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Microsoft’s Ignite 2021 conference heralds the launch of a host of new Azure services, some of which touch on infrastructure, storage, and networking. New features in Azure Virtual Machine Scale Sets let companies more easily manage virtual machines in high-volume environments, while Azure Virtual Network Manager allows developers to manage their virtual networks across subscriptions while scaling cloud-based workloads.

“Our customers have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of servers, diverse applications, and databases in multiple locations spread across on-premises, edge, and multicloud environments,” Azure Marketing corporate VP Kathleen Mitford said in a blog post. “With Microsoft technology, developers can address the real-world needs of their customers and businesses, using best-in-class tools and platforms that reduce the time from idea to value.”


Virtual Machine Scale Sets gained a new capability in flexible orchestration mode, which is generally available as of today. According to Microsoft, flexible orchestration mode enables customers to change virtual machine sizes without redeploying their scale set and mix Spot Virtual Machines (which run when there’s unused capacity on Azure infrastructure) and pay-as-you-go virtual machines with the same scale set. Moreover, developers can spread instances across fault domains automatically or specify a fault domain and manage virtual machines and Virtual Machine Scale Sets using the same APIs.

Joining the expanded Virtual Machine Scale Sets are new, more affordable virtual machines in Azure. The Dv5 and Ev5 Azure Virtual Machine are generally available, delivering up to 15% faster performance and scaling up to 96 virtual CPUs for “general computing workloads.” Also live are the new Dav5 and Eav5 Azure Virtual Machines, based on AMD’s third-generation Epyc 7763v (Milan) processor with or without local disk storage, tailored for “memory-intensive” enterprise apps and large relational databases. The Ebs v5 Azure Virtual Machine rounds out the list of additions — Microsoft describes it as a memory-optimized series with up to 300% faster remote storage performance (120,000 input/output operations per second and 4,000 MB/s of remote disk storage throughput) compared to the existing Ev5 virtual machines.


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To help choose among the expanding list of virtual machines in Azure, Microsoft is launching the virtual machines selector tool. Generally available in 26 different languages, the selector lets customers specify the category of workload they want to deploy — in addition to virtual machine technical specifications, disk storage preferences, region, and operating system — to get a set of recommended virtual machines and disk storage.

In related news, Microsoft announced that on-demand disk bursting is now available for Azure Premium solid-state drives (SSDs) in Azure Disk Storage, its shared cloud block storage. Disk bursting lets customers increase performance above the provisioned limit, bursting six times — up to 30,000 input/output operations per second (IOPS) and 1,000 MB/s of throughput — of the provisioned amount when needed.

Microsoft also detailed several new features in Azure Monitor, the company’s management tool for Azure and on-premises apps and infrastructure. There’s now OpenTelemetry support (in preview) in application insights, and Azure Monitor’s troubleshooting for Azure Firewall and VPN Gateway has been enhanced with new resource topology views and prebuilt monitoring workbooks (generally available). Beyond this, there’s new EventHub integration with Azure Monitor alerts for network isolation (generally available), enabling the receipt of alert notifications over a secure network using Event Hub and Private Links.


On the networking side, Gateway Load Balancer made its debut today in early preview. The service ensures both “sticky” flow and a consistent route to a network virtual appliance, Microsoft says, as well as virtual integration into the network path and the addition — or removal — of network virtual appliances.

As for the Azure Network Function Manager, which lets companies manage LTE and 5G capabilities for bespoke deployment solutions, it’s now generally available. The Azure Virtual Network Manager has entered preview, meanwhile, allowing companies to orchestrate virtual networks across subscriptions while creating network topologies like mesh and hub-and-spoke and administrator rules to enforce security policies.

Elsewhere, Azure ExpressRoute has been updated with features including IPv6 support for private peering and additional ciphers to encrypt links between a customer’s network device and Microsoft’s devices when they connect via ExpressRoute Direct. In addition, FastPath, which improves the data path performance between customers’ on-premises networks and their virtual networks, now supports more scenarios, including virtual network peering.

ExpressRoute creates private connections between Azure datacenters and infrastructure on-premises or in an enterprise colocation environment. According to Microsoft, it’s available in over 75 commercial peering locations.

The Azure Bastion Standard SKU and Web Application Firewall (WAF) enhancements are now in preview, Microsoft announced. (Azure Bastion, which launched in general availability in 2019, provides remote connectivity to virtual machines deployed in local or peered Azure Virtual Network.) The new Standard SKU extends functionality for enterprise customers, in addition to connectivity via consumer protocols and port numbers, while the Application Gateway WAF has a new engine that provides better performance.

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