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A Microsoft Azure data center. (Microsoft Photo)

The first availability zones within Microsoft Azure’s cloud computing regions are coming online for everyone Friday, bringing additional reliability and backup options for customers running applications in its Iowa and Paris data centers.

The company announced plans last year to introduce the availability zones in preview mode, and is now ready to let all customers in those regions run their workloads across multiple zones. Iowa (US Central) and Paris (France Central) will each have three availability zones within those regions, said Julia White, corporate vice president, Azure.

Long available on market leader Amazon Web Services and upstart Google Cloud’s networks, availability zones provide additional protection for cloud customers in the event of a issue in a given cloud computing region. Microsoft originally expected to make this announcement earlier in the week, which gave Amazon CTO Werner Vogels time to put out a blog post highlighting that AWS has been using the availability zone strategy since 2008.

A map of Microsoft’s Azure data centers as of March 2018. (GeekWire Screenshot)

Availability zones are sections of a region that have independent power, cooling, and networking supplies to help ensure applications stay up and running during events such as the one Microsoft experienced last year in its North Europe region, when maintenance workers inadvertently released fire suppression gases in one data center building that brought service in that region down for hours.

As it built out its cloud infrastructure, Microsoft focused on increasing the number of regions it offers around the world, as opposed to building availability zones within existing regions, White said. The idea was to give enterprise customers ways to spread their workloads out across the globe so that any one local event — an earthquake, hurricane, or other natural disaster — wouldn’t affect workloads running in a different part of the world. This approach is also good for backup and disaster recovery strategies.

Microsoft now has 50 cloud regions with over 100 data centers powering those regions, White said. “We continue to believe that the regions are the most important part” of providing a reliable cloud service, but customers also want availability zones within given regions to hedge their bets, she said.

Azure’s zones will provide “an industry-leading 99.99% SLA (service-level agreement) when virtual machines are running in two Availability Zones in the same region,” the company said in a blog post. Service-level agreements allow customers to extract some money back from their vendors should performance not reach the guaranteed level.

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