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Microsoft Azure edge site expansion targets cloud latency

Microsoft will expand its edge site footprint for Azure networking, a move that should help lower latency for cloud applications.

Microsoft will roll out 31 additional edge sites on its global networking infrastructure for Azure, in response to customer demand for lower-latency cloud applications.

Edge sites are local data-access points meant to alleviate cloud latency caused by commercial internet connections that traverse the public internet. Microsoft's implementation of edge sites can deliver Microsoft cloud services up to 10 times faster, according to the company.

Microsoft now offers 80% of its global audience sub-30ms latency and intends to bring that to 100% with the help of edge sites, according to a blog post.

When complete, the work will bring Azure's total number of edge sites to more than 150, spread across about 50 countries, Microsoft said. It isn't immediately clear when the work will be complete.

In addition, Azure ExpressRoute, the company's virtual private connection (VPC) service, will also get 14 extra "meet-me" sites, Microsoft's term for co-located facilities around the world which provide entry points to its private network.

The network improvements for cloud latency will augment services such as Azure Front Door, which lets customers fine-tune web traffic routing for better performance and reliability for microservices-based apps, Microsoft said. It should also improve Azure's CDN service for higher-bandwidth content such as streaming video.

Microsoft's edge sites are spread across many countries, but most are within the U.S. and Europe. That suggests not every Azure customer will uniformly benefit from the cloud latency improvements.

Microsoft hopes for edge over cloud rivals

With these edge sites, Microsoft seeks to catch up with AWS, which refers to its variant as edge locations. AWS currently has 178 edge locations as well as 11 Regional Edge Caches. Google Cloud has what it refers to as network edge locations in 134 metropolitan areas globally.

Holger Mueller, Constellation ResearchHolger Mueller

Sheer numbers of edge locations aside, Google has stressed cloud latency as an advantage over AWS and Azure, given its long track record of delivering responsive web applications at massive scale, said Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.

"This is why when you land anywhere in the world, Gmail is first to sync on all your devices," he said. "You have your Gmail minutes before other public cloud email and it's even longer before your corporate reaches you."

These seem like investments for the long term, although there are use cases in the short term for things like improved latency and IoT.
Deepak MohanAnalyst, IDC

Google's Fi mobile virtual network, which runs in part on T-Mobile's infrastructure, realizes a phone is in roaming mode faster than T-Mobile can, Mueller added.

Still, the three major cloud providers have different centers of gravity for workloads on their platforms that guide their approaches to network architecture, Mueller added. For example, Google wants to run ads in real-time next to streaming videos, while AWS traffics in Amazon's massive amounts of e-commerce data and Azure supports a mountain of Office 365 data that includes email messages and large file attachments, he said.

Deepak Mohan, IDCDeepak Mohan

Microsoft's recent high-profile partnership with AT&T, which involves the latter's rollout of a 5G network, also is a harbinger of things to come, said Deepak Mohan, an analyst with IDC. The AT&T deal is not exclusive, as the company has also announced a pact with IBM. But Azure becomes a preferred partner with AT&T for 5G, and its edge site footprint will help support advanced application and services that tap the next-generation 5G network.

"These seem like investments for the long term targeting the 5G environment, although there are use cases in the short term for things like improved latency and pilot IoT applications," Mohan said.

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