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Around the world, organizations rely on the public cloud for their business operations. Today, it’s not a matter of if, but rather, how organizations are leveraging public cloud services. Using only one public cloud provider is a straightforward approach, but that strategy doesn’t suit every organization. For these companies, hybrid and multicloud storage architectures are the way to go.
Hybrid and multicloud deployments are very common when looking at how big enterprises are using public cloud. However, the increased complexity of these models makes it incredibly difficult to implement proper technology governance and align with best practices. The three major public cloud providers understand this customer pain point and have begun to offer services that can help with workload management across different environments. On Azure, that service is Azure Arc.
In this article, we are going to explore how Microsoft has been addressing the hybrid and multicloud management challenges with Azure Arc. We’ll take a look under the hood to discover how Arc works and what use cases it’s best suited for.
Getting to Know Azure Arc
Azure Arc was announced in late 2019 as a means to extend Azure cloud management capabilities to non-Azure environments. Arc provides an easy management control plane for computing and data resources in both Azure and non-Azure environments, targeted at organizations that need hybrid and multicloud deployment capabilities.
The concept of hybrid cloud on Azure isn’t new and while Arc is not mandatory in hybrid architectures, it does make it possible to achieve with increased governance capabilities and far less complexity. The other two major public cloud providers offer similar services: Google announced Anthos, a managed service built on top of Google Kubernetes Engine in 2020, and AWS recently made a similar move by announcing the Amazon ECS Anywhere and Amazon EKS Anywhere services.
With Arc, Microsoft is leveraging several of its existing services such as Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Azure Lighthouse, Azure Policy, and Azure Stack HCI, to offer a holistic experience that covers any possible non-Azure environment with the already familiar Azure cloud management features.
Azure Arc Built-In Capabilities
Regardless of the non-Azure environment you are using—edge, on-premises or other public cloud provider—with Azure Arc those compute resources can be brought up under the same management umbrella.
While Arc is often associated with Kubernetes, the ability to manage on-premises Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) clusters is only a fraction of its capabilities. In fact, when it comes to Kubernetes, Arc enables you to connect and manage any cluster that has been certified by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), such as Google Kubernetes Engine, AWS Elastic Kubernetes Service, and VMWare vSphere.
In addition to Kubernetes, any physical or virtual server, Windows or Linux, can be enrolled and become Azure Arc-enabled. Microsoft SQL Server users get an additional advantage by having the possibility to bring them to Arc and gain data security, governance and management features. In addition to the extra visibility, the Arc-enabled servers can also be used to deploy platforms such as AKS or databases such as SQL Server Managed instances.
Azure Arc-enabled resources
With resources becoming Arc-enabled, organizations gain the ability to centrally manage them and extend the same practices they already have in their Azure environment, regardless of where those resources are located. To engineers, this simplifies the entire software development lifecycle and overall day-to-day experience by allowing them to deploy to any environment using the same methods and tooling they already use in Azure. From a security perspective, engineers can leverage role-based security policies for resources and even detect security incidents with Azure Sentinel across their entire infrastructure.
How Does an Arc-Based Azure Hybrid Cloud Work?
Azure cloud management got a lot simpler with the introduction of Azure Arc. There are three different aspects to take into account to understand how Azure Arc works.
How Azure Arc Works
The first aspect to consider is how non-Azure resources are enrolled into Arc. With proper hybrid network connectivity in place, this process works with any physical or virtual server and is quite straightforward to accomplish by using a few simple commands. This enables you to create a complete resource inventory across any type of environment in use by your organization, all managed by Azure Arc, with access to Azure services.
The second point is governing the enrolled Arc resources using Azure cloud management. Arc gives you a level of control similar to the one you have with resources deployed in Azure. Using standardized Role Based Access Control you can apply and enforce policies and achieve compliance across the whole infrastructure.
A third point to consider is how hybrid and multicloud deployment experience and tooling work on Arc. Azure Arc is well integrated with the existing Azure services such as Azure Monitor, Update, and AKS, plus, since it is mostly agnostic, it is compatible with other tools you are already using. The idea behind Arc is not to replace the tools and processes you already have, but rather to augment their capabilities and give you more flexibility and options.
Azure Arc Use Cases
For anyone that ever had to deal with managing resources spread across different environments, the value proposition of Arc is easy to understand. Arc’s unified infrastructure view and ability to apply policies significantly reduces the complexity of such deployments.
Complex Kubernetes deployments across distinct environments are prime examples of good candidates to benefit from Azure Arc capabilities. With Arc-enabled Kubernetes and Azure cloud management, customers who need to deploy and govern data services, such as SQL Server, across non-Azure environments can also do so with much less effort and operational overhead. Learn more about Azure Arc use cases in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s announcement keynote here.
Azure Arc makes governing resources in hybrid and multicloud significantly smoother, especially for organizations using Kubernetes and SQL Server. Yet, there aren’t features to make it easier to deal with the complexity of data storage management across different environments.
While we can expect Arc to keep evolving and add new hybrid and multicloud management features related to data storage, today, customers still need to use other types of tooling and services to fulfill this gap.
Cloud Volumes ONTAP, the data management platform from NetApp, is a prime option that you should consider. With Cloud Volumes ONTAP, organizations gain the ability to manage their data across multiple environments—whether based on-prem or in AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud—with the benefit from enterprise-grade features such as cost-cutting storage efficiencies, data tiering, and protection that help to reduce storage expenses while integrating fully with Azure cloud management services.