Azure container instances arrive

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I love containers. You love containers. We all love containers. But, if you ever tried to run your programs on Microsoft Azure, you had a problem. It wasn’t easy to run Docker-style containers, a native Linux technology, on Azure. Oh, it could be done, but it was work. Now, with Azure Container Instances (ACI), it’s not only simpler to run both Linux and Windows containers, Azure now also supports serverless computing.

Microsoft knew it had to make this move. As John Gossman, Microsoft’s Azure distinguished engineer and Linux Foundation board member, explained: “With over 40 percent of VMs on Azure now Linux, we [want] … to make sure customers currently using Linux on Azure — and those who want to — have the tools and knowledge they need to run their enterprise workloads on our cloud.” And, that meant fully supporting containers and embracing serverless computing.

Before going farther, let me point out that “serverless” computing is a misnomer. The servers are still there, and someone still needs to manage them. It’s just that in a serverless environment, servers aren’t something developers need to worry about.

Moving on. According to Corey Sanders, Corporate Vice President for Azure Compute, ACI “was the first service to deliver innovative serverless containers in the public cloud.” Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda managers might disagree with that, but it is true that ACI offer a unique combination of both Linux and Windows containers in the serverless space.

Sanders says the ACI serverless container solution is attracting customers “because of its deep security model” which protects each container at a hypervisor level. This “provides a strong security boundary for multi-tenant scenarios,” he says.  After all, “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.”

Microsoft says customers are using ACI across a spectrum of scenarios, including batch processing, continuous integration, and event-driven computing. We hear consistently from customers that ACI is uniquely suited to handle their burst workloads. ACI supports quick, cleanly packaged burst compute that removes the overhead of managing cluster machines.

Some of Azure’s largest customers are also using ACI for more old-school data processing, FOr example you can use ACI with source data, which is ingested, processed, and placed in a durable store such as Azure Blob Storage. ACI does this by enabling each stage of work to be packaged as a container assigned with custom resource definitions for agile development, testing and deployment. By processing the data with ACI rather than traditionally provisioned VMs, customers can achieve significant cost savings due to ACI’s granular per-second billing.

ACI may also spread from Azure to other platforms. Microsoft’s Virtual Kubelet, an open-source project designed to bridge Kubernetes with serverless container offerings similar to ACI, has gained momentum. Multiple providers, including VMware, AWS, and Hyper.sh, are working on it.

This may lead to ACI running across cloud platforms. That, in turn, could make ACI an interesting hybrid cloud move.

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