Look out AWS: Microsoft Azure IaaS hits general availability

Microsoft reaches cloud milestone with release of expanded library for VM image templates, lower Azure pricing

Microsoft on Tuesday made a flurry of Windows Azure-related announcements, including the general availability of Windows Azure IaaS (infrastructure as a service), with new VMI (virtual machine image) templates for SQL Server, BizTalk Server, and SharePoint; larger VM sizes; and new pricing to challenge Amazon Web Services (AWS). What's more, Microsoft announced the general availability of Windows Azure Virtual Networks.

Microsoft unveiled previews of Azure IaaS and Virtual Networks last June as part of a significant overhaul to the formerly PaaS-centric platform featuring a healthy dose of IaaS capabilities and broader support for various OSes and development platforms. Today's news marks an important milestone for Microsoft Azure as it emerges as a credible competitor to AWS, OpenStack, and other cloud platforms jockeying for position. (Check out InfoWorld's review of Azure for more details about the Microsoft-crafted cloud.)

Today's news also means that Microsoft shops have more to think about as they contemplate their cloud strategies. For example, a company intent on embracing SharePoint in the cloud can now choose to deploy it on Azure or sign up for Office 365.

Azure's built-in gallery of VMI templates now includes Windows Server images, among them Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, and SharePoint Server, as well as Linux images, including Ubuntu, CentOS, and Suse Linux distributions, according to Microsoft's Server and Tools Business VP Scott Guthrie. Users also can upload and run their own custom-built VHD images.

"No conversion process is required as you move ... VHDs into or out of Windows Azure," according to Guthrie. "Your VMs can be copied up and run as-is in the cloud, and the VMs you create in Windows Azure can also be downloaded and run as-is on your on-premise Windows 2012 Servers. This provides tremendous flexibility, and enables you to easily build hybrid solutions that span both cloud and on-premises environments."

Through the Windows Azure Management Portal, users can manage and monitor support of VMs once they are running, according to Guthrie. Further, VMs can optionally attach and use data disks for storage. "Once attached, these disks look like standard disks/devices to a Virtual Machine, and you can format them using whatever disk format you want (e.g. NTFS for Windows, ext3 or ext4 for Linux, etc)," he wrote.

Windows Azure provides network load-balancer functionality, enabling organizations to distribute traffic sent to a single IP address or port to multiple VM machine instances. "You can use the load balancer to both scale out your apps, as well as provide better fault tolerance when a VM is down or you are performing maintenance on it," according to Guthrie.

Windows Azure Virtual Networks also achieved general availability status today. The offering, which is key to enabling a hybrid cloud environment, lets users securely provision and manage VPNs in Azure, as well as link their Azure instances to their data centers and VPCs (virtual private clouds). IT admins maintain control over network topology, including IP-address configuration, table routing, and security policies.

Microsoft also said it was cutting pricing for Windows Azure Virtual Machines by 21 percent and Windows Azure Cloud Services by 33 percent. "Our new VM pricing also matches Amazon's on-demand VM pricing for both Windows and Linux VMs," Guthrie wrote.

As part of today's news, Microsoft also announced:

  • Two new VM sizes: a four-core-by-28GB RAM configuration and an eight-core-by-56GB RAM configuration
  • Increased default OS disk size from 30GB to 127GB
  • Ability to customize administrator account usernames (for improved security)
  • Default enablement of Remote Power Shell, which according to Guthrie "makes it easier to automate setting up VMs without having to ever login interactively to a newly deployed instance"

This story, "Look out AWS: Microsoft Azure IaaS hits general availability," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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