Microsoft's Azure Container Service Goes GA

Microsoft's serverless container service, Azure Container Instances, became generally available Wednesday, giving partners a low-cost, secure and highly scalable way to deploy workloads for their customers.

The service allows Microsoft's cloud customers to run Linux and Windows containers without having to manage any underlying virtual infrastructure.

ACI automatically scales on-demand, and meters usage by the second, allowing customers to only incur costs up to their storage and compute needs. The service has been in public preview since July.

[Related: Container Commotion: 6 Hot New Products Aimed At Capitalizing On The Kubernetes Juggernaut]

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"I am also excited to announce new lower pricing, making it even less expensive to deploy a single container in the cloud," said Corey Sanders, corporate vice president for Azure, on a Microsoft blog. "ACI also continues to be the fastest cloud-native option for customers in the cloud, getting you compute in mere seconds that also provide rich features like interactive terminals within running containers and an integrated Azure portal experience."

ACI protects containers at the level of the hypervisor, creating a strong security boundary across workloads running on multi-tenant infrastructure, he said.

"It can sometimes be a challenge to secure multi-tenant workloads running inside containers on the same virtual machine. Enabling this isolation without requiring you to create a hosting cluster is unique from other clouds and is a true cloud-native model," Sanders said.

New Signature, a Washington D.C.-based Microsoft partner, is seeing its enterprise clients starting to explore containers as a means of building seamless, highly available applications that can scale fast to meet customer demand, Reed Wiedower, the solution provider's CTO, told CRN.

ACI "is the perfect fit," he said, for customers that demand strong security and, at the same time, are seeking the lowest-possible price point.

Microsoft has lowered the price of the service with the general release, and therefore the bar to entry, making it easier for partners help their customers mature their cloud strategies.

"Far too many [cloud customers] are running traditional IaaS workloads, and in some cases, are paying data center providers to host virtual machines without a real sense for how to get those applications to a serverless environment," Wiedower said.

Containers can solve that problem by abstracting away the operating system entirely, allowing partners like New Signature to help customers focus solely on their applications, he said.

"I won’t have to worry about any dependencies," Wiedower told CRN. "The application will simply work, whether on Windows or Linux. And because ACIs are billed per-second, rather than slower virtual machines, you’re really only paying for what you use."

While smaller customers might not need that level of granularity, for enterprises running applications that support millions of users, those capabilities become critical when scaling up and down applications based on demand.

With ACI now widely available, all Microsoft partners should contemplate a container strategy for customers running workloads that fit that serverless model, Wiedower said.

Roman Avanesyan, practice director for Microsoft productivity and infrastructure at SADA Systems, said the container service again demonstrates Microsoft's "enterprise cloud chops."

"Customers gain a simplified path to becoming 'serverless' and when paired with Cosmos DB and Traffic Manager, customers can quickly establish a multiregion, global footprint that allows them to reach end users anywhere in the world,’ Avanesyan told CRN.

The service also can be easily incorporated into a Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery pipeline so new features can be delivered to end users in real time.