack family

Azure Stack becomes generally available in 2017, it has captivated customers as a unique offering to build and run cloud-native applications with consistent Azure services on-premises including disconnected locations. Today, Azure Stack is available in 92 countries with 8 announced hardware partners. Microsoft continues to expand Azure Stack offerings to meet a broader set of customer needs, so they can run virtualized applications in their own datacenter.

Today Julia White, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure, announced the expansion of the Azure Stack family by introducing Azure Stack HCI solutions which enable customers’ hybrid strategy with new Microsoft innovation. You can read about the announcement here.

Introducing Azure Stack HCI Solutions

If you are familiar with Windows Server Software-Defined (WSSD) program, Azure Stack HCI looks very similar.

When I first heard about Azure Stack HCI, I thought maybe it’s a new solution or technology, but after I read the recent announcement from Microsoft, I understood that it’s only a new marketing name to align with their flagship of products and solutions across on-premises, hybrid, and public cloud. That makes absolute sense now. Yet I strongly believe in Hyperconverged technology. You can read about the announcement here.

The image below shows you the difference between Azure, Azure Stack, and Azure Stack HCI. The word Azure is shared between all services whether your workload is running in the public cloud, on-premises, or in a hybrid scenario.

Storage Spaces Direct is Now Azure Stack HCI 1

Azure, Azure Stack, and Azure Stack HCI solutions [image credit: Microsoft]

So in a nutshell, Azure Stack HCI is the new name of the old Windows Server Software-Defined (WSSD) program… You can still use your existing skills gained from Windows Server 2016 and Windows Server 2019 to deploy and manage Azure Stack HCI solutions.

What is Azure Stack HCI?

Azure Stack HCI solutions are designed to run virtualized applications on-premises in a familiar way, with simplified access to Azure for hybrid cloud scenarios. This is a perfect solution for IT to leverage existing skills to run virtualized applications on new Hyperconverged infrastructure while taking advantage of cloud services and building cloud skills.

IT administrators can also use the Windows Admin Center for simplified integration with Azure hybrid services to seamlessly connect to Azure.

Storage Spaces Direct is Now Azure Stack HCI 2

Azure Stack HCI solutions [image credit: Microsoft]

Customers that deploy Azure Stack HCI solutions get amazing price/performance with Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct running on the most current industry-standard x86 hardware. Azure Stack HCI solutions include support for the latest hardware technologies like NVMe drives, persistent memory, and remote-direct memory access (RDMA) networking.

What is the difference between Azure Stack and Azure Stack HCI?

Azure Stack HCI solutions feature the same Hyper-V-based software-defined compute, storage, and networking technologies as Azure Stack. Both offerings meet rigorous testing and validation criteria to ensure reliability and compatibility with the underlying hardware platform.

The big difference is, with Azure Stack you cannot touch the underlying infrastructure, it’s a kind of a sealed box, however, with Azure Stack HCI you can.

With Azure Stack, you can run Azure IaaS and PaaS services on-premises to consistently build and run cloud applications anywhere.
Azure Stack HCI is a better solution to run virtualized workloads in a familiar way – but with Hyperconverged efficiency – and connect to Azure for hybrid scenarios such as cloud backup, cloud-based monitoring, etc.

Buy Azure Stack HCI from your preferred hardware partner

As of today, you can buy Azure Stack HCI solutions from 15 partners and 74 different solutions. All certified partners are offering Microsoft-validated hardware systems to ensure optimal performance and reliability. Your preferred Microsoft hardware partner gets you up and running without lengthy design and build time and offers a single point of contact for implementation and support services.

If you want to see more from all of the hardware partners in this journey, check out the new Azure Stack HCI solution catalog. Microsoft covered every scenario under the sun, from a tiny, affordable 2-nodes system, to mind-blowing All-NVMe 16-node monsters. Check their catalog here.

Learn more

To learn more about Azure Stack HCI, I highly recommend checking out these resources including Microsoft hybrid offerings:

Thank you for reading my blog.

If you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment.

-Charbel Nemnom-

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About the Author
Charbel Nemnom
Charbel Nemnom is a Senior Cloud Architect with 21+ years of IT experience. As a Swiss Certified Information Security Manager (ISM), CCSP, CISM, Microsoft MVP, and MCT, he excels in optimizing mission-critical enterprise systems. His extensive practical knowledge spans complex system design, network architecture, business continuity, and cloud security, establishing him as an authoritative and trustworthy expert in the field. Charbel frequently writes about Cloud, Cybersecurity, and IT Certifications.

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