Equinix today announces a partnership with Microsoft Azure whereby Equinix will render Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute available to 16 global markets by means of Equinix’s data centers. Equinix represents the first datacenter provider to facilitate such a significant global expansion of Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute, a service that allows Azure customers to connect datacenters to the Azure cloud by means of a private, non public-internet based, low latency connection that claims benefits such as improved connection reliability, performance and security. Currently, Equinix boasts over 100 International Business Exchange (IBX) data centers all over the world that are home to the infrastructure of more than 450 cloud service providers. Equinix is no stranger to facilitating connections between enterprise infrastructures and the cloud services of public cloud vendors as exemplified by a recent case study featuring Foursquare, which used Equinix to create a hybrid cloud environment marked by the addition of a private cloud to its Amazon Web Services-hosted public cloud infrastructure. Foursquare’s creation of a hybrid cloud environment to accommodate its growth was simplified because of the availability of Amazon Web Services Direct Connect within the Equinix data center that housed Foursquare’s private cloud. Similarly, in the case of Microsoft Azure, because the “physical infrastructure for Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute resides in Equinix’s data centers,” existing Equinix customers can reap the benefits of low latency, high throughput connections that are enabled by the connection to Azure through a data center within the Equinix ecosystem. In addition to rendering Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute available in data centers in Ashburn, VA and San Jose, Ca, Equinix plans to make the service available in data centers in London, Hong Kong and Singapore in 2014 as told to Cloud Computing Today in a phone interview with Chris Sharp, Equinix’s VP of Cloud Innovation. Equinix’s support of Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute stands to intensify the cloud wars between Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services even further by bolstering the direct connection capabilities of Azure and thereby rendering the Azure platform more appealing to enterprise customers that are interested in a private, low latency, secure connection that avoids use of the public internet.
At its Build Conference in San Francisco, Microsoft joined Google and Amazon Web Services in slashing IaaS and storage prices by announcing price cuts of up to 27-35% on compute services, and 44-65% on storage. Additionally, Microsoft revealed details of “Basic” VM instances that lack the load balancing and auto-scaling functionality that comes with the Standard instances. Price cuts were deepest for “Memory-Intensive” virtual machines and ranged from 35% for select Linux machines, and 27% for Windows-based machines. Microsoft also announced a new redundancy storage option branded Zone Redundant Storage (ZRS) that allows customers to store three copies of their data across “multiple facilities” which may be located either within the same region or across different regions. Zone Redundant Storage provides customers with an alternative redundancy option to the currently available Geo Redundant Storage (GRS) choice which enables customers to store data in regions “hundreds of miles apart” marked by 3 copies of their data in each region. Zone Redundant Storage will be 37.5% lower than Geo Redundant Storage in price. Notable about Microsoft’s announcements of Azure price reductions was its concomitant emphasis on quality and innovation in the cloud computing space:
While price is important, and something that will continue to grab headlines, there are three key factors at play in cloud computing: innovation, price, and quality. Innovation and quality will prove far more important than commoditization of compute and storage. Vendors will ultimately extol their track records for building and running services far more than their prices and SLAs.
Microsoft will continue to focus on bringing our customers a world-class service with an unrivaled user experience. This means best-in-class value while still providing the most complete cloud experience on the market. It means massive investments in cutting-edge infrastructure and world-class R&D. It means continuing to grow our developer and partner ecosystems. Simply put, it means devoting the bulk of our efforts to delivering innovation and a quality experience for our customers, developers, and partners.
With cloud guru Satya Nadella now at the helm of Microsoft, the industry should expect Microsoft to hold good on the promise made by Steve Martin, General Manager of Windows Azure, in his blog post regarding the devotion of “the bulk of our [Microsoft’s] efforts to delivering innovation and a quality experience for our customers.” All this suggests that, what had previously been a two horse race between Amazon Web Services and Google has now, within a matter of days, morphed into a three horse race that prominently features Microsoft and its renewed commitment to cloud and mobile technologies under Nadella as evinced by Microsoft’s release of Office on the iPad. Without question, Microsoft’s experience serving enterprise customers exceeds that of Google by far, but its ability to innovate in the cloud space with the frequency and depth of Amazon Web Services and Google remains to be seen.
In a recent interview with The Register, Scott Guthrie, VP of Windows Azure remarked on recently added features to the Azure platform that take it in the direction of feature parity with Amazon Web Services. Notable recent milestones for, and functionality additions to the Azure platform include the following:
•Skype now runs on the Azure platform.
•New storage for SkyDrive will be stored on the Azure platform.
•Xbox Live and Xbox One “heavily use” Azure on the backend.
•Enhanced global presence including availability in China.
•A scheduler service that enables developers to schedule tasks without relying on a virtual machine.
•The ability to read replicated data in the secondary, global storage site of your location by means of the “read-only secondaries” service.
•Authentication, security and access control for Office 365 is hosted by applications that reside on the Windows Azure platform.
•Developer features such as “Visual Studio online, continuous delivery, source control hosting, remote debugging, diagnostics features.”
•Capability to run MapReduce jobs and integrate analytics into applications by means of HDInsight service, which features enterprise grade Hadoop hosted on the Azure cloud.
Taken together, these enhancements illustrate that Azure is indeed progressing down a rapid development path that, if continued, will likely catapult it into second place, behind Amazon Web Services, in the IaaS and PaaS space, ahead of competitors such as the Google Compute Engine and IBM. That said, achievement of feature parity with Amazon Web Services is virtually (no pun intended) a pipe dream for Azure given the breathtaking range of features and functionality offered by the Amazon Web Services platform, many of which, such as the AWS support for Impala and Amazon Kinesis, represent advanced iterations on the AWS commitment to supporting Big Data in the cloud.
However, Azure can certainly match AWS feature for feature for the 10-20 most common set of use cases for enterprise deployments, and its recent news that everyday consumer applications such as Skype and SkyDrive leverage the Azure platform is likely to render customers increasingly comfortable with the reliability, scalability and performance of the platform at large, for starters. To illustrate its competitiveness with its Seattle-based competitor, Azure would do well to define the most common enterprise use cases for public and private cloud deployments and demonstrate the value of its offering with respect to those use cases by using head to head comparisons with the likes of Amazon Web Services, Rackspace, IBM and Google Compute Engine. Without the popular enterprise use case approach to IaaS comparisons, AWS is likely to carry the day in any exhaustive, feature by feature comparison against any other IaaS provider for the foreseeable future.
Microsoft recently announced additions to its Windows Azure platform in the form of some features becoming generally available while others emerged in preview mode. BizTalk Services, Traffic Manager and Active Directory became generally available while services and features related to mobile devices, notification hubs, storage, websites and monitoring became available in preview mode.
Details of generally available features were announced on November 21 and include the following:
BizTalk Services provides Azure customers with a cloud-based set of tools for integrating their on-premise applications with the cloud. BizTalk Services empower customers to build portals that access Azure-based applications as well as on-premise data. The solution also facilitates the implementation of robust B2B transaction processing.
Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD)
The general availability of Windows Azure Active Directory enables customers to leverage single sign on functionality for hundreds of applications including Office 365, Box, DropBox and Salesforce.com. The premium preview version of WAAD enables more advanced identify management features such as “group provisioning” and functionality for end users to reset their passwords.
Traffic Manager improves application availability and application performance as elaborated in a detailed blog post by Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Server and Tools Business:
Windows Azure Traffic Manager allows you to control the distribution of user traffic to applications that you host within Windows Azure. Your applications can run in the same data center, or be distributed across different regions across the world. Traffic Manager works by applying an intelligent routing policy engine to the Domain Name Service (DNS) queries on your domain names, and maps the DNS routes to the appropriate instances of your applications.
Traffic Manager improves application performance by directing customers to the nearest application instance and improves application availability by automating the re-direction of traffic in the event of an application instance fail-over or equivalent scenario.
After years of collaboration with Hortonworks, Microsoft recently revealed news of its Hadoop as a service offering via its Windows Azure cloud platform. The offering, based on the Hortonworks Data Platform (HDP), is called Windows Azure HDInsight and boasts compatibility with Excel, SQL Server and PowerBI. According to a Microsoft blog post by Quentin Clark, Corporate Vice President of the Data Platform Group at Microsoft, “Windows Azure HDInsight combines the best of Hadoop open source technology with the security, elasticity and manageability that enterprises require.” HDInsight supports .NET and Java for developers and represents part of Microsoft’s larger strategic goal of bringing big data to a billion people. Microsoft elaborated on its Hortonworks-based Hadoop as a service offering just as Rackspace made a similar announcement in the context of its own public cloud and managed hosting platform.
On Monday, Microsoft received FedRAMP Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO) from the Joint Authorization Board, an organization that certifies cloud vendors for use by the Federal government. FedRAMP standardizes “security assessments, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services.” The Joint Authorization Board is the governance body of FedRAMP and is composed of representatives from the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. General Services Administration. Even though Microsoft has yet to procure full Authority to Operate (ATO), the achievement of Provisional Authority to Operate represents a huge coup for Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform with respect to its plans to increase market share in the lucrative government cloud infrastructure space. Competitor Amazon Web Services has already procured full ATO status while HP, CGI Federal, Lockheed Martin and Akamai have received P-ATO status. Windows Azure represents the first combined IaaS and PaaS public cloud platform to achieve FedRAMP certification.
Microsoft Research is attempting to lure researchers and scientists to use the Windows Azure platform to analyze data on its cloud platform by granting winners of its Windows Azure Research Award “large allocations of Windows Azure storage and compute resources for a period of one year.” To qualify, applicants need to be affiliated with a university or non-profit research laboratory. Proposals from any academic discipline are welcome, although the proposal submission site specifies an interest in granting awards to projects that render data more widely available to a community or collaborative group. The first deadline for proposals is October 15, 2013. Microsoft expects to announce the first batch of winners by the beginning of November.