Microsoft Unveils AKS, A Fully Managed Kubernetes Service That's Looking To Be A Cost Leader

Microsoft escalated an intense battle among cloud providers Tuesday with the introduction of an entirely managed Kubernetes service aimed at saving customers both operational headaches and money.

AKS (Azure Container Service), released in preview, delivers the popular container orchestration technology with a simplified user interface and hosted control plane. Clusters are self-healing and the software automatically upgrades, Brendan Burns, a distinguished engineer at Microsoft, said in a webcast presenting the new offering.

AKS builds off Azure's existing ACS (also Azure Container Service) without charging for the new management functionality, Burns said. ACS will remain an independent product capable of running orchestrators from Docker and Mesosphere as well as Kubernetes.

[Related: Docker Delivers Kubernetes On Its Enterprise Platform]

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Microsoft is "doubling down on making it easy to build applications on Azure using Kubernetes," Burns, once Google's lead Kubernetes engineer, said.

"We're focused on making Azure the best place for Kubernetes to run in the cloud."

Microsoft's latest product heats up a race to claim Kubernetes workloads as the industry increasingly standardizes on that technology for the orchestration layer of the container stack.

Google, which internally developed and later open sourced Kubernetes, recently teamed with Pivotal Software and VMware to bring to market PKS (Pivotal Container Service)—a commercial version of the Kubo container management platform developed by Google and Pivotal.

Gabe Monroy, lead program manager for containers on Azure, and Microsoft's representative on the Cloud Native Computing Foundation board, said AKS would empower developers who want to work with containers but avoid the typical complexity and operational overhead of running Kubernetes.

Monroy came to Microsoft through its acquisition of Deis, where he was CTO. That company built tools looking to ease the use of Kubernetes.

"Since joining Microsoft, we've really continued that tradition," Monroy said.

Moreover, the service is free, he added. Users only pay for the computing nodes provisioned to run their clusters.

"You're not going to pay anything for the management of your Kubernetes cluster, ever," he said, which is a departure from other vendors, who typically bill by the hour for management.

Even more, savings are realized, Monroy said, because the managed service results in fewer virtual machines, since the master nodes needed to run the control plane are all handled behind the scenes by Azure, and don't need to be provisioned by customers.

"There is no Kubernetes tax. They just pay for the VMs that run their workloads," Monroy said.

"We do this in a way that's much more cost-effective than our competitors."

Microsoft will run those API calls that access operational features without charge, no matter how large the workload, he said.

Complimenting AKS, Microsoft announced general availability for Azure Container Registry, an image repository that's a key component to running containers in the cloud.

The new registry is previewing geo-replication functionality, allowing container images to be replicated across Microsoft's global data center footprint by just clicking on a map.

AKS is a significant step toward advancing the delivery of Kubernetes to meet the needs of modern enterprises, Monroy said.

"The marriage of containers and serverless computing is important for the industry and Microsoft is working hard to make it a reality."