Microsoft Azure: 2014 Year in Review

What a massive year it’s been for Microsoft’s Azure public cloud platform. Running the Azure Sydney User Group this year has been great fun and seeing the growing local interest has been fantastic.

The focus from Microsoft has really changed in this space and has been clearly signalled with the change in name of Azure from Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure during the year and an increasingly broad set of non-Microsoft services offered on it.

2015 promises to be another big year, but let’s look back at what happened during 2014 with Azure.


January

The year got off to a fairly quiet start, but as we’ll see, it soon ramped up.

Preview

Everything this month was under GA only, so see below!

Generally Available

  • Websites:
    • staged publishing support
    • Always On support *
    • more frequent metric updates and monitoring alerts
  • SQL Database: new metrics and alerts
  • Mobile Services: SenchaTouch support
  • Cloud Services: A8 and A9 machine sizes now supported.

* If you’re using New Relic there are some known issues with this feature.

Other News

The Azure platform received PCI-DSS compliance validation and introduced reduced pricing rates for storage and storage transactions.


February and March

The headline item in this period was the launch of the Japan Geography with Japan East (Saitama Prefecture) and West (Osaka Prefecture) providing that market with in-country services. Also during this period we had the following announcements and launches:

Preview

Generally Available

Other News

Local gamers unhappy not to have a local Xbox server platform to run on. Who knew it was such an issue having lag and big ping times 😉

Can we haz l0c4l serverz?


April

The big change this month was the change in name for Azure. Guaranteeing a million-and-one outdated websites, slides and documents in one swoop, the service name was changed from Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure. Just for fun there is no “official” logo, just text-based branding.

This change was a subtle nod to Azure’s ability to run Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) workloads on platforms other than Windows – something it had been doing for quite some time when this change was made.

Preview

  • Newly designed management portal
  • Mobile services: documented offline support and role-based Azure AD authentication
  • Resource Manager via PowerShell
  • SQL Database: active geo-replication (read replicas); self-service restore; 500GB support; 99.95% SLA
  • Media Services: secure delivery and Office 365 Video Portal.

Generally Available

  • Azure SDK 2.3: increased Visual Studio support – create VMs using Server Explorer
  • Autoscale – Virtual Machines, Cloud Services, Web Sites and Mobile Services
  • Azure AD Premium – Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) and security reporting
  • Websites: SSL bundled; Java support; Web Hosting Plans; Available in SE Asia
  • Web Jobs SDK
  • Media Services: Live Streaming; Partnerships for Content Management and Analytics (Ooyala) and Live Ingest (iStreamPlanet)
  • Basic Tier introduction: lower cost for dev/test scenarios. Applies to VMs and Websites
  • Puppet and Chef support on Azure VMs via VM Agent Extensions
  • Scheduler Service
  • Read Access Geo Redundant Storage (RA-GRS).

May and June

The pace from the first quarter of the year carried over into these two months! The stand out amongst the range of announcements in this period was the launch of the API Management service which was the result of the October 2013 acquisition of Apiphany.

Preview

  • Azure API Management – publish, manage and secure your existing REST APIs
  • Azure File Service (SMB shares) – even use on Linux VMs
  • BizTalk Hybrid Connections – on-prem connects without the secops guys 😉
  • Redis Cache support – now the preferred caching platform in Azure
  • RemoteApp – Lay down common Apps on demand
  • Site Recovery – backup your on-prem VMs to Azure
  • Secure VMs using security extensions from Microsoft, Symantec and McAfee
  • Internal Load Balancing for VMs and Cloud Services
  • HDInsights: Apache HBASE and Hadoop 3.1
  • Azure Machine Learning (or as I like to call it “Skynet”).

Generally Available

  • ExpressRoute – WAN and DC cross-connects
  • Multi-connection Virtual Networks (VNET) and VNET-to-VNET connections
  • Public IP Address Reservation (IPv4 shortage anyone?)
  • Traffic Manager: use Azure and non-Azure (“external”) endpoints
  • A8 and A9 VM support – lots of everything (8 / 16 cores – 7 GB RAM per core)
  • Storage Import/Export service – check region availability!

Other News

MSDN subscribers gained the ability to deploy Windows 7 and 8 images onto Azure VMs for dev/test scenarios and Enterprise Agreement (EA) customers were given the ability to purchase add-ons via the Azure Store which had previously not been possible.

We also learned about availability of IPv4 addresses with some US-based services being issued IPv4 addresses assigned to South America, causing many LOLs for service admins out there who thought their services were in Brazil!


July and August

This period’s summary: Ice Bucket Challenge.

Preview

  • Event Hubs: capture data from all the Internet connected things!
  • Redis cache: in more places and sizes
  • Preview management portal: manage Azure SQL Database
  • DocumentDB
  • Azure Search.

Generally Available


September

No single announcement jumps out so I was going to put a picture of a kitten here but I thought you might want to see this (even if it is from 2012).

Preview

  • Role-based access control (RBAC) for Azure management in preview portal only
  • Resource Tagging support: filter by tag – useful for billing and ops
  • Azure SQL Database – Elastic Scale preview. Replaces Federations model
  • DocumentDB – enhanced management tooling and metrics
  • Azure Automation – AD auth; PowerShell converter; Runbook gallery and scheduling
  • Media Services – Live Streaming and DRM, faster encoding and indexer.

Generally Available

  • ‘D’ Series VMs: 60% faster CPU, more RAM and local SSD disk
  • Redis Cache: recommended cache solution in Azure. 250MB – 53GB! support
  • Site Recovery: on-prem DR with Azure – Win / Linux
  • Notification Hubs: Baidu Push (China)
  • Virtual Machines: instance-level public IPs (no NAT/PAT)
  • Azure SQL Database: three new service tiers and hourly billing
  • API Management: added OAuth support and REST Management API
  • Websites: VNet support, “scalable CMS” with WordPress and backups improvements
  • Management Services Alerts.

October and November

Pretty hard to go by this news it terms of ‘most outstanding announcement’ for these two months, especially for those of us in Australia!

Preview

  • ‘G’ Series VMs – (“Godzilla” VM) more CPU/RAM/SSD than any VM in any cloud *
  • Premium Storage – SSD-based with more than 50k IOPS *
  • Marketplace changes – CoreOS and Cloudera
  • Increased focus on Docker including portal support
  • Cloud Platform System (CPS) from Dell.
  • Batch: parallel task coordination
  • Data Factory: build data processing pipelines
  • Stream Analytics: analyse your Event Hubs data.

* Announced but not yet in public preview.

Generally Available

  • Australia Geography launches!
  • Network Security Groups
  • Multi-NIC Support in VMs (VM size dependent)
  • Forced Tunnelling (route traffic back on-prem)
  • ExpressRoute:
    • Cross-Subscription Sharing
    • Multi-connect to an Azure VNET
  • Bigger Azure Virtual Gateways
  • Ops Logging for Gateways and ExpressRoute
  • More control over Gateway encryption
  • Azure Load Balancer Source IP Affinity (“Sticky Sessions”)
  • Nested Traffic Manager Profiles
  • Preview Portal: Internal Load Balancing and Instance / Reserved IP Management
  • Automation Service: PowerShell Service Orchestration
  • Microsoft Antimalware Extension on VMs and Cloud Services (for free)
  • Many more VM Extensions available (PowerShell DSC / Octopus Deploy Tentacle)
  • Event Hubs: ingest more messages; SLA-backed.

Other News

We always have this vision of large-scale services being relatively immune to wide-ranging outages, yet all the main cloud platforms have regular challenges resulting in service disruptions of some variety.

On November 18 (or 19 depending on your timezone) Azure had one of these events, causing a disruption across many of its Regions affecting Storage and VMs.

The final Root Cause Analysis (RCA) shows the sorts of challenges involved in running platforms of this size.


December

You can almost hear the drawing of the breath before the Azure team starts 2015…

Preview

  • Premium Storage
  • Azure SQL Database: better feature parity with SQL 2014 and better large DB support.
  • Search: management via portal, multi-lingual support.
  • DocumentDB: better management via portal.
  • Azure Data Factory: integration with Machine Learning.

Generally Available

  • RemoteApp: run desktop apps anywhere
  • Azure SQL Database: new auditing features
  • Live Media Streaming: access the same platform as used at the World Cup and Olympics
  • Site Recovery: supported without SCVMM being deployed
  • Active Directory: App Proxy and password write-back enabled
  • Mobile Services: Offline Sync Managed SDK
  • HDInsight: Cluster customisation.

Other News

Another big announcement for the Australian cloud market was the news that from early 2015 Microsoft would be offering Office 365 and CRM Online from within Australia’s borders. What a great time to be working in this market!


There we have it! What a year! I haven’t detailed every single announcement to come out from the Azure team (this post would easily be twice as long), but if you think I’ve missed anything important leave a comment and I’ll update the post.

Simon.

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