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Google today announced machine images, a new type of Compute Engine resource in Google Cloud that contains all the information required to create, back up, or restore a virtual machine. The company claims it will reduce the time network admins and data scientists spend managing their cloud environments by eliminating extra steps and streamlining operations.

The news is no doubt music to the ears of enterprises, which run 77% of their workloads in the cloud, according to Rightscale. Public cloud computing — a technology that’s intertwined with AI and machine learning — is anticipated to exceed $330 billion in market value this year, with organizations’ average yearly cloud budget exceeding $2.2 million.

In contrast to custom images that capture the contents of a single disk, machine images — which can be created whether the source instance is running or stopped — contain multiple disks as well as other data required to create a new instance. This includes instance properties like machine type, labels, volume mapping, and network tags; the data of all attached disks; instance metadata; and permissions, including the service account used to create the instance.

When machine images are created from an instance, the instance information and disk data are stored into a single resource, the location of which can be specified from the Google Cloud dashboard. When it comes time to restore the instance, all that’s required is providing the machine image and a new instance name.


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“The new machine images make it easy to create new instances at the heart of your scalability, backup, and disaster recovery strategy,” wrote Google Compute Engine product manager Ari Liberman. “Machine images use the same differential disk backup technology that powers incremental snapshots, giving you fast, reliable and cost-effective instance backups.”

To create a new machine image, try choosing the “Machine images” option from the left menu in the Compute Engine console. Then select “Create a machine image” from the menu. To create an instance from a machine image, either create it directly from the machine images page or from the instance creation page by selecting the “New VM instance from machine image” option from the left menu.

Machine images are currently in beta, Google says. For this reason, they’re currently not covered by service-level agreements or depreciation policy and might be subject to unspecified “backward-incompatible” changes.

The new Google Cloud machine images instance is not to be confused with Amazon Machine Image (AMI), a special type of virtual appliance that’s used to create a virtual machine within Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud service. AMIs are read-only filesystem images that include an operating system and any additional software required to deliver a service or a portion of it, like a template for the root volume for the instance and launch permissions that control which Amazon Web Services accounts can use the AMI to launch instances.

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