Yesterday at the Microsoft Ignite Conference in Orlando, Microsoft announced Azure Arc, the cloud management plane for hybrid and multi cloud environments. Azure Arc will offer a single pane of glass for cloud services across Azure, On-Premises, Edge and other cloud providers. It is still under preview and will be available in GA at a later stage. In this blog post, let us look at Azure Arc from the point of view of competition in the market and how it fits the enterprise IT users.
Azure Arc in plain English
Azure Arc tries to be the single pane of glass for the resources used by your applications across hybrid and multi cloud scenarios. Azure Arc makes Azure Resources Manager (ARM) a standard for cloud management independent of the cloud provider or on-premises data centers. It unifies managing servers, containers and other cloud services under a single control plane, making it easy for IT operations and also for DevOps teams using Infrastructure as Code approach to IT operations. It is also designed to make it easy to manage all Kubernetes workloads under a single pane of glass. Even though it can be bucketed under cloud management, it easily transcends both cloud management and governance. To put it more bluntly, Microsoft wants to be the control plane for cloud workloads independent of the cloud providers or On-Premises data centers. Being the control plane today means your workload moves to Microsoft Azure in the future.
Why Azure Arc matters?
Even though more and more enterprises are comfortable deploying their applications to public cloud, hybrid cloud and multi cloud are still dominant deployment patterns. The trend towards multi cloud has been increasing in the past few years and more enterprises will adopt a multi cloud strategy in the future. As we have pointed out many times in the past (See The Pros and Cons of Multi Cloud, Multi Cloud: Considerations before you start and Multi Cloud GovernanceL Hard problem but essential for success), the adoption of multi cloud comes with its own challenges. Having a single pane of glass to manage a diverse set of cloud services from different providers and governance are two of the top concerns with multi cloud. Azure Arc takes the first step to tackle this problem, making it easy to use any cloud provider but with a standardized management layer. Multi cloud increases the operational complexity multifold and you need a single control plane to reduce friction. The same is the case with managing security across multiple cloud providers. Azure Arc seems to tackle this issue by bringing in RBAC features through Azure Arc. Microsoft hopes to make Azure Arc the control plane for multi cloud and hybrid cloud deployments.
And it gets a little more interesting
One of the key issues with application portability across multiple cloud are the constraints associated with application architecture and its lock-in with various cloud services, including data services. In our 2017 blog post highlighting how you can make applications portable across multiple cloud providers, we have suggested Portable APIs as one solution. One of the important features of Azure Arc is Azure data services anywhere. By doing this, Microsoft is making it easy for developers to standardize on Azure data services API even if they run their applications in the competing cloud provider’s infrastructure. This makes application migration across clouds easier but with a lock-in on Microsoft technologies. Where do you think these applications will end up when the cost of re-architecting them is more than the cost of hosting them on Azure? Nice try Microsoft 🙂
From the hybrid cloud point of view, Google Anthos and AWS Outpost are direct competitors. From the multi cloud point of view, VMware Cloud, IBM Multi Cloud Manager and Platform9 are direct competitors. After this announcement, it will be interesting to see how much effort Microsoft will invest in their recently announced partnership when they also compete against each other for the same workloads. Then you have startups like CoreStack and Upbound, along with many other cloud management players who compete directly with Azure Arc. All these different vendors have differences in focus as well as features but they will compete for the same mind share and market share.
Rishidot Research Recommendations (a.k.a Rishi Recommends)
The main aim of Rishidot Research is to help enterprise decision makers cut through all the vendor marketing and help them with their modernization strategy. With this goal in mind, we recommend:
- If you are an existing Microsoft customer with Hybrid cloud and Edge computing needs and/or if you rely on Microsoft Azure heavily, it is no brainer. Azure Arc is the right platform for your needs
- If you are into multi cloud strategy, you need to evaluate carefully. If you are comfortable getting locked into Azure endpoints for various services and want portable APIs while using different cloud provider’s infrastructure (for performance or regulatory reasons), Azure Arc is a good candidate for leveraging portability across clouds. However, if you are not comfortable with this lock-in, you need to pick an open source API for the endpoints (eg: Minio for object storage) and use a third party control plane like that of VMware, Platform9, CoreStack, Upbound, etc..
- If you are an existing VMware or IBM customer, stick with your current vendor’s multi cloud management console. There is no significant advantage in moving to Azure Arc
- If you want a more managed service experience, Platform 9 is an ideal choice. It takes the overhead out of Day 2 operations
- If you want comprehensive cloud management and governance under one platform, VMware Cloud, CoreStack or one of the other competing players in the market will make more sense. Azure Arc has some basic governance capabilities and it may improve over time but it is still not powerful enough for many enterprise needs
- If you are using multi cloud and want to use native cloud services with their own endpoints, you have to consider which cloud management vendor will keep up with all the changes happening with these cloud services. Maintaining endpoint compatibility and feature parity are difficult tasks for any vendor and if you rely on these third party management plane and APIs, you are at the mercy of the vendor (or the OSS project) to ensure the one-to-one mapping with native cloud services. At times, you may have to compromise and use a common set of features available. It is a decision you need to make based on whether you want application portability or take advantage of all the features natively
Azure Arc is a good start for hybrid and multi cloud management but it has a long way to go before it can be a comprehensive cloud management and governance platform
Disclaimer: CoreStack is a client of Rishidot Research