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Kubernetes support signals Switzerland play for Azure Container Service

Azure Container Service isn't picking sides in the debate about orchestration, adding Kubernetes support and offering more variety than its public cloud peers.

In the emerging container orchestration fight, Microsoft has positioned itself as the Switzerland of cloud providers.

Microsoft made a number of upgrades to its fledgling Azure Container Service, such as deeper integration with Kubernetes and Apache Mesos-based DC/OS, and a new private repository for container images hosted on Azure. And in keeping with the openness theme, Microsoft has released the source code for the Azure Container Service Engine.

Microsoft was an early proponent of Kubernetes and supported its use on Azure, but with Kubernetes 1.4 that support goes deeper, with native functionality so users can create a Kubernetes cluster to integrate with other Azure services.

The DC/OS upgrades, meanwhile, add more virtual networking options, as well as job scheduling or Marathon-based orchestration directly through the user interface. The new Mesos and Kubernetes functionalities are currently in public preview. Microsoft has not said when it expects either to be fully available.

Microsoft not picking sides

Microsoft has taken a different tact than its biggest competitors in this space with such deep support of the most prominent orchestration tools available. Not surprisingly, Google Container Engine relies heavily on Kubernetes -- the open source version of its own internal scheduling technology -- while Docker Inc. is building its platform on Docker Swarm, and Mesosphere is reliant on Mesos.

Several prominent platform-as-a-service offerings, such as Red Hat OpenShift, also rely on Kubernetes, while Amazon, which was first to market with its EC2 Container Service, has built its own proprietary tools to manage Docker containers.

It's smart for Microsoft to be the Switzerland of the container orchestration market. ... Customers are trying out lots of different things and some orchestration tools are going to be better for some use cases than others.
Richard Watsonresearch vice president, Gartner

Each of those technologies has bet on which of the major container orchestration technologies will succeed, said Richard Watson, research vice president at Gartner. Microsoft has offered customer choices with Swarm and Mesos already, so it only makes sense to add Kubernetes to that list and maintain the theme of not forcing users to choose one over the other, he added.

"It's smart for Microsoft to be the Switzerland of the container orchestration market because there are no clear winners or losers yet," Watson said. "Customers are trying out lots of different things and some orchestration tools are going to be better for some use cases than others."

Of course, being the neutral platform for container orchestration is easier said than done. As its service progresses, Microsoft will have to make choices around how deeply to integrate with these various tools and when to address issues natively instead.

This also may signal that Microsoft wants to be an important contributor to the Kubernetes ecosystem, Watson said. Users should expect Kubernetes to work well on Windows and include Windows in its clustering capabilities in the future, which is important for mixed-environment IT shops, he said.

Microsoft utilizes the Azure Container Service Engine to create deployments on the service, and has open-sourced the underlying code on GitHub. It's unclear exactly how this will directly benefit users in the near-term beyond those that want to customize deployments, but the goal is to develop and share best practices for container orchestration on Azure and, eventually, Azure Stack.

Microsoft supported Linux containers on Azure early in the rise of Docker, and it worked with Docker to build a Windows version of its technology and native support on the latest Windows Server. Microsoft has pushed hard on containers, perhaps learning from being late to the game in open source and DevOps, said Jay Lyman, principal analyst at 451 Research.

Kubernetes is popular with developers, but it's still new to enterprise IT, Lyman said. This move by Microsoft could reflect a shift as companies not only use containers for dev/test and web applications, but for data-rich production workloads more traditionally found in enterprises.

"This management and orchestration piece is becoming increasingly important and this move of container applications to production means folks are going to want to have vendor backing with SLAs and guarantees on technical support," Lyman said.

Public cloud container services on the rise

Watson takes a lot of calls from customers that are ready to move containers to operational environments, but they run into situations that require an orchestrator. Because these tools can be difficult to manage, he expects to see a lot of adoption of the services offered by the major public cloud providers.

"People will realize it's going to be better to allow a provider to run these things, and if they're already building and running applications on these providers' clouds then integration with these new containerized applications is going to be a lot easier," Watson said.

The new Azure Container Registry, which is compatible with Docker Registry v2, provides a private repository to store Docker-formatted images. That tool is available in preview Nov. 14, as is a new continuous integration and deployment feature in Visual Studio for multicontainer Linux applications.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Contact him at [email protected].

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