Part of what Microsoft was determined to show at its Ignite conference, which began Tuesday, is the extent to which Azure is maturing into an architecture for building scalable, AI-infused apps that also work in hybrid cloud and edge computing. scenarios.
Microsoft has released a barrage of AI, data analytics, and DevOps announcements for Azure announcements on Ignite. They include updates to services such as Azure Stack HCI, a Windows Server 2019 based cluster that uses “validated” hardware to run virtualized workloads locally.
Azure Arc, a hybrid cloud platform introduced in 2019; and Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Microsoft’s implementation of the open source standard for containerized applications.
Taken together, they provide a way to package applications or application infrastructure such as SQL Server instances to make them portable across cloud, data center, and edge locations, in addition to being manageable within the same framework.
The conference gave Microsoft an opportunity to highlight how beta customers are putting these capabilities to work. Vinh Tran, head of cloud engineering at RBC, Canada’s largest bank, told the audience that he had used Azure Arc to automate and manage on-premises database deployments in Kubernetes containers. By simplifying deployments, whether on-premise or in the cloud, Azure Arc has helped its data team expand its skills and capabilities, he said. “It has allowed us to focus more on integrating these products and capabilities into our systems than building, securing and managing them ourselves,” he said. “It has enabled us to reduce our operational overhead by managing on-premise databases at scale.”
Another customer that Microsoft has cited several times is SKF, a Swedish manufacturer of ball bearings and industrial seals with more than 100 factories in 28 countries. By extending cloud factory automation services to their factories, SKF said it saved 40% on hardware costs and 30% on overtime related to machine downtime.
A factory is a good example of the difference between hybrid cloud computing and edge computing. A hybrid architecture could mean that applications or data services run in a manufacturer’s data center, while edge computing would mean that the technology is placed in the individual factories. Microsoft says it designs the Azure architecture so that even advanced machine learning inferencing can take place within an edge location without having to send data to the cloud.
This is also why Microsoft makes Azure Virtual Desktop deployable on the Azure Stack HCI so that it can be deployed in enterprise data centers or offices “on the edge”.
An architecture for scalable AI
“When I talk to customers about their cloud strategy and adoption, I often hear that they want the new innovation and agility that the cloud enables,” said Scott Guthrie, executive VP for cloud and AI at Microsoft, in a keynote presentation. must also integrate with existing technology investments within their organizations. They sometimes have tens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers, applications and databases to manage across their multiple cloud and on-premises environments,” he says. Moving on-premise resources to the cloud is often impractical due to regulatory issues or latency reasons, he said.
Healthcare is a prime example, where privacy and security can dictate that patient data does not leave the hospital, and where data-intensive applications such as medical imaging perform better with locally processed data. One medical technology client illustrating this approach is Siemens Healthineers, which Microsoft claims uses Azure Arc to deploy and maintain apps at tens of thousands of edge locations, including clinics and diagnostic equipment.
By building on Kubernetes, Microsoft can claim portability to any container that meets Cloud Native Computing Foundation standards, in the cloud or otherwise. It also enables technology for multicloud and the ability to migrate between clouds or between cloud and on-premises environments.
However, Guthrie acknowledged that learning the intricacies of Kubernetes can also be “a little daunting” for the uninitiated. Microsoft’s workaround is Azure Container Apps, a simplified packaging of the technology. “Container apps allow you to easily build container-based microservices using just your app code, while giving you the flexibility to upgrade to our full Azure Kubernetes service if and when you’re ready to harness the full power of Kubernetes .”
Microsoft’s approach is not necessarily unique. For example, Amazon Web Services offers its EKS Anywhere and EKS Connector for Kubernetes. But Microsoft’s influence on location allows it to claim fans that, in addition to those mentioned above, include Walmart, Starbucks, HSBC and the UK’s National Health Service.
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