Cloud Computing

Microsoft Beefs Up Azure; Offers Cloud Platform to Ebola Researchers

Determined to set his company's cloud platform apart from the competition, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella called a press event in San Francisco to unveil several enhancements for Azure, including beefed up virtual machines and storage and a marketplace where cloud-based providers can promote their services. The company said it would also make its cloud resources available to Ebola researchers.

"The enterprises of today and tomorrow demand a cloud platform that is reliable, scalable and flexible," Nadella said. "With more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 on the Microsoft cloud, we are delivering the industry's most complete cloud — for every business, every industry and every geography."

Scott Guthrie, an executive vice president for Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise Group, added to those numbers. He said that Azure is drawing 10,000 new customers each week, stores 30 trillion "objects," maintains 350 million Active Directory users and performs 18 billion Active Directory authentications weekly. He reported that 60 percent of customers use "higher level services" on top of the Azure infrastructure.

"The cloud market is red hot right now," Guthrie said, during a streamed briefing. "How do we differentiate ourselves in the market? When I talk to customers about Azure, I often talk about three circles of capability: hyperscale, enterprise-grade and hybrid. The Microsoft cloud is the only cloud that delivers on all three. Together, they provide a truly unique cloud offering that delivers differentiated solutions for customers."

Microsoft will be opening up two new Azure "regions" next week in Australia. These are defined as "clusters of data centers where customers can deploy and run code," he said. With those additions, the company will have 19 regions around the world — "more than twice the number of regions that [Amazon] AWS offers and more than six times the number of regions that the Google cloud offers today."

Each region can have up to 16 data center buildings — with "enough capacity to run up to 600,000 servers," Guthrie claimed. One advantage to greater global deployment, he said, was that it "enables customers to deploy and run their applications closer to their own customers and their own employees than ever before."

The "hyperscale footprint delivers immense scale economics, which allows us to continually cut prices," he added, "and lets customers instantly scale up and scale down solutions with confidence."

Guthrie shared several updates to the Azure service, including these three developments:

  • The G-series of virtual machine includes up to 32 CPU cores using Intel Xeon processors, 450 Gb of RAM and 6.5 terabytes of local SSD storage. Guthrie said this level of virtual machine would be the "largest" available in the public cloud to date.
  • Premium storage will provide up to 32 terabytes of storage per virtual machine, greater than 50,000 input/output operations per second and read latency under a millisecond.
  • The new marketplace will allow potential customers to search for operating systems, services and applications that use Azure technology. Currently, Nadella reported, 40 percent of Azure's revenue is derived from startups and independent software vendors. These are the same companies that would be featured in the marketplace.

The company is also working with Dell to release a "fully integrated" hardware and software kit that allows enterprise to deliver a "consistent cloud experience across the public cloud, on-premises data centers, as well as service provider environments." Previously, Guthrie explained, this functionality was provided with an Azure software solution that customers could download and run on top of their existing hardware. Now Dell will provide that hardware, pre-loaded, configured and checked.

Microsoft Cloud Platform System will include Azure, Windows Server and Microsoft System Center on Dell hardware and will, Guthrie said, enable enterprises "to benefit from all the learnings we've had in terms of running our public cloud and being able to bring that scalability and efficiency into their own data centers — the Azure based management portal, [a] consistent management set of APIs — the same as we have in our public cloud — the same hypervisor and many of the same core features that Azure delivers as well."

"The Microsoft-Dell offering will help organizations to "step into the cloud with even greater control and build solutions that will work not only in their own data centers but ours as well," Guthrie said. That will be available starting in November.

Higher education has adopted Azure. Among those universities that have gone public with their use of the cloud platform are:

As a side note, Nadella said that the company was jumping into the Ebola research frenzy. Starting tomorrow, to address industry, academic and government activities focused on developing Ebola vaccines, he noted, "We're going to make available Azure compute power to reach the community. In addition, we have some tools that Microsoft researchers built to be able to do vaccine discovery."

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