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AzureCon: Microsoft Launches Azure IoT, Many Other Services

Microsoft launched multiple new Azure services on Tuesday, some of them as previews and others as general availability releases, as part of its AzureCon Web event.

The AzureCon event consisted of keynote talks by top Microsoft executives, starting with Scott Guthrie, executive vice president for Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise division. It ended with a keynote by Jason Zander, corporate vice president of Azure.

In addition, there are a number of specific sessions on the new Azure capabilities. The whole prerecorded series is currently available on demand.

Azure Security Center Preview
The new Azure Security Center is just available at the preview stage right now, but it offers integrated security policies for managing Azure resources, according to Guthrie. It scans a customer's environment and proposes best practices. "It will flag when you're out of policy," he added.

Azure Security Center offers threat protection as well as alerts. Microsoft uses its Azure Hadoop service and machine learning plus other signals to detect if a customer's network is under attack. The Azure Security Center will work with the software produced by other security solution vendors via Microsoft's APIs. It will integrate with solutions from "Barracuda, Checkpoint, Cisco, CloudFlare, F5 Networks, Imperva, Incapsula and Trend Micro," according to Microsoft's announcement. Guthrie added that Azure Security Center also works with existing firewalls. Alternatively, organizations can select firewalls available in the Azure Gallery.

Al Hilwa, program director for software development research at IDC, pointed to Azure Security Center as one the more interesting Azure announcements.

"The potential to leverage machine learning and other Microsoft analytics capabilities is obvious here and in the long run," Hilwa said via e-mail. It possibly could make the cloud appear more secure than premises-based environments, he speculated.

Microsoft expects to make the Azure Security Center "broadly available" by year's end.

Azure Resource Health
Azure Resource Health is a new service that checks Azure components, such as Virtual Machines, SQL Database and Web Sites. It looks for the root causes of a problem and offers guidance and tooling, with optional trouble ticketing. A demo by Corey Sanders, director of partner management, showed that it can detect who made changes to an Azure Virtual Machine. It has a troubleshooting section that's in the service now. Microsoft is planning to add a new resource health check capability in the future. A preview of Azure Resource Heath is expected to arrive next month.

New Azure Virtual Machine Sizes
Microsoft on Tuesday announced the GA of its DV2 series of Azure Virtual Machine instances. DV2 is "35% faster than the current D-series instances," Microsoft's announcement explained. It's for organizations that need "faster CPUs, better local disk performance, or higher memories."

In addition, there's a new N series Azure Virtual Machine instance. It delivers the top-of-the-line experience using M60 GPUs and Nvidia K80 chips, according to Zander. It's being used by computer-assisted design companies. Microsoft uses it for its machine learning operations, he added.

Zander explained that Azure already has A, D and G Virtual Machine capabilities, with the G series offering the most memory and fastest CPUs (more than 80,000 IOPS). Microsoft plans to reduce the prices of its A8, A9, A10 and A11 instances "by as much as 60%," effective on October 1, according to its announcement.

Azure Container Service Preview
Microsoft has partnered with both Docker and Mesosphere on an Apache Mesos-based "open source container scheduling and orchestration service" for running container workloads in Azure. Mark Russinovich, Microsoft's CTO, said during the AzureCon event that Microsoft had built its Azure container service on Mesos.

"I found it interesting that they are going to ship Linux cluster container management on Linux ahead of Windows," commented Hilwa. "This is definitely the new Microsoft trying hard to be as platform agnostic as it can in its cloud, in order not to be left behind."

Apache Mesos is an open source cluster manager project overseen by the Apache Software Foundation, with Mesos technology incorporated by companies such as Twitter and Apple's Siri service. The Apache Mesos integration in Azure is near the preview release stage at this time, but Microsoft is planning product availability before year's end.

Azure will get future support for other open source solutions as well. Microsoft pointed to Marathon (used to scale container-based apps) and Chronos (for "chron and batch workloads"). Azure support for Docker Swarm (a clustering tool) will be coming, too.

Microsoft further explained in this blog post that its main goal with the Azure Container Service is "to simplify the creation and configuration of a cluster." Standard APIs will be generated for the purpose.

Azure IoT Suite GA
Microsoft on Tuesday announced the GA of its Azure IoT Suite, a set of technologies for monitoring and managing "Internet of Things" types of devices. Guthrie explained that Microsoft provides "stream processing and predictive analytics" with its Azure IoT Suite. Organizations use preconfigured solutions in the suite. Microsoft has integrated its Power BI analytics solutions into the suite as well.

The AzureCon event showcased efforts by ThyssenKrupp Elevators in using elevator service data to anticipate mechanical failures with its 1.1 million elevators. Another Azure IoT Suite customer is Rockwell Automation. Microsoft has a program for its partners, called "Microsoft Azure Certified for IoT," that provides assurances that their products have been tested to support Azure IoT. Initial partners are "Beaglebone, Freescale, Intel, Raspberry Pi, Resin.io, Seeed and Texas Instruments," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Hilwa said that the big players are just beginning to address the Internet of Things space, adding that "I expect them [Microsoft] to be a fierce player in this space given their device OS and database competencies."

Azure ExpressRoute GA
The Azure ExpressRoute service has been available from Microsoft and its exchange provider partners and network service partners for a while now. It allows organizations to bypass the public Internet with private connections, supporting bandwidths ranging from 50Mbps to 10Gbps. Microsoft currently has 21 Azure ExpressRoute locations worldwide, according to Zander.

More discussion on why organizations might need ExpressRoute can be found in this Q&A chat.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that Azure ExpressRoute is generally available to support its Office 365 and Skype for Business services. Support for those services is now available from Microsoft's launch partners, which include "BT, Equinix, Tata Communications, Telecity Group and Verizon," according to a Microsoft blog post.

It's also possible now to connect Azure Government accounts using Azure ExpressRoute. It's currently being done by the Riverside County government to move its datacenter to Azure Government, according to the blog post. Azure ExpressRoute support for Dynamics CRM Online customers will be coming "later this year."

New Azure ExpressRoute pricing options will be arriving a little later. On October 1, Microsoft will offer two new pricing plans described as being "more flexible" at its pricing page here. New 2Gbps and 5Gbps options will be available. Microsoft also announced Tuesday that organization can use the Azure Resource Manager to "deploy and manage your ExpressRoute circuits."

Azure Data Warehouse Preview
Microsoft came out with a new phrase, Azure "SQL Data Warehouse," during its AzureCon keynote talks. Guthrie described Azure Data Warehouse as being capable of storing "any amount of data." It can be used for machine learning, as well as business intelligence capabilities, he added.

Laura Rubbelke, a principal software design engineer at Microsoft, said that Microsoft's Power BI solutions have "a direct connection with Azure Data Warehouse" during a demo. It's possible to use it to tap services in the Cortana Analytics Suite. The Cortana Analytics Suite is a Big Data analytics solution that became generally available on Monday.

The Azure Data Warehouse uses massive parallel processing in Azure, which Rubbelke demonstrated for scalability purposes. Users can just move a slider control in the interface and it's a "zero risk" decision to scale. Users don't have to move their data, she added. Rubbelke said that Azure Data Warehouse "is now available in public preview."

Azure HDInsight on Linux GA
Microsoft also announced Tuesday that Azure HDInsight on Linux is "now generally available." It was available as a preview on Ubuntu Linux back in February. HDInsight is Microsoft's Apache Hadoop-based Big Data service, but now organizations can use the Azure Portal to select either the Windows or Linux version. Both are supported by a 99.9 percent service level agreement.

The GA release of Azure HDInsight on Linux comes with a few new features, such as "cluster scaling, virtual network integration and script action support," according to a Microsoft blog post.

Other Announcements
Microsoft had a lot of Azure improvements to describe. Here's the short list.

Azure Backup has hit GA status. It's currently offered as part of the Microsoft Operations Management Suite and it can now be used with "SQL Server, SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics."

Also at GA status is the Azure File Storage service. It uses SMB 3.0 and offers a georeplicated file share service with high availability.

Live Encoding of Azure Media Service hit GA status. It's used for streaming high-quality live video to devices.

Azure Mobile Engagement, a service that lets organizations analyze app responses and push "contextually aware" notifications into apps and messages, has hit GA status.

Microsoft's App Service Environment will hit GA status in December. It will be backed by a service level agreement. App Service Environment provides "a fully isolated and dedicated environment for securely running all of your apps," according to Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft also announced a Financial Service Compliance Program. It's for Microsoft's financial services customers, with resources on meeting compliance standards when using Azure services.

Microsoft plans to introduce a new Azure Compute Pre-Purchase plan, which will be available on December 1. It's a savings plan for Azure customers with "steady-state, predictable workloads on Azure."

If that weren't enough, Microsoft announced a partnership with Akamai. Microsoft plans to use Akamai's content delivery networks with the Azure platform to support its customers around the globe. The content delivery network services will be available in a limited rollout, starting on Nov. 1.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.