**Editor’s Note: Microsoft is banning trade media and analysts from Inspire 2018, so we are covering the event remotely via virtual news briefings and collateral material.**
Dell EMC is the latest to roll out a new generation of Azure Stack hardware, the hyperconverged infrastructure systems that let cloud service providers and enterprises host and manage instances of Microsoft’s public cloud platform.
The company launched the updated release of its Azure Stack appliances at Microsoft’s Inspire global partner conference, taking place this week in Las Vegas. Dell EMC is one of a handful of major infrastructure providers that was originally picked to co-engineer Azure Stack hardware, which officially started shipping last fall.
In addition to Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Lenovo were the first designated to offer Azure Stack, followed shortly by Cisco, and earlier this year by Huawei. In May, Fujitsu became the latest major supplier added to the Azure Stack OEM partner roster. Fujitsu’s systems are slated to ship later in the year.
Dell EMC’s second-generation Azure Stack portfolio follows a recent refresh by Cisco, which in March announced an Azure Stack appliance available with NVMe-based all-flash storage, followed by last month’s release of the new lineup, which the company said has increased memory, storage options and CPU options.
HPE upgraded its Azure Stack offering in April – also with new CPU options – added security at the firmware level, support for the company’s OneView management console and its GreenLake Flex Capacity consumption-based pricing option.
The Dell EMC update comes with the company’s Cloud Flex usage-based pricing option, offered with its VxRack hyperconverged infrastructure appliances for VMware-based solutions.
“The Cloud Flex Program for channel partners is simple to execute and provides partners with a predictable profit stream based on the duration of customer us,” Paul Galjan, Dell EMC’s senior director of converged platforms and solutions, wrote in a blog.
Raghu Kamath, VP of sales at NetEnrich, which provides cloud automation to managed services providers, said these more flexible pricing options will be key to the success of Azure Stack.
“With these new opex pricing models for Azure Stack, it’s becoming more viable for our partners, especially hosters,” Kamath said. “So far we have not seen a lot of production use, but a lot of POCs and early engagements.”
Dell EMC has required customers (or partners on their behalf) to order Azure Stack directly, but the company will soon let partners order and fulfill Azure Stack, Galjan said in an interview.
“Right now, all the Azure Stack channel partners are welcome to engage, but the transaction will be through Dell EMC direct at this point,” Galjan said. “In the next two to three months we will be lighting up partner orderability, so partners will be able to go in and order Azure Stack on their own.”
Azure Stack was designed to be a partner-led solution, Galjan emphasized.
“This goes to one of the side benefits of an engineered approach,” he said. “When we first embarked on this, one of the core requirements was that it be simple to order because channel partners were a key part of our strategy to succeed in the Azure Stack space.”
Dell EMC’s new release also is now available with all-flash storage, for organizations that need web-scale performance. The all-flash configurations, which will cost 25 percent more than those with hybrid storage, will include 25GB top-of-rack switches (up from the current 10GB iteration), come in smaller footprints and require less cooling, Galjan noted.
The upgraded Dell EMC Azure Stack solution will also support SecureVM, Microsoft’s encryption key management system designed for Azure in the public cloud, which is now available in Azure Stack. While Dell EMC might not be the first out of the gate to launch an Azure Stack refresh, the company claims it is the only one to now offer Automated HCI Patch and Update, which is now available as a technical preview. Galjan said Dell EMC’s new orchestration tool lets partners and customers update the firmware on their entire Azure Stack system in a single step.