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New Microsoft Azure VM type targets spiky cloud workloads

A new member of the Azure VM family offers a deep discount in Microsoft's public cloud for applications that need to stay active, but mostly sit idle.

Microsoft has added a bargain-bin Azure VM type for workloads that rarely need to rev up a CPU's performance.

The B-Series family of VMs in Azure offers the cheapest option yet for Microsoft's public cloud customers. These machines, currently in preview, are designed for workloads with variable compute demands, such as web servers, small databases, and test and development environments.

Other Azure VMs charge for the full CPU regardless of how much an application consumes, but the B-Series assumes users will only need a fraction of that capacity most of the time. For example, an internal corporate time and attendance app gets nearly all its traffic in the morning and at day's end, but almost none throughout the day. Workloads build up credits as they run at or below a baseline CPU performance, and when enough credits accumulate, those machines can scale up to 100% of the virtual CPU to meet expected traffic spikes.

The B-Series comes in six sizes, starting at $0.012 per Linux machine, per hour, with a baseline CPU performance of 10% utilization. It's currently limited to four regions: U.S.-West 2, U.S.-East, Europe-West and Asia Pacific-Southeast.

This Azure VM type brings some of the platform-as-a-service benefits to an infrastructure-as-a-service model: Customers can access resources, but do not pay for continuous operations while not in use, said John Peluso, senior vice president of product strategy at AvePoint, an independent software vendor in Jersey City, N.J., that has built a large commercial product on Azure.

While it won't be the right Azure VM for every workload, it fits applications that must be available, but aren't used all that often, such as certain websites or demos, he said.

"We deal with this, and with our customers as well, where they have to make a decision whether they should run a VM or not based on cost, but there's a manual effort to turn that off," Peluso said. "It's nice to have an option that's low-cost, but also available to [expand CPU] when it's needed."

This Azure VM family, in many ways, runs counter to the direction cloud vendors have taken with their new machine types in recent years. These companies, Microsoft included, have added bigger VMs that focus on traditional, business-critical applications or next-generation applications with high performance demands.

But it does fill an important gap in Azure VM types. Amazon Web Services' own version of this machine type, the T2, has been on the market for more than three years.

Microsoft still lags behind Amazon in terms of the breadth of VM configurations, but the B-Series provides a comparable set of VM families, said Deepak Mohan, an analyst with IDC. It also strengthens Microsoft's position in the lower end of the market with a comparable price point to what Amazon and Google offer, he said.

"Even at an enterprise, there are low-end uses that are just test and dev where you run something for a short time and shut it down," he said. "They really want something as cheap as possible."

Trevor Jones is a senior news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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