Virtual Machines, Containers Get an Azure Boost

The Azure Service Fabric promises to increase the stability and reliability of VMs and other applications.

Azure Service Fabric, which promises to be a boon to Microsoft's cloud-based virtual machines and containers, was released at the company's Build event last week.

Azure Service Fabric Availability
At the show, Microsoft announced the "general availability" of Azure Service Fabric. It's described as Microsoft's "microservices application platform" by Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise Group. Microsoft uses it across its Azure datacenters to support various services, such as "Azure SQL Database, Azure Document DB, Cortana and Skype for Business," Guthrie noted. Developers can use it to create "always-on" applications that can scale to meet demand.

Azure Service Fabric exists as an Azure service, but it's also portable. Microsoft also announced today that previews of Service Fabric for Windows Server and Service Fabric for Linux are currently available for developers to test.

Guthrie defined Microsoft's microservices as "independent components that work together to deliver an application's overall functionality." The actual Azure Service Fabric used in Microsoft's datacenters is used to link together either individual servers or virtual machines into a cluster, with agents installed on each.

Mark Russinovich, chief technology officer at Microsoft, showed how the Azure Service Fabric works to ensure that nothing fails when Azure updates get delivered, which happens "multiple times per day," he said, in a Microsoft Channel 9 video. Azure Service Fabric provides a rolling update model for Microsoft's Azure services. Essentially, with Azure Service Fabric, the virtual machines will automatically roll back to a previous version if a new update causes an adverse effect.

The Azure Service Fabric concept arose from a Microsoft Research project called "Orleans," which is currently used to support the Microsoft Halo game. However, Halo will be moving to using Azure Service Fabric at some point, Russinovich explained.

Developers typically would use Azure Service Fabric as a service to support so-called "mission-critical" applications, where high availability is important, Russinovich explained. It's perhaps overkill for smaller apps.

There is also a "hybrid" story to Azure Service Fabric, and that's enabled on premises or in some other cloud besides Azure by using a SDK, Russinovich explained. In addition, Azure Stack, Microsoft's cloud-in-the-box solution, uses the Azure Service Fabric as a service across an organization's datacenters.

Microsoft also is working on bringing Azure Service Fabric to Docker, Russinovich said. Docker makes operating system virtualizations solutions for both Linux and Windows using its "container" technologies.

Perhaps the most important announcement for developers was that Microsoft's Xamarin tooling will be available for free for developers, and its core will be open source code. Microsoft's main vision for developers was outlined on Day 1, with its "conversations as a platform" concept and its emerging intelligent bots roadmap.

Other Azure news includes a new preview of Azure Functions. Developers can tap this Azure compute resource to provide "event-driven solutions" for their applications, according to Guthrie's description. C#, JavaScript, PHP and Python languages can be used to create functions, which can be run on Azure or other public cloud infrastructures, and even in an organization's datacenters.

"Functions lets developers easily handle on-demand tasks that respond to events, common in Web and mobile applications, IoT and big data scenarios," Guthrie's blog post noted.

Azure Internet of Things
Microsoft also had news today for its Internet of Thing (IoT) Windows developers, formerly known as the "Windows Embedded" developer segment.

IoT developers now can buy Azure IoT Starter kits, which can be purchased through Microsoft's partners, according to an Azure blog post. Five kits are available. Each kit contains certified "development boards, actuators, sensors" and tutorials.

Microsoft is planning to release "device management" improvement to its Azure IoT Hub services, which hit general availability last month. The device management improvement, along with an Azure IoT Gateway SDK preview, is aimed at "further easing the path to IoT by connecting legacy devices and sensors to the Internet without having to replace existing infrastructure, and managing these devices at scale via a standards-based approach," according to Guthrie's blog post.

The Azure IoT Hub device management improvement and the Azure IoT Gateway SDK preview are expected to be available in Q2 this year.

Windows Embedded developers also will be getting a preview of "Power BI Embedded." It's a facility for bringing interactive reports to applications. Microsoft provides out-of-the box templates for data visualizations. Alternatively, developers can make their own.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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