Windows Azure Pack brings the interface of Windows Azure—well, Microsoft Azure now—to your own servers and lets you create an infrastructure as a service offering for your internal customers, for external parties, or both. The best parts about it? The control of all of it rests with you, but the burden of requesting and provisioning can be delegated and automated. Let’s take a look.
How Windows Azure Pack Works
The real appeal of the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server is that it gets you well on your way to creating your own “private cloud.” Using the very simple interface that the Azure infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering provides, you can create offerings for your own organization’s departments and internal customers that puts the power of self service IT at their fingertips.
Note: the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server requires Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2, with no prior release being supported, to host the portal and services. The individual offerings and virtual machines that you can offer within your portal can be any version of Windows, however, that is supported under the Hyper-V hypervisor.
For example, you could have a group of servers that makes up your private cloud. As the administrator, you can define offerings—for example, a small, medium, and heavy load service. Each service might consist of a certain virtual machine configuration, spread across different physical hosts for fault tolerance, a certain network setup, and a specific guarantee of service availability. These can all be offered through a portal, so when one department comes to you and needs a web site set up, you can point them to the portal and within a few clicks, they can get their service set up and running, with all the complexity of ordering and configuring hardware completely abstracted away.
You can also create website clouds which even remove the provisioning of virtual machines from the equation—these shared web sites can host ASP.NET, PHP, and Node.js web applications specifically, and includes a gallery of common and popular open source web applications to make creating new sites simple. It also integrates with source control systems like Git. These web site clouds just exist at the site level, with their actual hosting being done across a set of virtual machines you configure once and then essentially forget about. It is quite handy, especially for businesses that create multiple websites all the time and need a way to get them spun up and ready quickly without a lot of involvement from the IT department.
Commercial hosters will also find the Windows Azure Pack to be a useful tool for offering infrastructure services out to the larger Internet. The portal works in the same way, but there is also a mechanism for chargeback of hosting costs and also the ability to run promotions and coupons to offer limited time upgrades and special services along with your normal packages.
Getting Started with the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server
Since the Windows Azure Pack is designed to bring the convenience of the super large Windows Azure service down to the quantity of servers and other iron that we mere mortals have in our own datacenters and server closets, it is safe to assume that there are some reasonably heavy hardware requirements. This is both for fault tolerance purposes, as the WAP will attempt to spread workloads around all of the available machines in a private cloud, but also for capacity’s sake: the idea here is to host many workloads, not just one or two, so that you can fully reap the benefits of delegation and automation.
Luckily Microsoft has made available the “Windows Azure Pack: Portal and API Express” package which puts all of the components of the solution on one machine, which is great for testing and learning how the WAP works. You can download the single machine stack installer at http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9832690.
For the full monty, you will essentially need to dedicate eight machines to your private cloud, if not more. However, these eight machines can either be physical or virtual. Make sure each machine has two processors, 4 GB of RAM at least, and 40 GB of available hard disk space. As noted, each machine needs to be running Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2. Then, you can download the Web Platform Installer, or WPI, which is a very handy toolkit for deploying greenfield installations of web applications that are based on IIS.
From there, it is a matter of playing around in the administrator portal and configuring your services and offerings. If you are familiar with Windows Azure, you will feel right at home—it is literally some of the same code and structures used in the mainstream Azure public cloud service. Try it out today.