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Microsoft Starting a Virtual Machine Arms Race with the Azure G-Series?

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Competition is always good for consumers, and things are heating up nicely in the public cloud arena.

That’s because Microsoft has just blown Amazon out of the water by announcing a new series of monster virtual machines that it will be offering in its Azure cloud later this year. These are big beasts — much bigger than anything Amazon has to offer right now in its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. Virtually Speaking

The new virtual machine sizes, called the G-series, offer more RAM and more local SSD storage than anything else currently out there. The G-series features up to 448GB of RAM and 6.5TB of SSD storage — all working with the latest Intel Xeon E5 v3 family processors.

These G-series beasts are important because Microsoft’s VM types have always been, frankly, underwhelming compared to what was available from the competition — especially AWS. But with this announcement Azure can offer VM types with twice the RAM of anything available on AWS, as well as ten times more SSD storage, and faster Xeon processors.

For now. That’s because there is technically nothing stopping AWS beefing its range of VM types up in response to Microsoft — and in fact it is highly likely that Amazon will do just that at its re:Invent gathering in Las Vegas on November 11. What we are likely to see is a kind of VM arms race, with both public cloud providers vying to offer the biggest and baddest machines.

It’s certainly good news for companies running hefty enterprise applications that are considering moving them to virtualization technology running in the cloud. While the new breed of web applications can scale by running in the cloud on multiple machines that are relatively weak, heavy-duty enterprise ERP applications and other mission-critical loads — such as SQL Server and Oracle Database — need hefty VM types to run in if they are to provide adequate performance using server virtualization.

In tandem with the announcement, Microsoft also unveiled a new type of SSD-based storage (called Premium Storage) designed to support the I/O intensive workloads that may be running in the new G-series VMs.

“With Premium Storage, you can provision a persistent disk and configure the size and performance characteristics that will meet your requirements. You can then attach several persistent disks to a VM, stripe across them and deliver to your applications up to 32 TB of storage per VM with more than 50,000 IOPS per VM at less than one millisecond latency for read operations,” said Jason Zander, a CVP on Microsoft’s Azure Team.

And if you don’t fancy moving your applications to Microsoft’s Azure public cloud then Microsoft also announced that very shortly it should be easier to host your own Azure-consistent private cloud, or create an Azure hybrid cloud. The company intends to launch Cloud Platform System, its latest stab at a cloud-in-a-box appliance, as an answer — or at least a reply — to VMware’s recent Evo:Rack and Evo:Rail announcements.

Microsoft has done this before, but this time around it consists of a pre-integrated solution with hardware from Dell along with the company’s own software. The solution can be deployed in increments from one to four racks and each rack features:

  • 512 cores across 32 servers (each with a dual socket Intel Ivy Bridge, E5-2650v2 CPU)
  • 8 TB of RAM with 256 GB per server
  • 282 TB of usable storage
  • 1360 Gb/s of internal rack connectivity
  • 560 Gb/s of inter-rack connectivity
  • Up to 60 Gb/s connectivity to the external world

A single rack can support up to 2000 VMs (2 vCPU, 1.75 GB RAM, and 50 GB disk), which can be scaled up to 8000 VMs using four racks.

So overall, it’s exciting times if your cloud plans have been scotched by worries about inadequate VMs on which to run your mission-critical applications.

And it’s also a sign that Microsoft is getting increasingly serious about Azure. It’s been a long time since Azure was launched, but at long last Azure seems to be growing up.

Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.

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