Create Azure Stack HCI Cluster with Windows Admin Center

Over the last few days, I have played around with the preview version of Azure Stack HCI and really like what I see in terms of stability, ease of deployment, and performance. I wrote up an article just a couple of days ago, showing how you could install the Azure Stack HCI OS inside VMware vSphere. The news was released just yesterday by Cosmos Darwin that Azure Stack HCI had been released as GA. I wanted to post my follow-up post from a couple of days ago to show how to create an Azure Stack HCI cluster with Windows Admin Center and show how easy Microsoft has made it using the new OS to deploy a Storage Spaces Direct and SDN enabled cluster with Windows Admin Center. Let’s take a look at this topic and get an overview of the process.

Azure Stack HCI operating system – what is it?

I have had a great deal of feedback from the community and Twitter from the first article, which @VMware shared. Jeff Woolsey had a minor correction to the article that Azure Stack HCI is not Windows Server 2019. What is it exactly? It looks as though Microsoft may have started with Windows Server 2019 and heavily customized the build to focus on hyper-converged infrastructure and Azure integration. What they have come up with is the new Azure Stack HCI operating system. You see this when you are loading the new OS and when the machine is booting.

What it looks like (most likely more major under the hood) is Windows Server 2019 Core edition in terms of the interface, management with sconfig, and other similarities. However, make no mistake, this is a fully-featured operating system in its own right that is purpose-built to allow organizations to get up and running quickly with HCI and have this integrated as part of their hybrid cloud initiative with Microsoft Azure and all the capabilities Azure brings in terms of monitoring, management, backups, and other services for IaaS.

With the introduction of Azure Stack HCI, Microsoft has a really great product that allows customers to get up and running quickly with Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) and SDN. I was surprised at home problem-free the installation of the cluster with S2D enabled was in a nested VMware vSphere environment.

I have written many times in the past about Storage Spaces Direct and getting this running in a nested environment. It has been hit or miss for me using Windows Server 2019. However, it looks like Microsoft has sprinkled the magic dust on Azure Stack HCI and removed many of the issues that I have encountered in the past. S2D early on was very finicky in my opinion.

Microsoft has really been playing catchup with VMware vSAN in terms of ease of deployment, the interface to get up and going, and the ability to have a problem free installation workflow. Windows Admin Center is a really great tool that takes the experience of many workflows to the next level. As Microsoft continues to polish the offering, it will no doubt get even better.

Create Azure Stack HCI Cluster with Windows Admin Center

Let’s look at the process to create Azure Stack HCI Cluster with Windows Admin Center. You will need to download a copy of Azure Stack HCI operating system. You can download Azure Stack HCI here:

Also, I am using the latest version of Windows Admin Center at the time of this writing which is Version 2009, Build 1.2.2009.21002. In Windows Admin Center, you choose to create a new cluster.

Creating the Azure Stack HCI cluster using Windows Admin Center

You will see the choice to create an Azure Stack HCI cluster. You will need to choose between the cluster location being in one site or two sites.

Choosing to build an Azure Stack HCI cluster with Windows Admin Center wizard

This begins the Deploy an Azure Stack HCI cluster wizard.

Check the prerequisites for Azure Stack HCI cluster creation

Next, you will need to add the servers you want to be a part of the server cluster. There is a two-node minimum for creating the Azure Stack HCI cluster. I am adding two nodes to create the cluster.

Add servers for Azure Stack HCI cluster creation

Join the Windows Active Directory domain you want the cluster to be housed in.

Join the Active Directory domain with each perspective Azure Stack HCI cluster member

The wizard will automatically install features needed on both prospective Azure Stack HCI hosts.

Install the required Windows features needed for Azure Stack HCI cluster creation

Also, it will prompt you to install missing Windows Updates if these are detected.

Install needed operating system updates when prompted for Azure Stack HCI operating system

If you are using a specific hardware solution, the wizard will detect the hardware you are using and install any platform/solution updates for you automatically.

Install solution updates for vendor specific hardware in Azure Stack HCI

Restart the Azure Stack HCI hosts.

Restart the Azure Stack HCI cluster hosts during the initial phase of cluster creation

Next, we move on to the Networking section. Here you will verify your network adapters for use as management adapter as well as for virtual switches.

Verify network adapters for use with Azure Stack HCI

Select your management adapter.

Select management network adapters for use with your Azure Stack HCI servers

Define your networks, including addressing.

Define networks to use with your Azure Stack HCI cluster hosts

Choose the layout of your virtual switch(es). Here you will choose if you want to create a converged switch or multiple virtual switches.

Decide the configuration of your virtual switches you want to create

Validate your prospective Azure Stack HCI cluster.

Validate the Azure Stack HCI cluster before creating the Windows Server Failover Cluster

After validation succeeds, choose a name for the cluster and create it.

Name and create the Azure Stack HCI cluster

The next section is Storage. First, you can optionally decide to clean your drives.

Optionally clean drives

Verify your drives to use for Storage Spaces Direct (S2D).

Verify drives to be used in the Storage Spaces Direct S2D configuration

Validate your storage for S2D.

Validate storage for the Azure Stack HCI cluster members

After all of the prior steps have succeeded, you are ready to Enable Storage Spaces Direct. Click the Enable button.

Enable Storage Spaces Direct for Azure Stack HCI

Storage Spaces Direct is enabled successfully.

Storage spaces direct is successfully enabled in the Azure Stack HCI cluster

The next section is SDN. It is not required to configure SDN, however, it is part of the Deploy an Azure Stack HCI cluster.

Configure SDN or skip the configuration of SDN

After configuring or skipping SDN, setup is complete. You will see the message below.

Configuration of the Azure Stack HCI cluster is complete

Going back out to the Windows Admin Center All connections view, you will see both your individual Azure Stack HCI hosts as well as the cluster itself.

Connections to the Azure Stack HCI cluster and hosts are automatically added in Windows Admin Center

Windows Admin Center begins monitoring the Azure Stack HCI cluster.

Windows Admin Center monitoring the new Azure Stack HCI cluster

Wrapping Up

The Create Azure Stack HCI Cluster with Windows Admin Center process is straightforward and very problem-free, even in a nested virtualization environment, using VMware vSphere. The wizard went through everything without issue and enabled Storage Spaces Direct with no errors. Kudos to Microsoft for putting a lot of work into the new Azure Stack HCI operating system and the very smooth process in Windows Admin Center that makes the process extremely easy.

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