Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Microsoft Unveils Azure Containers 

Microsoft filled in the details of its application container strategy with the unveiling of its Azure Container Service based on partnerships with Docker and datacenter OS and container orchestration specialist Mesosphere.

Microsoft (MFST) initially announced plans to support Docker containers on Windows Server 2016 back in August during LinuxCon. Microsoft rolled out a package of "intelligent cloud" features during a company event this week with a heavy emphasis on delivering business applications via Azure. It also plans to incorporate graphics processor capabilities into its next-generation virtual machines.

Jason Zander, Microsoft's corporate vice president for its Azure Cloud, announced in a blog post that the partners would deliver and open source "container scheduling and orchestration service." While Microsoft has been working for some time with Docker to run containers on Windows, Zander added that the embrace of Apache Mesos represented the next step in running container workloads in the Windows cloud. Mesos is the orchestration tool used for the latest version of Apple's Siri personal assistant as well as by Twitter.

Along with Docker and Apache Mesos, the Azure Container Service includes the Marathon framework used to launch and scale container-based applications and the Chronos distributed execution system used for batch workloads. The service also allows Azure customers to deploy Docker containers using Docker Swarm, the native clustering tool, and Compose, the tool used to run multi-container applications with Docker.

"The Azure Container Service will also have the ability to deploy, scale and orchestrate Swarm based solutions as well," Zander noted. He said the Azure Container Service would be available in preview before the end of this year.

In releasing details of Windows Server 2016 last month, Microsoft stressed that Microsoft's open-source container approach is designed to deliver “operating system level virtualization” to run multiple applications isolated from each other in one container host. Industry observers note that Docker containers running in multitenant environments previously lacked the necessary isolation, a security feature that prevents one application from “seeing” another.

Microsoft also rolled out an Azure-focused Internet of Things (IoT) initiative this week that includes an IoT suite for building and scaling IoT projects on its cloud platform. IoT device and platform partners include Freescale (FSL), Intel (INTC) and Texas Instruments (TXN).

As its readies Windows Server 2016, Microsoft also disclosed a new family of Azure virtual machines that incorporate GPU capabilities. The "N-series" of VMs targets graphics-intensive workloads that are increasingly incorporating analytics tasks like visualizations. The move also addresses the growing data analytics emphasis on unstructured video.

Zander said Microsoft would be previewing N-series virtual machines "within the next few months" running the Nvidia (NVDA) Tesla computing platform along with Nvidia's Grid 2.0 technology.

The cloud upgrades are aimed at distinguishing Microsoft Azure from rivals like Amazon Web Services (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) by offering "differentiated offerings across app development, data, IoT and cloud infrastructure," Zander stressed.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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