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Microsoft Azure cloud services tuck ops under the covers

New Microsoft Azure cloud services rolled out this week tackle the latest trends for developers around serverless, event-driven computing and microservices.

Microsoft this week underscored the latest trends in the cloud market around microservices management and serverless...

computing that put more of the onus on Microsoft Azure cloud to manage workloads at massive scale.

At Microsoft's annual Build conference, the company highlighted its vision of how the next generation of applications will be built across platforms and with huge data sets. The focus was on developers, but Microsoft Azure cloud and its underlying infrastructure serves as the building blocks for much of the capabilities it rolled out.

Azure Service Fabric, Microsoft's microservices application lifecycle management platform, is now generally available, while Service Fabric for Windows Server, Linux and Java APIs were put into preview. Those preview versions are intended for deployments on premises or in other cloud environments, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), OpenStack and VMware.

Another key preview release was Microsoft's answer to AWS Lambda: Azure Functions, a serverless, event-driven computing service that can be triggered for mobile applications, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data. The autoscaling software can be used on the Microsoft Azure cloud, on premises or in other clouds.

Google also quietly introduced an alpha version of a similar service earlier this year, called Google Cloud Functions.

While Azure Functions is still in prerelease, it gives Microsoft a strong response to Amazon and the rest of the market, said Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"The new release of Microsoft Functions is a big deal, because I've seen a lot of people using Amazon Lambda and liking the pricing model," Hammond said.

Along with the expanded capabilities of Service Fabric, and support for containers and VM scale sets, Microsoft has put together a more complete set of patterns and capabilities, and a compelling entry point for developers, he added.

One of the more impressive demos involved the use of microservices to build and manage a new video game, called Age of Ascent. The game, which works in players' browsers, has been tested with up to 50,000 concurrent users and 267 million application messages per second. During the demo, code was deployed, and Fabric Service figured out what wasn't working correctly and stopped it.

"That's very, very powerful," said Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research Inc., based in Cupertino, Calif. "Microservices is the hot thing nowadays."

In conversations with clients, most of the Service Fabric use to this point has been for IoT on the back end, and they've been happy so far, despite the minimum requirement of five VMs to start running, Hammond added.

Microsoft Azure at scale

During the Thursday keynote, Microsoft executives noted that Azure runs more than a million servers in 30 regions worldwide, with 85% of Fortune 500 companies using Microsoft Cloud.

"Enterprises are not an afterthought; they're a key design point," said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise group.

How much of that Fortune 500 use comes from Azure remains unclear, however, as Microsoft Cloud is an all-encompassing term for its myriad cloud services. Microsoft has plenty of momentum at the moment, but it will need to do more to get users on the Microsoft Azure cloud, Mueller said.

"They're probably neck and neck [with Amazon] in overall cloud revenue, but that's all Office, and they have to find the next way of getting more [workloads] into the cloud," Mueller said.

Other features highlighted at the conference include Azure IoT Starter Kits for building IoT prototypes for $50 to $160, as well as Power BI Embedded for interactive reports and visualization for applications.

Missed opportunities at Build

Though Build is primarily a developer conference, Microsoft missed an opportunity to highlight Azure Stack, according to Mueller. The service, currently in beta, provides much of the same look and feel of the public Microsoft Azure cloud inside users' own data centers. There's a lot of potential with the new kinds of applications that were on display at the show, but for corporate developers working on older versions of Windows, they can't build something they can't run, he added.

Microsoft is typically behind the curve with developers, but this conference showed that's not the case anymore, Mueller added.

"In this potential platform shift to applications, they are early in the game, so it's a good thing," he said.

Hammond said he wanted to hear more of a data story from Microsoft. Support for DocumentDB and MongoDB support was welcomed news, but there needed to be more about making it easier to move data into the Azure, Hammond said.

"The big push at [Amazon] re:Invent was the Snowball box to migrate on premises to Aurora, and there was an awful lot of talk about moving data," Hammond said. "It just seemed a little different what you saw from Microsoft, but part of that could be attributed to product release cycles."

Hammond also noted the importance of open-sourcing the Xamarin SDK as a sign of the continued cultural shift toward supporting open source. Microsoft also announced at the show that Xamarin has been integrated into Visual Studio to expand the capabilities for developers, which now means Microsoft users can build mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected].

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