Chris Black, an Azure Stack Technical Authority and Azure MVP who resides in the UK. He has worked in IT for over 13 years with his current passion being all things Azure Stack. He was recently awarded the MVP award and was absolutely over the moon and in tears. A lot of us felt his emotions through his tweet, it really meant a lot to him, and a well-deserved award. Chris is an extremely helpful guy who was eager to share his knowledge and experiences about Azure Stack Hub. You may know Chris from the famous words “Happy Azure Stacking”. He always ends his messages with these words.
Let’s move on and read more about Chris
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Chris Black Interview
Tell us about yourself?
Chris Black, UK, Azure Stack Technical Authority, UKCloud LTD, worked in IT for over 13 years. Biggest hobby and a time sink – currently that would be playing and GMing Dungeons and Dragons. Also very frequent cinema goer… before the pandemic that is… I probably watched more films by now than most people will see throughout their entire lives 😀
What is your greatest achievement whilst working in the world of Tech?
It is difficult to choose one thing for sure… Something that made me incredibly proud was when Microsoft reached out to merge the API guide I have written for Azure Stack (Hub) back in the day… that was super satisfying and humbling. Then being invited to present in front of PG and MVPs at Ignite – that was epic.
I was recently awarded the MVP award, that is definitely up there too.
From non-Microsoft – passing the VCIX-NSX exam… that was tough!
My first meetup event? Speaking in front of like-minded people and showing the cool stuff I developed – gratifying, terrifying but also fantastic 😀
How did you get into IT?
I had a computer at home even before I was born because my Dad used to work in IT. He worked with databases, basically designed what we would consider better User Interface for a lot of DBs for big IT companies before Internet was a thing. He had to travel a lot so it was only natural I would “cling” onto him whenever he was home. And when he was back, he would be doing work on a PC. I picked up a lot just by looking over his shoulder and that is how I found my IT bug.
What would you recommend for someone wanting to start a career in IT?
These days automation is king, if you know how to code/automate things – you will do well. Learn PowerShell or Python and I am sure you will do well. Cloud in general has enjoyed exponential growth in the recent years and shows no signs of stopping. As a result of said growth, we are struggling to fill the positions required to run Cloud environments efficiently and effectively. We need smart people who can make things quicker for IT Pros and for general users. Hence, you cannot go wrong with knowing at least a bit of coding/scripting.
How did you get into the world of Microsoft Azure?
I think I got into the world of Azure a bit late, it was towards the beginning of 2017 when I first got interested in it. I started looking at some courses and bought a few books about it to study for an exam. That is usually how I learn about new things in general in IT, try to pass an exam as that forces you to learn quickly and allows you to acquire skills that are relevant to what you might be doing. It was an ocean of information and quite challenging to tackle. I looked mostly at the IaaS services back then, to see how they compare against vCloud Director. Though by doing so, I learnt a lot about other PaaS services and realised how amazing and powerful Azure is.
What are your areas of expertise? Are you still working with other Microsoft products apart from Microsoft Azure?
Historically it was Microsoft Exchange.
Now it would be PowerShell and Azure Stack Hub
Bonus: Heavy user and lover of Microsoft Teams!!!
Could you give us a quick explanation on what Azure Stack is? And why would a company want to use Azure Stack Hub?
Without going too much into marketing lingo. It is an extension of Azure inside your datacentre! On top of that, it is the BEST and THE ONLY, true Hybrid Cloud solution on the market. Allows you to utilise your Azure skills and tools within your DC and in the hyperscale cloud. If you want to keep your data locally, but still want to have access to the most recent cloud tech, automation tools, and do not want to re-train all of your IT staff (because they might be already using Azure or be familiar with it) – you will not find anything that comes even close to Azure Stack Hub!
What would you recommend for an Azure Techie who wants to start learning Azure Stack Hub?
Learn a bit of PowerShell for sure, but above all, deploy Azure Stack Development Kit and start using it! It is free! Click What is the Azure Stack Development Kit (ASDK)?
On top of that, very recently training materials have been updated – check the following link out – Azure Stack Hub Foundation Core – updates
How do you find your experience with Azure Stack Hub? Is it really as scary as people think? How did you start with Azure Stack Hub?
It is definitely not scary 😀 maybe a little daunting at first, but that is the case with every new piece of technology. The experience I had/have with Azure Stack Hub has been nothing short of amazing! The community is brilliant and engagement from Microsoft Product Group cannot be compared with literally anything I have even seen in the IT industry. They are willing to work with us, are listening to feedback, and help us shape the product to become the best version of itself. Life changing experience! And how did I start? We were planning on deploying ASH in production before it was even GAed, hence I started with deploying ASDK and learnt a lot from that experience. When we actually got the production system in, I was already well acquainted and ready for what came after. I cannot understate how important the ASDK experience is/has been.
What should organisations watch out for when planning an Azure Stack Hub implementation? Are there any important lessons you have learned while working with Azure Stack Hub?
To give some practical advice… I would say, the scale of it – be mindful of the 700 VM / 16 Hosts limitations. Make sure you use the capacity planner (ask your OEM vendor for a specific version of it, if available) Azure Stack Capacity Planner
Work with your customer (if you are reselling/going to operate it on behalf of somebody else) to make sure they understand what they are trying to achieve by deploying it.
Lastly, be mindful of the connectivity requirements in terms of Data Centre integration -> Azure Stack Network
What part of Azure Stack Hub are you most excited about? Are there any new features you would like Microsoft to introduce to Azure Stack Hub?
For me, lately it has been the Azure Kubernetes Services Engine – containers are what everyone should be using and Azure Stack Hub version of AKS – makes it so much easier for you to deploy a fully-fledged Kubernetes based cluster.
As for features? Where the list is as long as Azure feature list 😀 but we have to be realistic as to how much we can squeeze into a 4-node system
A few months ago I would go for VNet peering but that is now going to be implemented with next update (2008)!!! So, for me, the feature I would like is Traffic Manager
What certifications have you achieved, or the certifications you are working towards?
I assume Azure/Microsoft ones? I got the AZ-103 Administrator role, and the 70-537: Configuring and Operating a Hybrid Cloud with Microsoft Azure Stack Hub
Apart from Azure certification, I have also achieved the VCIX-NSX certification
I was thinking of doing some of the AZ-3xx or AZ-2xx but am not actively studying for them… yet
What would you recommend for those wanting to learn Azure from scratch?
Set up a free account and have a play! Learning by doing is the best way, and you can get quote a lot of things done with a free subscription!
How do you keep up to date with the latest Microsoft Azure products?
Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer groups, Google, email. Lots of things 😊
You need to live it and breathe it, IT in general, there is too much stuff going on – you cannot afford to constantly learn
What would you recommend for someone who wants to become Azure certified?
Get some hands-on experience first – it is free like I said. Then buy a book and study for an exam. There is also a plethora of online courses. Pluralsight, Linux Academy, CBT Nuggets, Udemy are just a few I used in the past.
What’s your advice for someone who wants to become a public speaker but not confident, or not sure where to start?
I know it will sound cheesy, but first of all… give it a go! Secondly, due to my job, I had to get “up to speed” with talking to a lot of people at any given time, it was super scary to begin with. What I did to improve my skills? I started playing D&D! And then started to run D&D! It teaches you confidence, improves your focus, and on top of that… is super fun!
Lastly, knowing your subject matter like the palm of your hand helps a lot
What’s next in your Microsoft Azure journey?
As public Azure is an ocean that seems to have no bounds and limits… I definitely want to learn even more about it. There are so many services that could (and are) complement the hybrid story.
Having said that, definitely Azure Arc is already on my in-progress learning list. My current interaction with Arc has been phenomenal and I cannot wait for it to grow even further 😊 It will change the world of IT as we know it, in fact… it already has. Watch this space! It already enhances Azure Stack family of products and it will be even stronger with time
Do you have any final words of wisdom?
Try to share with others! If you find an issue that was really hard to fix, share the solution 😊 You definitely consume it even by googling around so give something back.
Do not be afraid to ask questions! We are all learning here
Happy Azure Stacking!!!
The most important question of all 😊
From a scale from 1 – 10 how crazy are you about Microsoft Azure? (10 being the highest)
About Azure? 9 I would say, but about Azure Stack Hub? About 25 would be the most accurate 😀
End of interview