As we transitioned to 2016, we can look back at the closing months of 2015 with pride and happiness at having accomplished so much in so little time. A quick recap of the most major recent milestones won't hurt!
Partnership with Red Hat
We are trying to work hard to make the RHEL Pay-As-You-Go images available on Azure as standard supported Gallery images, as of the writing of this blog post. The developer and partner community should not need to wait much longer for this to happen! However, if someone wants to bring their own custom RHEL image, upload it as a VHD to Azure Blob Storage and provision Virtual Machines from the same, they can do so even today. That's called the "BYOL" model - Bring your own license.
The terms of the much-anticipated partnership included, other than the RHEL OS, the following Red Hat solutions to be made available on the Azure Platform: JBoss Middleware Suite, GlusterFS, Openshift platform as well as CloudForms. It included support for Hybrid environments - partially on the cloud and partially on-premises or 3rd party hosted sites. It also assured us that RHEL will be the primary OS for .NET Core on Linux.
Containerization and Docker - Windows integration and Azure Container Service
Microsoft's efforts to integrate Docker Engine and Windows OS has made great progress! Though it is Work in Progress, you can now, as of the writing of this blog post, go to the Azure Portal (and remember that the "new" portal is now the "current" portal), spin up a VM from the image "Windows Server 2016 Core with Containers Tech Preview 4", and start creating Windows Containers on it! The step by step preview guide for creating Windows Containers and playing around with them can be found here: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/virtualization/windowscontainers/containers_welcome.
This incredible speed is also evident in the work done on the Azure Container Service front. After we announced it at AzureCon in September 2015, we opened Preview by self-nomination in December. The Azure Container Service is a Compute Resource Provider - it creates a cluster of VM-s acting as container hosts together with master VM-s that orchestrate deployment and execution of containers, providing HA, Fault Tolerance and Utilization Density.
Availability of Debian as an Azure-endorsed OS
Debian (7 and 8) are now fully endorsed on Azure, thanks to our partnership with Credactiv! This piece of news was welcomed by the cloud community: http://www.zdnet.com/article/debian-gnulinux-now-supported-on-microsofts-azure/.
Though Debian is widely considered a 'developer-friendly' Operating System (as opposed to Ubuntu's perceived ease of use), recent changes in Debian are clearly attempting to erase that gap. In my opinion, the structure that Canonical has provided to Ubuntu's feature releases, software and hardware compatibility, usability etc. have resulted in a more streamlined user experience than the completely open source community developing Debian. However, Debian remains the Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to stability, and is also known to have outperformed Ubuntu, though not by much, in performance tests. They cater to slightly different audiences. Availability of both on the Azure Platform, therefore, is critical to opening up Azure to the widest possible spectrum of Linux users!
General Availability of HDInsight: Run Hadoop clusters on Linux on Azure
The ability to create Hadoop, Hbase, STORM and SPARK clusters on a LINUX based collection of VM-s (in addition to the Windows option) – which is fully managed, monitored and supported by us with 99.9% SLA – was greeted with enthusiasm by entire OSS and Big Data Community in September of last year! It is amazing that Microsoft runs a major PAAS service entirely on Linux!
Node.js support for Azure Mobile Apps Backend
We released Node SDK for Mobile Apps under Azure App Service early September 2015. Complete with push notifications, mobile auth, offline sync and other rich features, this addition to Azure App Service was an instant hit with OSS Mobile Developers, which is a significant chunk of the IT community. We followed up with a beta update recently a few days back, adding even more features!
Not directly related to Azure, but our recent open-sourcing of CNTK definitely deserves mention here
Microsoft’s brain is now available for anyone to use in their apps! We have open-sourced the artificial intelligence framework we use to power speech recognition in our Cortana Digital Assistant and Skype Translate applications. The framework, called, CNTK (Computational Network Toolkit), is based on a branch of Artificial intelligence called Deep Learning, which seeks to help machines do things like recognize photos and videos or understanding human speech by mimicking the structure and functions of the human brain.
CNTK's advantage over Google TensorFlow (quoted from http://www.wired.com/2016/01/microsoft-tries-to-one-up-google-in-the-open-source-ai-race/): CNTK has a big advantage over TensorFlow for people outside of academia: it can take advantage of the power of many servers at the same time. That’s important because it’s rare that a single computer is powerful enough to handle a real-world artificial intelligence application, such as speech recognition on an app used by millions of people. Internally, Google likely uses TensorFlow on thousands of servers at a time. But the version Google released to the public, Huang says, can’t be used in this way. In fact, few deep learning frameworks other than CNTK support running across multiple servers right out of the box, though it’s possible to do with other open source software such as Torch, which is used by Facebook and Google.
The code can be found on github: https://github.com/Microsoft/CNTK
As we continue to drive the momentum of innovation, openness and empowerment even harder, you can expect bigger and better things from Microsoft in the future! I would like to thank you for the support!