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Microsoft Azure: Redmond's big bet on staying relevant — and dominant

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There’s never a dull moment in the cloud. According to a recent Gartner survey, Microsoft Azure is closing the gap, huge though it may be, between itself and AWS. Microsoft has been supporting the hybrid cloud for a while now in an effort to support users who want some of their data in the cloud and the rest on premises. Over 70 percent of Docker deployments are hybrid with two public and one private cloud, and this setup seems to be the most popular for a number of reasons. To support this hybrid setup, Microsoft has finally revealed to us Azure Stack, its solution for hybrid datacenters where developers can use a single platform both for public clouds and on-premises data. For Microsoft, the cloud is the future, and Azure is the company’s big bet on future growth.

Microsoft Azure Stack

Microsoft

The first version of Azure Stack was released exclusively to its hardware partners like Dell, HPE, and Lenovo for certification purposes. It’s tempting to think of Azure Stack as Microsoft’s version of OpenStack, but a key difference is the integration of hardware turnkey solutions from its partners listed above. These integrated systems are going to ship with Azure Stack and deliver a consistent Azure-like experience on premises and in the cloud.

Microsoft Azure Stack is basically the same APIs and tools that power Azure except they can be used on premises now. With one platform powering both public and private clouds, deployment will be a lot easier across platforms. So far there are only the three vendors mentioned above who will be delivering Azure Stack at first, but Microsoft has assured its other partners that there will be lots of future opportunities.

Microsoft first announced Azure Stack at the Ignite Conference in 2015 and formally introduced it at the Inspire conference in Washington, D.C. Azure Stack definitely has the potential to become the most popular tool for administrators to scale their operations and AWS was taking no chances and replied with VMware cloud on AWS last year. Azure Stack will have two different pricing models, one pay-as-you-go model that will be capacity-based, and users will have to pay a fixed annual fee based on the system configuration or number of cores. The other model will be one in which you can have Azure Stack delivered and operated as a fully managed service. These services will be managed by datacenter operators like Avanade, Daisy, Evry, Rackspace, and Tieto, who are already delivering services around Azure.

Microsoft Draft

Microsoft has been on the open source bandwagon for a while now, and announced the acquisition of Deis a few months ago. Deis is a company that’s behind some of the most popular tools for building and managing applications on Kubernetes. Kubernetes is quickly becoming the Linux of the cloud and the most preferred option for container orchestration. Roughly a month after the acquisition, Microsoft announced a new open source project called Draft.

Microsoft

Draft is a tool designed to help beginners with their first draft of a containerized application running in Kubernetes. What it does is automatically discover the code that you are working on and builds a support system to containerize your application. Draft also creates a Helm Chart to enable your application to be deployed and maintained in a Kubernetes cluster. Teams can even bring their own draft project templates to customize the support system that it builds.

Another great feature of Draft is the fact that it deploys a server into your existing Kubernetes cluster that is automatically kept in sync with the code on your laptop. Whenever you make changes to your application, your laptop automatically synchronizes that code with the draft server in Kubernetes and a new container is deployed.

In short, Draft makes it easy to build applications that run on Kubernetes by targeting “inner loop” of a developer’s workflow, the bit before code gets committed to version control. Draft then creates an image, which contains the Draft Server, a Docker registry and a Tiller Helm server. Or in simpler terms, the client uploads source code to the server, which then automatically builds and deploys the application.

The No. 1 problem that organizations trying to adopt containers at scale face is that developers are bogged down with the amount of conceptual overhead. What this means is Ops teams need to make Kubernetes a lot easier for Dev teams, and Draft does this by reducing that conceptual overhead. It does this by removing almost all the prerequisites to use Kubernetes and developers don’t even need to have Kubernetes on their systems, just the Draft binary.

Cutting weight

To show how important this Microsoft Azure push is, the company has confirmed it is restructuring the sales team to focus more energy on Azure. This means many layoffs across the board at Microsoft. This new strategy is mainly to target enterprises and small and medium business clients as opposed to the traditional focuses like government, oil, and gas, etc. This restructuring, while expected to impact upward of 3,000 employees, according CNBC, is just more confirmation that Microsoft is going all-out on Azure in a bid to catch up with AWS. Microsoft also announced the Azure Stack Development Kit (ASDK), a free single-server deployment SDK for building and validating applications on the Azure Stack.

Beefing up for the big fight

Catching up to AWS may not be as unrealistic as a lot of Amazon supporters seem to think. Azure recently opened massive datacenters in the UK, the Netherlands and even two regions in South Korea. It is also expected to launch two new regions in the States (Texas and Arizona) and France (south and central) later this year with additional plans for another two datacenters in Ireland. According to a 451 research paper that surveyed 700 IT decision makers, while AWS still remained the first choice for 39 percent of users, 35 percent of respondents stated Azure was now their first choice for cloud provider.

In addition to massively expanding their physical assets, Microsoft is backing just about anything and everything open source and is even in on project Apollo with the Chinese search engine giant Baidu. Apollo is an open source platform for self-driven cars and can be used by manufacturers all around the world. People are even calling it Android for cars. Microsoft is also involved with Airbus on a project called Airmap, a software to help pilot drones.

Small victories

On the other side of the planet in Australia, Microsoft has scored a win over AWS by significantly increasing of the number of its services certified as secure by the Australian Signals Directorate ASD, which is a must-have for government adoption of any service. The company recently announced the number of Microsoft Azure services on the ASD’s Certified List has expanded from six to 40, while 10 services within its Office 365 suite are now certified. This is one area where it now has a lead over AWS.

The cloud wars will go on, and while AWS and Microsoft Azure fight for that top spot, there’s a host of cloud providers creeping up on both of them, namely Google, IBM, Oracle, and Alibaba. Microsoft definitely looks like it’s going all-in with Azure, but only time will tell if anyone can actually catch up to AWS.

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