Compare Azure Stack HCI to Windows Server

Applies to: Azure Stack HCI, version 21H2; Windows Server 2022

This article explains key differences between Azure Stack HCI and Windows Server and provides guidance about when to use each. Both products are actively supported and maintained by Microsoft. Many organizations choose to deploy both as they are intended for different and complementary purposes.

When to use Azure Stack HCI

Azure Stack HCI is Microsoft's premier hyperconverged infrastructure platform for running VMs or virtual desktops on-premises with connections to Azure hybrid services. Azure Stack HCI can help to modernize and secure your datacenters and branch offices, and achieve industry-best performance with low latency and data sovereignty.

When to use Azure Stack HCI over Windows Server 2019

Use Azure Stack HCI for:

  • The best virtualization host to modernize your infrastructure, either for existing workloads in your core datacenter or emerging requirements for branch office and edge locations.

  • Easy extensibility to the cloud, with a regular stream of innovations from your Azure subscription and a consistent set of tools and experiences.

  • All the benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure: a simpler, more consolidated datacenter architecture with high-speed storage and networking.

    Note

    When using Azure Stack HCI, run all of your workloads inside virtual machines or containers, not directly on the cluster. Azure Stack HCI isn't licensed for clients to connect directly to it using Client Access Licenses (CALs).

For information about licensing Windows Server VMs running on an Azure Stack HCI cluster, see Activate Windows Server VMs.

When to use Windows Server

Windows Server is a highly versatile, multi-purpose operating system with dozens of roles and hundreds of features and includes the right for clients to connect directly with appropriate CALs. Windows Server machines can be in the cloud or on-premises, including virtualized on top of Azure Stack HCI.

When to use Windows Server over Azure Stack HCI

Use Windows Server for:

  • A guest operating system inside of virtual machines (VMs) or containers
  • As the runtime server for a Windows application
  • To use one or more of the built-in server roles such as Active Directory, file services, DNS, DHCP, or Internet Information Services (IIS)
  • As a traditional server, such as a bare-metal domain controller or SQL Server installation
  • For traditional infrastructure, such as VMs connected to Fibre Channel SAN storage

Compare product positioning

The following table shows the high-level product packaging for Azure Stack HCI and Windows Server.

Attribute Azure Stack HCI Windows Server
Product type Cloud service that includes an operating system and more Operating system
Legal Covered under your Microsoft customer agreement or online subscription agreement Has its own end-user license agreement
Licensing Billed to your Azure subscription Has its own paid license
Support Covered under Azure support Can be covered by different support agreements, including Microsoft Premier Support
Where to get it Download from Azure.com/HCI or comes preinstalled on integrated systems Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center or Evaluation Center
Runs in VMs For evaluation only; intended as a host operating system Yes, in the cloud or on premises
Hardware Runs on any of more than 200 pre-validated solutions from the Azure Stack HCI Catalog Runs on any hardware with the "Certified for Windows Server" logo. See the WindowsServerCatalog
Sizing Azure Stack HCI sizing tool None
Lifecycle policy Always up to date with the latest features. You have up to six months to install updates. Use this option of the Windows Server servicing channels: Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC)

Compare workloads and benefits

The following table compares the workloads and benefits of Azure Stack HCI and Windows Server.

Attribute Azure Stack HCI Windows Server
Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) Yes Yes
Azure Arc-Enabled PaaS Services Yes Yes
Windows Server 2022 Azure Edition Yes No
Windows Server subscription add-on (Dec. 2021) Yes No
Free Extended Security Updates (ESUs) for Windows Server and SQL 2008/R2 and 2012/R2 Yes No 1

1 Requires purchasing an Extended Security Updates (ESU) license key and manually applying it to every VM.

Compare technical features

The following table compares the technical features of Azure Stack HCI and Windows Server 2022.

Attribute Azure Stack HCI Windows Server 2022
Hyper-V Yes Yes
Storage Spaces Direct Yes Yes
Software-Defined Networking Yes Yes
Adjustable storage repair speed Yes Yes
Secured-core Server Yes Yes
Stronger, faster network encryption Yes Yes
4-5x faster Storage Spaces repairs Yes Yes
Stretch clustering for disaster recovery with Storage Spaces Direct Yes No
High availability for GPU workload Yes No
Restart up to 10x faster with kernel-only restarts Yes No
Simplified host networking with Network ATC Yes No
Storage Spaces Direct on a single server Yes No
Storage Spaces Direct thin provisioning Yes No
Dynamic processor compatibility mode Yes No
Cluster-Aware OS feature update Yes No
Integrated driver and firmware updates Yes (Integrated Systems only) No

For more information, see What's New in Azure Stack HCI, version 22H2 and Using Azure Stack HCI on a single server.

Compare management options

The following table compares the management options for Azure Stack HCI and Windows Server. Both products are designed for remote management and can be managed with many of the same tools.

Attribute Azure Stack HCI Windows Server
Windows Admin Center Yes Yes
Microsoft System Center Yes (sold separately) Yes (sold separately)
Third-party tools Yes Yes
Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery support Yes Yes
Azure portal Yes (natively) Requires Azure Arc agent
Azure portal > Extensions and Arc-enabled host Yes Manual 1
Azure portal > Windows Admin Center integration (preview) Yes Azure VMs only 1
Azure portal > Multi-cluster monitoring for Azure Stack HCI (preview) Yes No
Azure portal > Azure Resource Manager integration for clusters Yes No
Azure portal > Arc VM management (preview) Yes No
Desktop experience No Yes

1 Requires manually installing the Arc-git statusConnected Machine agent on every machine.

Compare product pricing

The table below compares the product pricing for Azure Stack HCI and Windows Server. For details, see Azure Stack HCI pricing.

Attribute Azure Stack HCI Windows Server
Price type Subscription service Varies: most often a one-time license
Price structure Per core, per month Varies: usually per core
Price Per core, per month See Pricing and licensing for Windows Server 2022
Evaluation/trial period 60-day free trial once registered 180-day evaluation copy
Channels Enterprise agreement, cloud service provider, or direct Enterprise agreement/volume licensing, OEM, services provider license agreement (SPLA)

Next steps