Microsoft Announces Azure Boost, Enhancing Virtual Machine Performance
July 19, 2023 -- Microsoft today introduced the preview of Microsoft Azure Boost, one of Azure’s latest infrastructure innovations. Azure Boost is a new system that offloads virtualization processes traditionally performed by the hypervisor and host OS, such as networking, storage, and host management, onto purpose-built hardware and software. By separating hypervisor and host OS functions from the host infrastructure, Azure Boost enables greater network and storage performance at scale, improves security by adding another layer of logical isolation, and reduces the maintenance impact for future Azure software and hardware upgrades.
This innovation enables Azure customers participating in the preview to achieve a 200 Gbps networking throughput and a leading remote storage throughput up to 10 GBps and 400K IOPS, enabling the fastest storage workloads available today.
Azure Boost allows preview users to achieve this performance through access to experimental SKUs. This preview will be important for many customers and partners to integrate critical components of Azure Boost into their current VM solutions, ensuring smooth operation on this new system in the future.
While we are announcing the preview of Azure Boost today, Azure Boost has been providing benefits to millions of existing Azure VMs in production today, such as enabling the exceptional remote storage performance of the Ebsv5 VM series and networking throughput and latency improvements for the entire Ev5 and Dv5 VM series. Azure Boost will continue to innovate and provide benefits for Azure infrastructure users going forward.
Azure Boost benefits
Improved Network Performance
Azure Boost VMs in preview can achieve up to 200 Gbps networking throughput, marking a significant improvement with a doubling in performance over other existing Azure VMs.
This improvement in network performance is made possible by a critical component, the Microsoft Azure Network Adapter (MANA). MANA is tailored for optimal networking performance tailored specifically for Azure's demands, bringing improved reliability for virtual machines while providing a set of stable forward compatible device drivers for Linux and Windows operating systems. This means the Azure Boost system can expand network bandwidth to facilitate faster and more efficient data transfers and achieve higher network availability and stability.
The consistent driver interface of MANA also ensures a one-time transition compatible with future hardware changes, allowing seamless integration with future Azure performance enhancements and features.
The preview can be particularly important for networking-related Azure partners and developers that may require extended time to integrate MANA into their Azure VM solutions, which is necessary to take full advantage of Azure Boost’s networking benefits. MANA also supports Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) to enable network focused Azure partners and customers enhanced access to the hardware.
Improved Storage Performance
Azure Boost enables Azure current customers to achieve an industry leading remote storage throughput and IOPS performance of 10 GBps and 400K IOPS with our memory optimized E112ibsv5 VM using NVMe-enabled Premium SSD v2 or Ultra Disk options.
Offloading storage data plane operations from the CPU to dedicated hardware results in accelerated and consistent storage performance, as customers are already experiencing on Ev5 and Dv5 VMs. This also enhances existing storage capabilities such as disk caching for Azure Premium SSDs.
Experimental VMs provided as part of the preview will provide even faster remote storage throughput.
Azure Boost’s isolated architecture inherently improves security by running storage and networking processes separately on Azure Boost’s purpose-built hardware instead of running on the host server.
The Azure Boost’s system-on-chip (SoC) features robust hardware-based secure boot and attestation. The operating system on the Azure Boost SoC runs the minimal set of packages required, to improve not only performance but also security by reducing the potential attack surface. The system embraces multiple layers of defense-in-depth, including ubiquitous code integrity verification that prevents unexpected code from executing and enforcement of mandatory access controls through Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux). Microsoft has sought to learn from and contribute back to the wider security community and has upstreamed changes to the Integrity Measurement Architecture. The Azure Boost SoC also uses a FIPS 140 certified kernel for its cryptography, providing federal government levels of security.
Reduced Maintenance Downtime
An additional Azure Boost benefit is the reduced downtime needed to complete updates to Azure host infrastructure. Azure customer workloads increasingly demand high availability, where each second of the infrastructure downtime means greater risks to the Azure customer business. Azure Boost’s introduction means that Azure infrastructure updates can be deployed much faster by loading directly onto the Azure Boost hardware with minimal impact to customer running VMs on the host servers.
Interested in experiencing Azure Boost?
Azure Boost marks a significant leap forward in Azure infrastructure innovation, paving the way for accelerated improvements in performance, security, and reliability. Microsoft invites Azure partners and customers with high-performance network and storage needs, particularly those using the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), to take part in the preview.
Take part in the preview today to experience the future of Azure firsthand: Request access to the Preview.
To learn more about MANA, read the MANA FAQ.
To learn more about some of our price-performance innovations, see the blog on the GigaOm study about our price-performance.
Source: Max Uritsky, Microsoft