How to choose the right Azure cloud VMs

As Microsoft’s cloud gets more complex, building infrastructure as a service gets easier

How to choose among Azure cloud VMs

Back when Microsoft first launched Azure’s virtual machines, there were only a handful of default server sizes you could use. The question you had to ask yourself then was a simple one: Is there a server that can support my workload? But now there’s an ever-growing list of different server sizes and server types, all targeted at different use cases. That’s changed the question. Now you must ask: Which one is the right one for me?

In the beginning of the public cloud, the key factor was economies of scale. The first two or three generations used the same hardware across entire datacenters, giving massive price advantages but at the same time limiting the capabilities of the servers used to host infrastructure and platform as a service. The rise of the Open Compute Project, and its support by the main cloud vendors, changed things by giving those clouds common hardware standards that could support a wider range of functions without significantly adding costs.

Today's cloud: A variety of real servers and virtual machines

The latest generation of OCP hardware is even more flexible. Microsoft’s Project Olympus chassis, the basis of its new generation of Azure datacenters, is a prime example, building on its x86 heritage to support adding extra processing via GPUs or FPGAs. With GPU technology at the heart of many machine learning algorithms, and FPGAs providing accelerated networking as well as supporting dedicated machine learning for services like Bing, there’s now a lot more flexibility, both in CPU capabilities and in how those servers support cloud services.

Currently, Azure offers 36 separate VM types, focused across six different use cases. That’s a lot of VM options, with not all available in all regions. You need to think carefully about your workloads before you pick an option, because picking the wrong type could make your application more expensive to run. The 36 VM types in Azure are available with both Windows and Linux support, so you’ve got a choice of operating systems for your code, making it easier to lift and shift existing applications or providing endpoints that fit into your development tool chain.

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