Microsoft Partners See Windows and Azure Containers As Game-Changer

Microsoft whole-heartedly embraced rapidly emerging container technology Wednesday by unveiling new container-centric offerings for its cloud and Windows server platforms, including a lightweight operating system for optimized container deployments.

The world's largest software company and second-largest cloud provider revealed a new container format for its Hyper-V virtualization platform and submitted open-source code to further advance its partnership with Docker, the popular Linux container engine.

"Offering developers and IT professionals the ability to deploy applications from a workstation to a server in mere seconds, containers are taking application development to a whole new level," wrote Mike Neil, general manager of Windows Server, on the Microsoft Azure blog.

[Related: Microsoft Unveils Upgraded Identity Management Self-Service, Windows Integration With Docker]

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The new Hyper-V containers feature full integration with the Docker platform and can be deployed with the same tools used for Windows Server Containers. Applications developed for Windows Server Containers can be deployed, without tweaks, as Hyper-V Containers as well.

"Through this new first-of-its-kind offering, Hyper-V Containers will ensure code running in one container remains isolated and cannot impact the host operating system or other containers running on the same host," Neil wrote.

Microsoft partnered with Docker late last year, integrating the Linux container platform with its Azure cloud and introducing a Docker client for Windows.

"We have been working closely with the Docker community to leverage and extend container innovations in Windows Server and Microsoft Azure," Neil wrote, adding that Microsoft has submitted an open-source Docker engine for Windows Server to Docker's GitHub repository.

Microsoft has also added integration into Azure and Hyper-V for three popular Docker tools: Swarm, Machine and Compose.

With the new focus on containers, Microsoft is preparing to release Nano Server, a variant of Windows Server optimized for the cloud.

The lightweight Windows OS provides a stripped-down set of components ideal for running applications in containers. By jettisoning other elements of the operating system, Nano Server can achieve smaller server images, faster deployments, and improved uptime and security, Neil said.

Nano Server will be available for preview in the coming weeks, according to Microsoft.

"Today’s announcements are just the beginning of what’s to come, as we continue to fuel both the growth of containers in the industry, and new levels of application innovation for all developers," Neil said.

Jason Markowitz, a cloud engineer at Nimbo, a solution provider based in New York, told CRN that embracing container tech could be a game-changer for Microsoft.

"Microsoft's walking into a very interesting market and they're doing it at a very interesting time," Markowitz said. "This actually opens up possibilities on the Windows side of the world to do some really interesting things. They're doing this at the perfect time -- they're using established technologies."

Markowitz said he will always choose to containerize applications when possible because of the tremendous benefits the technology yields in simplifying application management, enabling migrations between physical and virtual systems, and facilitating custom configurations of networking, disk and volume, and security settings per container.

Containers offer security and management benefits never before seen in Windows, he told CRN.

While Microsoft is a late-comer to the container arena, with most of its competitors over the past year having "containerized everything," he said, the world's largest software vendor is taking a measured approach that might serve it well.

"So now they're embracing the technologies created and pioneered by those folks. They're taking that technology and bringing it up in parallel, and now they say you can do those things with the same set of tools in the Microsoft ecosystem that you were doing in the open-source world and have a multibillion-dollar company backing it up," Markowitz said, adding containers can help place Windows back on equal footing with Linux, which has made major gains in market share in recent years.

Logan McCoy, vice president of sales at CCB Technologies, a Microsoft partner in Racine, Wis., told CRN he's excited to see Microsoft's investments in container technology yielding new products.

"I really see this taking app development to another level, especially by providing great flexibility, security within a multi-application, multi-platform environment," McCoy told CRN.