Microsoft Azure Gets India Regions, Container Management Service, GPU-Centric Virtual Machines And More

Microsoft is holding a virtual Azure conference today and as part of that, the company is announcing a slew of updates to its cloud computing services this morning as well.

These updates range from announcing the Azure Container Service for managing software containers on Azure, to new types of virtual machines, new security tools, and a steeper discount for users who are willing to pre-pay for a year of virtual machine time. A number of other Azure services are also coming out of preview today and are hitting general availability.

Azure Goes To India

In addition, Microsoft is now launching Azure services in India and making three new regions available in the country: Central India in Pune, South India in Chennai, and West India in Mumbai. This means Azure services are now available in a total of 24 regions worldwide. The company says Azure service are available now, with Office 365 coming in October and Dynamics CRM launching in the region in the first half of 2016.

Mesos On Azure

It’s no secret that Microsoft has jumped on the container bandwagon given its involvement in the Open Container Initiative and similar projects. The new Azure Container Service will combine Apache Mesos, Docker and Mesosphere’s Data Center Operating System. The idea here is to give businesses the ability to easily deploy a Mesos cluster on Azure and run, manage and scale their Dockerized applications on Azure’s virtual machines.

It still remains to be seen what exactly running Mesos clusters on Azure will look like once the service launches later this year, but Microsoft stresses that its service is based on open standards (and open-source software), so users will be able to take their existing Linux containers and run them on Azure. At some point in the future, the service will also support Microsoft’s own Windows Server containers.

“Microsoft continues its rapid growth and enterprise cloud leadership, with more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 using Microsoft’s cloud to power their businesses,” said Mesosphere co-founder and CEO Florian Leibert in today’s announcement. “Mesosphere DCOS and Mesos are de facto technologies for enterprise-grade Docker orchestration, and the partnership between Mesosphere and Microsoft will give customers unmatched choice and flexibility in managing their container investments, delivering a first-class implementation and enterprise support experience on Azure.”

NVIDIA-Based N-Series Virtual Machine

GPUs in the cloud are both useful for rendering images and for all kinds of complex parallel calculations needed to power deep learning, scientific modeling and other high-performance computing applications.

Amazon already offers a virtual machine family that focusses more on graphics processors than CPUs. Google doesn’t currently offer GPU-centric virtual machines, though with Zync, it recently acquired a service that focuses on rendering virtual effects in the cloud.

Now, Microsoft is also throwing its hat in the ring with the announcement of its N-series virtual machines. These new machines will be powered by NVIDIA GPUs and support NVIDIA’s Grid 2.0 technology for pushing graphics from the GPU to virtually connected devices.

Microsoft says a preview of these new instances will go live in the next few months.

Pre-Purchase Plan

Until now, when you pre-paid for your Azure services for 12 months, you could get a 5 percent discount (but you had to make at least a $6,000 commitment). The company is now revamping this program. Instead of the relatively meager discount, Azure will now give customers a discount of up to 63 percent if they commit to a one-year contract and pay for the instance upfront. This new program will go into effect December 1.

This new offer is clearly meant to make Azure more competitive for users who would otherwise go with Amazon’s one-year reserved instances.

Azure IoT

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced the preview of a set of Internet of Things (IoT) services for Azure to help businesses set up and scale their IoT projects. The IoT suite integrates with Microsoft’s other cloud services and starting today, it’s out of preview and the company considers it production ready.

Maybe even more importantly, Microsoft also today announced a certification program for ecosystem partners whose solutions are guaranteed to work with Azure. The first set of partners includes Beaglebone, Freescale, Intel, Raspberry Pi,, Seeed and Texas Instruments.

But There Is More…

With this update, Microsoft is also launching a new Azure Security Center to give users more visibility and control over their security settings. The service will integrate with solutions from the likes of Barracuda, Cisco, F5 Networks, Incapsula and Trend Micro. This service will be available by the end of the year.

Earlier this week, Microsoft also launched a number of updates to its Azure Data Lake service, including the new preview of Azure Data Lake Analytics and Data Lake Store.

Questions about today’s update? Microsoft executive vice president Scott Guthrie will man the comments below at around 10:45 a.m. Pacific to answer all your questions. Feel free to get them in now and come back at 10:45 a.m. for the Q&A (and please, you don’t need to remind him how your aunt made $5932 by working from home — I promise you he already knows).