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Azure Container Service, new pricing lift Microsoft's cloud

Azure Container Service tops the list of new services and provides a means to manage fleets of Docker containers in Microsoft’s public cloud.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass—Microsoft's answer to Amazon Web Services' EC2 Container Service and Google Container Engine has finally arrived, along with a new cost-saving payment option and other welcome improvements.

Azure Container Service, which is built on Docker, Apache Mesos and the Mesosphere Datacenter Operating System, will provide IT with the means to orchestrate and manage fleets of containers.

The service was demonstrated by Microsoft at its AzureCon virtual event here this week and was joined by other new software rollouts, including features for Internet of Things (IoT), security, a graphics-centric series of virtual machines and a reduced payment model for heavy cloud users.

Microsoft's container service doesn't necessarily differentiate itself from the competition, but in building it with Linux and Apache Mesos, Microsoft is sending a strong message about its willingness to work with open-source tools, said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst for Forrester Research Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. And it's an important move to make now because the companies that get in front of developers first are usually the ones those developers stick with, he added.

"The old Microsoft might have waited and completed a competing container framework for Windows that was proprietary, but they recognize they can't wait any longer to be in this market," Bartoletti said.

Microsoft customers can already run Linux containers with Azure and the company will roll out Windows Containers and Hyper-V Containers with the new Windows Server in 2016, but until now it had held off on offering a platform built on a single orchestration layer like its competitors.

Microsoft will continue to support Google Kubernetes and add Docker Swarm and other orchestration software to the service in the future. But the choice of Mesos, a scheduling tool which is used by companies such as Apple, PayPal and Airbnb, is based on the real world demand from its customers and the maturity of the technology, Microsoft said.

The old Microsoft might have waited and completed a competing container framework for Windows that was proprietary, but they recognize they can’t wait any longer to be in this market.
Dave Bartoletti, Forrester Research

Azure Container Service, which will be available in preview before the end of the year, will initially work with Linux containers, but the Windows versions, which are being built in a partnership with Docker, will be available once they're fully released next year.

Azure Compute Pre-Purchase Plan, which will be available globally in December, could provide cloud customers who pre-purchase Azure compute resources for one year savings of up to 63%, Microsoft said.

This is Microsoft's answer to AWS Reserved Instances, which customers like to buy when they know they'll have steady, predictable workloads, Bartoletti said.

"It's been a long time coming and it'll be greeted with open arms," Bartoletti said.

At the AzureCon viewing party here, a research technologist who works for a supercomputing firm in Boston said he is leaning toward Azure because of its "higher-level" services for platform as a service and big data, but is concerned about ambiguity around the pricing for pre-paid instances.

 "If they're pre-paid, it really just seems to funnel into how [Microsoft] does capacity planning,”  said the research technologist, who requested anonymity.

Microsoft didn't respond to a request for additional pricing details on the Azure Compute Pre-Purchase Plan.

The N-series is the latest line of Azure Virtual Machines, and it's focused on graphic-intensive, deep learning and high performance workloads. The N-series is powered by NVIDIA graphics processing units and features NVIDIA Grid 2.0 technology and Tesla Accelerated Computing Platform. It will be available in preview in the coming months.

A number of incremental improvements to Azure were also rolled out this week, including the expanded Azure Data Lake for big data analytics and the general availability of the Azure IoT Suite, with the full release including versions tailored to specific industries.

There is also an Azure IoT Suite certification program for ecosystem partners, including BeagleBone, Freescale Semiconductor, Intel, Raspberry Pi,, Seed Technology Inc., and Texas Instruments Inc.

The IoT Suite and the broader Cortana Analytics Suite is the most exciting news this week from Microsoft because customers are starting to deploy IoT technologies, especially the more cutting edge companies, said Priya Gore, national strategic alliances director at BlueMetal, Inc., a consulting firm and Microsoft partner based in Watertown, Mass.

"As IoT becomes more mature in the market, I think that will be a real game-changer," she said.

Azure Security Center, in preview later this year, provides a centralized dashboard for visibility and control to protect resources and respond to threats, Microsoft said. The security service integrates with services from companies such as Barracuda, Checkpoint, Cisco, CloudFlare, F5 Networks, Inc., Imperva and Trend Micro Inc.

Microsoft also opened three regions in India, bringing the total to 24 regions globally for Azure and making Microsoft the first of the largest technology vendors to have a local data center in the second-most populous nation in the world.

Trevor Jones is a news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected]

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