December 16, 2017

Microsoft this week moved to make it much easier to spin up instances of containers on a Microsoft Azure Cloud and be billed for on a per-second basis.

Corey Sanders, director of compute for Azure, says Azure Container Instances (ACI), available as public preview, make it possible to spin up containers running on top of virtual machines via a single command. Microsoft is also letting customers specify the exact amount of memory they need separately from the exact count of virtual CPUs they require on the Azure cloud to further reduce costs.

In addition. the company announced it is making it possible to invoke ACI from within an instance of the Kubernetes container orchestration engine via an open-source ACI Connector for Kubernetes. ACI follows the launch of an open-source Draft tool Microsoft released last month to enable any IT organization to spin up a Kubernetes cluster running anywhere using two commands.

At the same time, Microsoft announced it has joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, through which Sanders says the company expects to play a bigger role in making contributions to Kubernetes as well as Helm, a tool for managing Kubernetes clusters.

Initially, ACI will be available on Linux servers hosted on Azure. But Sanders says soon they will be available on Windows servers as well. Microsoft plans to make ACI available on Azure via a command line interface (CLI), a portal or via templates that developers or IT operations teams can invoke via the Azure Container Registry or Docker Hub.

Sander says containers are transforming every aspect of application development by making it easier to build applications while also eliminating the need to patch software. Organizations such as MetLife and Alaska Airlines have embraced applications to accelerate their respective digital business strategies, says Sanders. In fact, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently told attendees at the Microsoft Build 2017 conference that microservices enabled by containers are driving a new era of computing that goes well beyond public clouds.

Most containers today are deployed on virtual machines on public clouds such as Azure and Amazon Web Services. Sanders says Microsoft doesn’t anticipate ever needing to expose containers on a bare-metal server. Rather, via ACI and Azure, Microsoft is providing a higher level of abstraction that eliminates virtual-machine management or any need to master higher-level cluster orchestration tools and concepts, he says.

While Microsoft has been gaining ground on AWS, the shift to containers marks an opportunity to close that gap further. In addition, as platforms such as Azure Stack become more widely available in on-premises environments, Microsoft undoubtedly will leverage containers to move application workloads back and forth between those environments and its public cloud. Obviously, those same containers could run on AWS. But AWS is committed to a vision of the public cloud in which the majority of workloads run on its cloud.

It’s too early to say what impact ACI will have in determining who wins that battle. But one thing’s for certain: As container technologies continue to evolve, the level of DevOps friction surrounding containers continues to decline.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.