Azure Stack – my take 01-18


In the first few months after Azure Stack was announced, there was quite a bit of buzz around what it promised.

A true hybrid cloud experience, allowing workloads to move seamlessly between public Azure and your private Azure Stack data centre.

If anybody could deliver this, you’d think Microsoft could.

Later than expected, it has now been released under General Availability. This post takes a look at a couple of factors that I believe are key to the success of Azure Stack.


Azure Stack is a fixed size hyper-converged platform. That is, the compute, storage and networking are tightly integrated with an overlaid software architecture. The fixed aspect refers to the fact that when you buy a Stack, you are buying a fixed number of nodes e.g. 4, 8 or 12.

I’m not a massive fan of hyper-converged infrastructure unless it’s dedicated to a well known workload that you can scale the nodes to. As soon as you put inconsistent or unpredictable workloads on there, you run the risk of, as an example, having to buy a new node (with all that compute, RAM and storage) just for the additional storage, even though your CPU and RAM utilisation might only be at 30% and 60% respectively. You can’t just buy more storage.

For me, one of the key definitions of cloud is scalability and flexibility. If you have an 8 node cluster, you don’t want to have those nodes sitting at 40% utilisation. You want them at near capacity, taking N+1 in to account.

I feel that the ‘pod’ approach that Azure Stack takes amplifies this problem even more. You can’t currently buy a 4 node pod and add another node when the cluster fills up. You need to buy another pod. That doesn’t come cheap.

I wonder, once the platform matures further, if Microsoft will allow single nodes to be added. It would mitigate the concern, but you are still limited to specific workloads if you aren’t going to be wasteful with your resources.

Feature parity

The big promise of hybrid cloud is running workloads in either your private data centre or the public cloud (Azure Stack and public Azure for the purpose of this post), migrate freely between the two, with a consistent experience regardless of where your workloads were.

That sounds like hybrid nirvana, but the current reality is less enticing. Stack was always going to deliver a subset of public Azure, but the feature gap today break’s the hybrid promise in their current state as far as I’m concerned.

The biggest difference is with the PaaS services. There are a number of hoops required to jump through to enable any level of PaaS services and requires licensing of additional VMs on the Stack to run some of those services, the latter point not really coming as a surprise though. For me however, PaaS is where the real benefits of migrating to cloud are reaped so this feels like a big bump in the road as it stands. A number of resource providers appear to be missing too. Again, I’m hopeful that as the platform matures, the capabilities gap will narrow considerably.

A great example of using a hybrid cloud setup is being able to DR your workloads from your private data center to the public cloud. You can currently do this with Azure Stack, but to fail the workloads back to your private Stack, you need to lift and shift them manually. This feels very much like a lock in to my sceptical mind. I can almost hear Admiral Ackbar shouting his warning out.

Microsoft are not offering any SLA on Azure Stack at the current time too.

Some of these shortcomings are likely to change over time but the key theme here for me is, what is the use case for purchasing Azure Stack? With no SLA, would you run your production on there? Would you use it for development on what is essentially a hobbled platform?


The idea of having a common interface to manage all your workloads, regardless of where they are hosted, is very appealing for obvious reasons. However, in its current incarnation, I can’t see a compelling reason to dive in to Azure Stack, although I have no doubt that over the next 1-3 years, it will mature to something that will genuinely be a game changer.

Have you deployed Azure Stack? If so and assuming you aren’t just talking about ASDK (the development kit that allows you to install Azure Stack on any tin), I’d love to hear what types of workloads you are running. How have you dealt with the shortcomings listed above? I’d love for you to reach out either on here or at my Twitter account to have a discussion.

Till the next time.

Windows Server 2012 – Overview


As is the case with many network engineers, I began my IT career, many moons ago, as a systems administrator. More specifically, I was a Microsoft Engineer. Over the years, I have worked on every Microsoft OS from the early MS-DOS days through to Windows Server 2008 R2. I was proud to attain the MCSE certification on the 2003 track and upgraded to the MCITP Server and Enterprise Administrator certifications on the 2008 track. I still hold the MCSE in higher regard than either of my MCITPs and I think that seems to be the general feeling in the industry.

Microsoft themselves seem to feel them same way too, as they’ve reverted their certification paths back to the classic MCSA\MCSE naming convention, although they now have slightly different meanings:

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

When Microsoft made this move, they were kind enough to also give me a free MCSA2008 certification based on my previous achievements on the 2008 track. Fair enough, although it didn’t make any difference until the new 2012 certification path became available. At that point, I was then able to do the 70-417 upgrade exam which covers topics from three other exams to become a MCSA2012.

I’m a full time network engineer now but after having put 10+ years of my career in to Microsoft, I think the investment of time to keep my MS certs up to date is well worth it. On top of that and perhaps more importantly, I am not a fan of working in silos and if I can complete a task without having to hand part of it off to another engineer, then all the better. Will I always update my Microsoft certifications? Probably not. I still feel I’m in a transition period from sysadmin to netadmin to some degree but once I feel my network experience has caught up to the level I was on as a sysadmin, I probably won’t have the desire so much to keep my MS certs up to date.

The new certifications offers both a server track and a desktop track. I’ve not done desktop support for many years (other than being the permanent personal helpdesk of my family and friends), so that track does not appeal to me one bit. Right, that’s enough of the certifications, let me quickly review the OS itself.

Operating System

When I first installed Server 2012 on bare metal, I was incredibly impressed with the speed it took to give me a desktop, approximately 15-20 minutes. What impressed me less was the desktop itself. Yes, I know I need to start embracing this at some point but I’m not a fan of the new desktop style that Server 2012 and Windows 8 has adopted. The good news is that in a production environment, I would opt for a core installation of 2012 wherever possible i.e. without a desktop GUI. I have also installed Server 2012 on my laptop in VMware Workstation 9 using an ISO on a network share (100Mb\s link) and it installed in under 45 minutes which is also impressive.

Below are some of the points that have attracted my attention:

  • NIC teaming is now built in to the OS. This allows for active\active or active\passive depending on your requirements. I’m looking forward to putting this in to action to see how stable it is and what the performance is like
  • DCPROMO is dead, long live Powershell. The promotion is all done by Powershell 3 now. As a massive Powershell fan (it saved me countless hours when working with Exchange 2007\2010), this is a welcome change. Powershell will only become more prevalent in future. If you work with Windows, you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not becoming proficient in Powershell. To be honest, DCPROMO is really only deprecated and can still be used to perform an installation using an answer file, but its on it’s last leg
  • There is an increasing emphasis on virtualisation as you would expect. One nice feature is that you can add or remove roles and features from an offline 2012 VHD file. Hyper-V has been improved considerably too with some nice features such as replicas, allowing you to provide business continuity. Deploying VM clones of domain controllers quickly without the mess of name\SID duplication looks like a nice touch too
  • Remote management has been taken to the next level. You can add or remove any roles\features on a remote server
  • No steps taken to remove legacy requirements e.g. NetBIOS\WINS, PDC emulator. Please, oh please sort this out. Let the dinosaurs die out
  • Small Business Server is dead but seems to have been replaced by the Essentials SKU. In a previous life, I used to work on SBS a fair amount and, in the right environment, it works very well. I’d be interested to know what improvements\differences that Essentials brings to the table
  • Data deduplication – oh yes! Storage may be cheaper than ever before but storage requirements by both users and applications have never been greater. This feature should help balance these two factors


There are loads of other new features and improvements for existing ones as well as many more things that have finally been deprecated but the list above is a quick review of those things that rang a bell with me. Overall, I’m impressed with the evolution that Windows Server 2012 has taken. It’s a lot more snapier, thanks to being leaner and smarter coding. It will only be a matter of time before I start looking at the pre-2012 GUIs and tutting, thinking how outdated they are!

So now all that remains is for me to keep delving deeper in to the OS, read up some more on the capabilities and do the CBTNugget videos that are available to date (just 10 from 20 as I type) and see if I can pass the exam in time for Xmas.

Till the next time…

Welcome to my blog


Welcome and thanks for at least coming this far! I’ve considered running a blog since the word was invented. I’ve had numerous sites over the years but they all went through a dozen changes and not one involved interesting content to be perfectly honest. I’ve been holding off on getting the ball rolling but with my first visit to Cisco Live coming up in a few weeks, thought that now is as good a time as any.

Initially I looked at Blogspot, liked the look of a couple of blogs and thought I’d write a small number of hopefully useful posts, outlining my rise in the world of the network engineer, in particular working with Cisco kit. But two posts in, I thought to myself, why not get the domain name I’ve always wanted and host the blog there instead, which is where we are today.

To give a bit of background as to who I am and where I’ve been, I’ve worked in IT full time since 2002 as a Microsoft engineer, attaining an MCSE 2003:Security, MCITP:Server and Enterprise Administrator and specialising in Exchange 2007\2010 in that time. In 2008, I started studying for the CCNA certification to broaden my horizons and six months later, having taken the ICND1\ICND2 path, was the proud owner of a CCENT and CCNA. I carried on specialising in Microsoft technologies, in particular Exchange and put my CCNA skills to use with basic configuration\troubleshooting on our internal network and on some of our customer’s infrastructures.

A few months ago, I was aware that my CCNA was going to expire (Feb 2012) and it was at that point that I was in the fortunate position of suggesting to my line manager a move to being a full time network engineer, which both he and the company supported…result! Within six weeks, I’d resat my CCNA as I wanted to reaffirm my foundational skills before moving on to the next step, the CCNP. I’m originally from Manchester but with family ties in Scotland. For the last four years I’ve worked for an ISP\hosting company in the North East. The initial aim of this blog was to document my journey through the valley of Cisco certification, but I soon realised that I would be restricting my content. So in short, this will be a technology blog with a heavy emphasis on networking.

Although my plans may change in terms of the order of things, I intend on gaining my CCNP in the next 9 months (have already passed my SWITCH exam), spending the following 12-18 months looking to gain some design certs (CCDA\CCDP), perhaps CCNA Security or Wireless or perhaps even a currently job relevant CCIP. No more than three years from now, I hope to be in a ‘comfortable’ position to take on the CCIE R&S written exam and lab.

If somebody ends up finding it useful, then all the better. In fact, if somebody ends up finding it at all, I’ll be happy. As a final note, please feel free to contact me at (vegaskid at vegaskid dot net) if you have any suggestions or questions and do make yourself at home. Till the next time…