Microsoft announced a host of new Azure cloud services during its annual Ignite conference that was held last week. The company didn't just use the event to discuss what's new for the Azure cloud, but also talked about potential innovations that are coming next.
Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella had the task of detailing the big news from Microsoft Ignite 2022. In the opening keynote, Nadella discussed new hybrid deployment options for the Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). The new options will enable users to deploy and manage AKS on Windows devices and Windows IoT, thanks to the Azure Arc technology. The Azure Monitor cloud monitoring technology is also being enhanced to make it easier for users to collect data logs to improve cloud operations.
While Nadella was tasked with talking about the current state of Azure at a general level, Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich took a much deeper look at how Microsoft's cloud works today and where it is headed in the future.
"We're building between 50 and 100 data centers per year at this point, and we see that continuing for the foreseeable future."
— Mark Russinovich, CTO, Microsoft Azure
"The scale that Azure has gotten to underlies the purpose of all our innovations, which is to operate really efficiently at massive scale," Russinovich said in a Microsoft Ignite 2022 session.
Azure Cloud Grows Infrastructure Footprint
Currently, the Azure cloud is operated out of 200 data centers around the world. That's a figure that will grow significantly in the coming years.
"We're building between 50 and 100 data centers per year at this point, and we see that continuing for the foreseeable future — massive in terms of physical infrastructure and in terms of service scale as well," Russinovich said.
Azure currently manages more than 940 trillion transactions every month with its storage service alone. Azure Functions, which provides serverless functions as a service capability, has over 1.7 trillion events executing every month.
Packing enough compute, storage, and networking capacity into each of its Azure cloud data centers to meet growing demand is a constant challenge for Microsoft. Among the issues that Russinovich called out is cooling for its cloud servers, which today largely rely on air cooling. Microsoft is experimenting with liquid-cooled server deployments for Azure, which could one day soon enable higher density per data center.
Faster Updates, More Powerful Containers Coming to Azure
The ability to rapidly update virtual machines and containers is also getting a boost.
Russinovich recounted that when Azure first launched, the way virtual machine hypervisors were updated was a typical server update approach with a server reboot. The problem with a full server reboot is that it can take time, during which services are not available.
Over the last several years, Azure has been providing new ways to update and is testing out an approach known as hypervisor hot restart that can update a virtual machine in less than one second.
Speed across different Azure instances is also increasing with hardware that offloads storage and networking to dedicated chips. Russinovich explained that Microsoft is rolling out a system-on-a-chip architecture that runs Mariner Linux, which is Microsoft's Linux operating system distribution. The impact of offloading the networking and traffic is better overall performance.
Microsoft is now also testing approaches to accelerate the deployment of Azure Container Instances. Organizations are increasingly relying on containers to run all types of workloads in the cloud, and they need the ability to bring up new instances as quickly as possible when needed, according to Russinovich. To help with the elastic scaling for containers, Microsoft has an approach that Russinovich described as warm pooling, which keeps certain types of containers ready to go for faster launch times.
Russinovich also used his session at Microsoft Ignite 2022 to announce the largest Azure compute instance yet — Ultron Mega Godzilla Beast —which packs in 832 virtual cores and 24 terabytes of memory. The new instance bests Azure's previous top instance, the Mega Godzilla Beast, which provides 420 cores and 24 terabytes of memory.
About the authorSean Michael Kerner is an IT consultant, technology enthusiast and tinkerer. He consults to industry and media organizations on technology issues.