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Microsoft plans to step up its support for Kubernetes, announcing plans Tuesday for a new managed Kubernetes service that promises to make the notoriously tricky container-orchestration software easier — and cheaper — to use.

Azure Container Service is getting an upgrade that puts Kubernetes, the popular open-source project, at the center of its container strategy. Azure Container Service (which Microsoft is now calling “AKS” for some confusing reason that somebody thought was clever) helps Azure users manage containers using a variety of technologies from Docker, Mesosphere, and Kubernetes, but it now plans to make Kubernetes the default technology for scaling and deploying containers on Azure, said Brendan Burns, distinguished engineer at Microsoft.

“We’re really strongly committed to making Azure best place for Kubernetes to run in the cloud,” said Burns, one of the co-creators of Kubernetes.

Kubernetes is probably the most widely discussed open-source project in cloud computing this year. It allows software development teams that are using containers — a process in which applications can be decoupled from the operating system and packaged together, improving agility and stability — to deploy and manage those containers. As more and more containers are being used in production, interest in Kubernetes has surged: Microsoft’s old method for running Kubernetes on Azure Container Service grew 300 percent in the last six months, it said.

Up until now, a lot of Kubernetes users would have probably considered Google the best place to run Kubernetes in the cloud. The project was developed at Google by Burns and Heptio co-founders Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, and Google is still the largest contributor to Kubernetes after releasing it to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation as an open-source project in 2015.

But Microsoft plans to offer one key advantage: it will manage Kubernetes clusters for free. “You will pay nothing for the management of your Kubernetes cluster, ever,” wrote Gabe Monroy, lead program manager for Azure containers, in a blog post scheduled to be released Tuesday.

You’ll still have to pay Microsoft for the virtual machines required to actually do the computing on those nodes, but there won’t be an additional charge for Kubernetes clusters. In addition to charging for the nodes themselves, Google Container Engine charges $109.50 a month per cluster to run Kubernetes clusters with more than 6 nodes present. Amazon Web Services doesn’t charge for Kubernetes clusters, but it requires customers to use a third-party tool to get Kubernetes up and running on AWS.

Containers have changed the game in cloud computing in more ways than one, and Kubernetes has become the de facto standard for managing containers now that both Docker and Mesosphere have incorporated support for the technology into their own container orchestration products. Azure Container Service will still support customers using Docker or Mesosphere’s DC/OS products, but they’ll have to go through the Azure Marketplace to make that happen.

Microsoft Azure has revamped its container strategy in 2017, acquiring Monroy’s startup Deis this past spring and joining the CNCF this summer. It has also hired a passel of container-focused cloud-native development advocates to help it shape that strategy.

(Editor’s note: The headline and several references to Microsoft’s managed Kubernetes service were changed to clarify that Microsoft didn’t actually change the brand, just the acronym it will use for the brand.)

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