Microsoft added container-focused support for its Azure cloud platform, with the latest move designed to ease container deployments.
The computing giant launched a preview of its Azure Container Instances (ACI) platform, which Microsoft said does not need any virtual machine infrastructure to manage. Containers can be deployed through the ACI platform and are billed by the second. Users can control memory used by the container and virtual CPU (vCPU) needed to run the container.
The service uses role-based access control (RBAC) on the instance and billing tags to track usage at the individual container level. RBACs apply access control to Kubernetes application programming interface (API) objects.
“As the service directly exposes containers, there is no VM management you need to think about or higher-level cluster orchestration concepts to learn,” explained Corey Sanders, director of compute for Azure at Microsoft. “It is simply your code, in a container, running in the cloud.”
Deployment can be done through Azure or using a template. Microsoft said those deployments can be handled through a public repository like Docker Hub, or from a private repository using its Azure Container Registry.
Microsoft’s Azure product was recently touted by 451 Research as offering cost-competitive pricing for certain serverless computing scenarios. Serverless computing architectures are viewed as a variation on containers, and are designed to reduce the amount of overhead associated with offering services in the cloud.
Microsoft said Windows container support, which is currently lacking, is set to launch in the “coming weeks.”
Open Source Connector
The launch also includes an open source connector designed to allow Kubernetes clusters to deploy to ACI. Microsoft said the connector supports “nearly instantaneous container compute, orchestrated by Kubernetes, without having VM infrastructure to manage,” and still leveraging the Kubernetes API.
“This will allow you to utilize both VMs and container instances simultaneously in the same K8s cluster, giving you the best of both worlds,” Sanders explained. “[ACI] can be used for fast bursting and scaling whereas VMs can be used for the more predictable scaling.”
While somewhat resembling the actions of a container orchestrator, Sanders said the Microsoft services were not intended as a container orchestrator or designed to replace orchestrators. He explained “they will fuel orchestrators and other services as a container building block.” The most common container orchestrators include Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, and Mesos.
Microsoft Joins CNCF
As part of the move, Gabe Monroy, lead program manager for containers on Microsoft’s Azure team and former Deis CTO, will join CNCF’s Governing Board.
Microsoft made waves late last year when it joined the Linux Foundation as a platinum member. While citing long-term work on Linux-based open source platforms, the company had not been a vocal proponent of open-source platforms.
In fact, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had at one time called Linux “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.” He had moderated that view in recent years.
Microsoft Container Push
The new container platform should bolster Microsoft’s position in the container space against more established rivals like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google.
“Although the Windows Server Container ecosystem is no doubt many months behind that of Linux, [Microsoft] has been doing a good job building out its container functionality and providing its customers with a reason to upgrade,” noted Cowen and Company in a recent report.
Microsoft last month updated several of its platforms to increase support and the performance of containers running on its infrastructure. This include its Nano Server and Server Core products, and increased support for Linux.
The updates followed on the heels of a deal to acquire open source software company Deis for an undisclosed amount. The move was seen as boosting Microsoft’s ability to create and manage applications using Kubernetes for container orchestration.
Microsoft has been long-rumored in talks about acquiring Docker Inc., with reports last year of a $4 billion offer being put on the table. While a deal was obviously not struck, analysts continue to note an opportunity.
“The next 12-24 months could determine whether Docker Inc. chooses to remain an independent entity, based on commercial performance,” Cowen and Company stated. “If Docker were to sell itself, we view [Microsoft] as the most likely buyer.”
Microsoft earlier this month reported reported $7.4 billion in revenue from its “Intelligent Cloud” business, which includes more than just Azure. This was an 11 percent increase from the same quarter in the previous year. Within that business unit, server products and cloud services revenue increased 15 percent, driven by Azure revenue growth of 97 percent, the company said. Microsoft also reported its annual cloud run rate was $18.9 billion.
Google remains a staunch supporter of Linux-based container platforms, having recently jumped on the latest Kubernetes release. The move was unsurprising as Google was one of the lead developers on the latest Kubernetes 1.7 update and was the initial innovator behind the container management platform.
AWS is reported to be looking at its own Kubernetes-based container platform. The cloud giant does support Kubernetes for container management and orchestration — and has its own similar service called EC2 Container Service (ECS).