A couple of months the Azure Stack HCI team announced a new version called Azure Stack HCI version 20H2, which is currently in public preview. As part of the Azure Stack portfolio, Azure Stack HCI is a hyper-converged cluster solution that runs virtualized Windows and Linux workloads in a hybrid on-premises environment. Some of the most popular use cases are datacenter modernization, Remote/Branch office scenarios, SQL Server based virtual applications, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), and running Kubernetes clusters. Azure Stack HCI comes now with a specialist operating system (OS), which is based on core components from Windows Server, and it is designed and optimized on being the best virtualization host and hyper-converged platform. It is enhanced with Azure software that includes our latest hypervisor with built-in software-defined storage and networking that you install on servers you control on your premises. This provides additional functionality, features, and performance. This blog post is part of a series of blogs on how you can set up Azure Stack HCI clusters. In this first post, we will cover how to set up an Azure Stack HCI host.
Prerequisites and Azure Stack HCI system requirements
Before you deploy Azure Stack HCI hosts, make sure you follow the following prerequisites:
- Determine whether your hardware meets the requirements for Azure Stack HCI clusters. You can find Azure Stack HCI hardware in the Azure Stack HCI Catalog. Keep in mind that the nodes must have the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). For testing purposes, you can also set up Hyper-V Generation 2 virtual machines.
- Gather the required information for a successful deployment. Here is a quick checklist of information you will need to deploy an Azure Stack HCI cluster
- Server names: Get familiar with your organization’s naming policies for computers, files, paths, and other resources. You’ll need to provide several servers, each with unique names.
- Cluster name: Name for the Azure Stack HCI cluster
- Domain name: Get familiar with your organization’s policies for domain naming and domain joining. You’ll be joining the servers to your domain, and you’ll need to specify the domain name.
- Static IP addresses: Azure Stack HCI requires static IP addresses for storage and workload (VM) traffic and doesn’t support dynamic IP address assignment through DHCP for this high-speed network. You can use DHCP for the management network adapter unless you’re using two in a team, in which case, again, you need to use static IPs. Consult your network administrator about the IP address you should use for each server in the cluster.
- RDMA networking: There are two types of RDMA protocols: iWarp and RoCE. Note which one your network adapters use and if RoCE, note that the version (v1 or v2). For RoCE, also note the model of your top-of-rack switch.
- VLAN ID: Note the VLAN ID to be used for the network adapters on the servers, if any. You should be able to obtain this from your network administrator.
- Site names: For stretched clusters, two sites are used for disaster recovery. You can set up sites using Active Directory Domain Services, or the Create cluster wizard can automatically set them up for you. Consult your domain administrator about setting up sites.
- Cluster witness: You will need to set up an Azure Stack HCI cluster witness. There are two witness types you can use.
- Cloud witness – Azure storage account name, access key, and endpoint URL, as described below.
- File share witness – file share path “(//server/share)”
- Microsoft Azure credentials and subscription: Azure Stack HCI is delivered as an Azure service and needs to register within 30 days of installation per the Azure Online Services Terms. Azure Stack HCI comes with native Azure Arc integration for monitoring, support, billing, and hybrid services.
- Internet Access – The Azure Stack HCI nodes need connectivity to the cloud to register to Azure.
- Azure Subscription – If you don’t already have an Azure account, create one. You can use an existing subscription of any type:
- Azure Active Directory (AzureAD) permissions – You will need Azure AD credentials with permissions to complete the registration process. If you don’t already have them, ask your Azure AD administrator to grant permissions or delegate them to you. See Manage Azure registration for more information.
- Install Windows Admin Center on a management PC or server
- For Azure Kubernetes Service on Azure Stack HCI requirements, see AKS requirements on Azure Stack HCI.
You can find a full list of System requirements for Azure Stack HCI on Microsoft Docs.
Operating system deployment options
After you have prepared the hardware for deployment, you have multiple options to deploy the Azure Stack HCI OS on your physical nodes, depending on your environment and processes. You can deploy the Azure Stack HCI operating system in the same ways that you’re used to deploying other Microsoft operating systems:
- Server manufacturer pre-installation – nodes come with the Azure Stack HCI operating system preinstalled.
- Headless deployment using an answer file – Check out my blog about unattend.xml installations.
- System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) – You can use System Center Virtual Machine Manager Bare-metal deployment to install the Azure Stack HCI nodes.
- Network deployment – You can use the Windows Deployment Service (WDS) to deploy the operating system over the network.
- Manual deployment – Connecting either a keyboard and monitor directly to the server hardware in your datacenter or by connecting a KVM hardware device to the server hardware.
Install and set up an Azure Stack HCI host manually
If you want to manually deploy the Azure Stack HCI operating system, you can use your preferred method to boot the installation from a DVD or USB drive. You can download the latest version of Azure Stack HCI from here.
You can follow through the Azure Stack HCI OS installation wizard. Select “Custom Install” to install a new version of Azure Stack HCI.
Select the disk the operating system should be installed on.
After that, the installation will run for a couple of minutes to install the Azure Stack HCI operating system.
After the installation is complete, you will need to set up the local administrator password.
After the installation is completed, you set the password for the local administrator and you logged in, you will be prompted by the welcome screen and the sconfig tool. The sconfig tool is part of Windows Server Core and was completely rewritten for Azure Stack HCI. Sconfig helps you to quickly configure your Azure Stack HCI nodes, such as name, domain join, network configuration, installing updates, and much more.
You can find more information on how to deploy Azure Stack HCI hosts on Microsoft Docs.
Conclusion and next steps
As you can see, there are multiple ways to set up and install your Azure Stack HCI hosts. You can even use the same tooling to deploy the operating system, as you have used to deploy Windows or Windows Server, In the next blog post we will have a look at how we build an Azure Stack HCI cluster, register it with Azure using Azure Arc, how we connect Azure hybrid cloud services, and how we build an Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) cluster on Azure Stack HCI. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.