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Microsoft Debuts On-Demand Azure Container Service

Microsoft on Wednesday launched a technical preview of its new Azure Container Instances (ACI) service, enabling Azure customers to deploy containers on the fly.

The preview is currently available for Linux containers, with support for Windows planned for the coming weeks. It's available in the U.S. East and West and Europe West Azure regions.

Microsoft also released its new ACI Connector for Kubernetes, an open source tool that will allow for the orchestration of Kubernetes-based container clusters.

Corey Sanders, Microsoft's director of Azure Compute, described ACI as variably sized single containers that can be deployed on the fly without requiring virtual machines, with usage to be billed by the second.

"It offers the fastest and easiest way to run a container in the cloud," Sanders said during a webcast announcing ACI and the Kubernetes connector. Sanders noted that for typical container deployments, administrators must create a virtual machine to host that container.

"That amount of time to get started and that amount of work to deploy a container has now gone away with Azure Container Instances," Sanders said. "It offers a much faster way to launch those containers by directly launching the container itself instead of first creating the virtual machine."

Sanders elaborated on the announcement in a blog post. "As the service directly exposes containers, there is no VM management you need to think about or higher-level cluster orchestration concepts to learn," he noted. "It is simply your code, in a container, running in the cloud."

Besides simplifying the deployment and management of container-based workloads by taking the VM out of the picture, Sanders emphasized that the appeal of containers is their ability to scale and shut down on the fly in an agile and cost-effective manner. In addition to the per-second billing, customers can pay by the gigabyte and CPU, allowing them to choose the capacity needed for the containers.

"This lets customers and developers make sure the platform is perfectly fitting their workload, not paying for a second more than required and not paying for a gigabyte more of memory than necessary," Sanders said during the webcast. 

"Customers can designate the amount of memory separate from the exact count of vCPUs, so your application perfectly fits on the infrastructure," he added in his blog post. "With ACI, containers are a first-class object of the Azure platform, offering Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) on the instance and billing tags to track usage at the individual container level."

In addition to the ACI Kubernetes cluster, customers can deploy ACI instances from a Docker hub repository, which supports a large set of commercial, custom or internally built containers, or from an Azure Container Registry, as well as private registries.

Microsoft also announced on Wednesday that it has joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) as a Platinum member. The CNCF is a project sponsored by the Linux Foundation, which Microsoft joined last year. It governs various container projects, including Kubernetes, Prometheus, OpenTracing, Fluentd, Linkerd, containerd, Helm and gRPC. Gabe Monroy, lead program manager for Microsoft Azure containers, is joining the CNCF board.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.