Microsoft’s cloud business is making two notable moves involving containers Wednesday — unveiling a new service that aims to make it much easier to get up and running with containers, and joining a key industry foundation that oversees the open-source Kubernetes container orchestration project.
The moves, embracing an orchestration technology that originated inside Google, bring Microsoft’s container strategy into sharper focus and present some interesting decisions for public cloud juggernaut Amazon Web Services.
Microsoft’s new Azure Container Instances service, available as a public preview for Linux containers, allows developers to start containers on Azure and have them billed by the second. Containers are already attractive to developers because they spin up much faster than virtual machines, but Microsoft said ACI is “the fastest and easiest way to run a container in the cloud,” in a post Wednesday morning.
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Microsoft’s decision to join the Cloud Native Computing Foundation as a platinum member is the latest indication of the cultural shift at the company under Satya Nadella, who ran Azure before becoming CEO.
It’s also another sign that Kubernetes is pulling more companies into its orbit. The container-orchestration service was originally developed inside Google, before it was open-sourced and donated to the CNCF in 2015. Two years later, Kubernetes has emerged as a key cloud technology for managing containers, which allow developers to package their applications into distinct components that can run anywhere.
“Despite Kubernetes being created by one of our competitors, we’re very excited and energized to support what customers want to deploy,” said Corey Sanders, Microsoft’s head of product for Azure Compute, on a webcast briefing on the announcements Wednesday morning.
Amazon Web Services is now the only major cloud company that hasn’t joined the influential foundation, although it seems AWS is at least thinking about increasing its work with Kubernetes. AWS supports Kubernetes through a partnership with Heptio and also offers support for dozens of popular container-related services — but AWS has its own product, Amazon EC2 Container Service, for container orchestration.
Microsoft is holding a press conference Wednesday morning to go over the details of Azure Container Instances. They can be billed by the second, and memory size can be decoupled from the number of virtual compute instances required to run your application, allowing developers a little more flexibility.
An important component of the new service appears to be that developers don’t have to manage any virtual machine infrastructure, according to an advance copy of Microsoft’s post.
“For those beginning their container journey, Azure Container Instances provide a simple experience to get started with containers in the cloud, enabling you to quickly create and deploy new containers with only a few simple parameters,” said Sanders in the post.
Sanders was careful to note that ACI is not an orchestration product, but it was designed to be used with such products to oversee container deployments. As part of Wednesday’s container moves, Microsoft is also releasing ACI for Kubernetes, an open-source project that links the two services.
AWS has not been shy about the fact that it wants to keep users on its platform by offering best-in-class services that its users simply can’t pass up, but if the industry embraces Kubernetes just as containers start to become more widely used, that’s a tougher sell. And there are lots of AWS customers who see containers and container orchestration products like Kubernetes as a way to hedge their bets across cloud providers.