5 new Azure features you need to hear about

Microsoft has been busy stuffing Azure with new features; here are five major additions introduced in the last month alone

5 new Azure features you need to hear about
Credit: Paul Townsend

Every public cloud offering is in constant mutation -- adding features, revising old ones, revamping pricing, striving to stay ahead of the competition and to give existing customers incentive to stick around.

Microsoft's Azure improvements are often incremental changes aimed at a specific subset of users. But over the past month, several new features -- and expansions on existing ones -- have bubbled up, all of interest to a wide variety of Azure users. Here are five of the most significant additions.

1. Azure's close integration with the Akamai CDN

The idea is simple: Come early 2016, Azure users will be able to programmatically deploy content into the Akamai CDN and buy Akamai offerings through their Azure self-service portal.

Microsoft has its own CDN and has long enjoyed a close relationship with Akamai, but this takes the partnership to the next level. Apart from allowing Azure-deployed content to reach a broader audience (Latin America and Asia, in particular), it also means Microsoft can pit itself directly against Amazon CloudFront.

Pricing wasn't announced for the Akamai deal, although CloudFront is automatically quite competitive -- its free tier allows up to 50GB out per month, albeit only for one year for a new account. Let's see if Microsoft can hatch something at least as appealing.

2. Azure's PowerShell is almost ready for prime time

Build a better command line, and the world will beat a path to your door. Microsoft made a bid in that direction with PowerShell, the power and utility of which speaks for itself.

Integrating PowerShell with Azure has been in the works a long time, but earlier this month, a major milestone arrived: the preview release of Azure PowerShell 1.0. With it, the user can manage Azure resources and services from the command line instead of through a GUI -- which most any veteran sys admin appreciates.

Be warned: It's such a major change that the featured Azure Resource Management cmdlets break backward compatibility with previous versions.

3. Azure App Service supports Go, albeit experimentally

If you're a fan of Google's Go and want to use it on Azure, desire no more: Support for Go with Web apps was added to Azure earlier this month -- even in the free trial. Azure will take care of configuring the web.config file if needed for the app, but you can supply your own if your deployment requires custom settings.

Right now, only Go 1.4.2 and Go 1.5.1 are supported in their 64-bit incarnations, and the whole package is considered experimental; deploy a production application at your own risk. For now, anyway -- you have every reason to believe Go support on Azure will graduate to full support status before long.

4. Azure Backup backs up a lot more than VMs

Originally, Azure Backup was designed to back up Hyper-V VMs and their associated data volumes. Anything beyond that was the province of Microsoft Data Protection Manager. But of late, Azure Backup has grown to provide backup support for other Microsoft products as well. Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint Server, Microsoft Exchange, and Windows Clients are all protected.

Note that the cost of backups is two-fold: one charge for the size of the instance itself ($5 and up depending on the size of the instance), and charges for storage consumed by the backup. But the range of products covered by Azure Backup is likely to continue expanding.

5. Azure File Storage gives you SMB in the cloud

Sometimes you need to wait the longest for the simplest, most basic features because, counterintuitively, they're hard to get right. Azure finally offered Azure File Storage, to perform conventional Windows file shares (via the SMB 3.0 protocol) in the cloud, at the end of September.

The idea is to support existing applications as they're moved to the cloud, some of which might depend on SMB share mounts. An Azure File Storage share can be mounted anywhere, allowing on-prem and cloud applications to share storage and data in a familiar manner.

Note: Any clients that connect to an Azure File Storage share will be limited by their level of SMB support. For Windows 7, that's SMB 2.1, which lacks support for encryption; SMB 3.0 is supported in only Windows 8 and up, as well as Windows Server 2012 and up. However, most recent Linux distributions support SMB 3.0 natively.

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