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Azure Gets More Availability Zones, DevOps Improvements

Microsoft is bringing a few notable enhancements to its Azure cloud, according to announcements this week.

For starters, the company is expanding Azure "Availability Zones" into the West U.S. 2 and North Europe Azure regions. Both regions can be used commercially, according to this Microsoft "Overview" document. The document described the following Azure regions as currently having support for Availability Zones:

  • Central US
  • East US 2 (Preview)
  • France Central
  • North Europe
  • Southeast Asia (Preview)
  • West Europe
  • West US 2

Azure Availability Zones, which rolled out in March, are datacenters that Microsoft has been adding within Azure regions to provide additional support for Azure services. Availability Zones can add resiliency and fault tolerance for services such as Azure Virtual Machines, SQL Database services and storage, for instance. Microsoft charges organizations to use Azure Availability Zones, with costs based on data transfer rates.

An organization might use Azure Availability Zones to "build and run applications that require low-latency synchronous replication with protection from datacenter-level failures," Microsoft's announcement explained.

The need to have Azure Availability Zones became acutely noticeable last month when Microsoft's South Central U.S. Azure region in Texas experienced an outage. The outage blocked developers from using Microsoft's Visual Studio Team Services (now called "Azure DevOps"), a collaboration service for developers, but it also affected Azure and Office 365 services more broadly. The South Central U.S. Azure region had lacked Azure Availability Zones support back then, and it still doesn't have it today.

Azure DevOps and ExpressRoute
Meanwhile, Microsoft is adding support for Azure DevOps in a different way. The collaboration service is now optionally supported by the Azure ExpressRoute service, according to an announcement. Azure ExpressRoute is enabled by Microsoft's service provider partners, providing for private Internet connections via high-bandwidth, low-latency connections. The option to use it with Azure DevOps is there mostly to support "customers who typically operate in the government and financial services sectors" and who want to avoid the public Internet, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Azure DevOps can't be used with the Azure ExpressRoute service when using certain content from the Azure Content Delivery Network, though, Microsoft's announcement warned.

Azure Update Management
Microsoft also touted its Azure Update Management service this week, which is used for managing virtual machines. Azure Update Management comes with Azure subscriptions and gets enabled via the Azure Portal. It's free to use, although Microsoft charges for Azure Log Analytics data storage. 

Perks added to the Azure Update Management service include the following:

  • The ability to target groups with dynamic membership when deploying updates.
  • The ability to create "an Azure-native query" for Azure virtual machines (in preview).
  • A "query preview" capability that will show "the VMs that would be patched if this update deployment were to run right now."
  • The ability to "onboard multiple machines into Update Management, even across subscriptions."
  • A "pre/post scripts" capability for Azure automation runbooks, which can be run as part of an update deployment.
  • An "update inclusion" capability for deploying some patches but not others.
  • Flexible system reboot controls.

Apparently, these features were added to the Azure Update Management service sometime this year, although the timing wasn't specified.

About the Author

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

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