Microsoft has rolled out enhancements to its Azure cloud computing platform, enabling larger virtual machine instances with up to 32 virtual cores, a Key Vault for secure storage of customer encryption keys, and availability of Docker images for customers to use on Azure.
The updates, some of which were highlighted on the roadmap by Microsoft last year, are part of a continual upgrade process that the major cloud computing providers have to operate as they compete for business from developers and enterprise customers looking for a cost-effective way to provision IT infrastructure.
Officially announced on Microsoft's Azure Blog, the G-series of virtual machines were disclosed at its TechEd conference in Barcelona last year and are claimed by the firm as the most powerful virtual machines now available in the public cloud market.
However, the G-Series is available initially only to customers in Microsoft's West US region of coverage, although the firm said it is working to build out support in additional regions.
With up to 32 virtual processors, the G-series is comparable with offerings from rivals such as Amazon and Google, but it is the 448GB of memory and 6.59TB of local solid state drive space on which Microsoft bases its claim.
The new instances also increase the maximum number of attached data disks, enabling attachment of up to 64TB of persistent disk via Azure Storage, Microsoft said.
The G-series instances are being delivered on hardware with the latest Intel Xeon E5 v3 processors and are touted by Microsoft as suitable for the most demanding enterprise workloads, such as SQL Server and big data solutions including MongoDB, Cassandra and DataStax.
Microsoft also made available a public preview of Azure Key Vault, a feature designed to let customers securely store and manage cryptographic keys to protect sensitive data, using Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) within Azure itself rather than holding encryption keys on their own on-premise infrastructure.
This capability has been offered by Amazon's AWS platform for several years as the CloudHSM service, and is desirable because a round trip to access the customer's on-premise HSM every time a cryptographic operation needs to be performed can affect application performance.
Key Vault can be configured in minutes, and provides a single programming model for HSM-protected and software-protected encryption keys, Microsoft claimed. The service is also able to scale as required by customers, and available across multiple regions.
The Key Vault Preview is currently available in East US and North Central US, North Europe and West Europe, plus East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Microsoft said it intends to enable more regions over the next few months.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has extended support for the Docker containers technology, with availability of the first Docker Image via the Microsoft Azure Marketplace.
From today, customers can now browse the Azure Marketplace or Azure portal and select a Docker on Ubuntu Server image to provision a virtual machine instance with the latest Docker engine pre-installed and running on Azure, Microsoft said.
Microsoft announced support for Docker containers running inside Linux virtual machines on Azure in the middle of last year, and later announced a partnership with the Docker company to add support for container technologies in the upcoming wave of Windows Server releases.
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