In this article, I take you through the latest technological advancements and updates announced at the recent Microsoft Ignite event. With a focus on Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Azure Stack, my aim is to provide a thorough and insightful overview of the innovative solutions and strategic initiatives unveiled by Microsoft. This pivotal event, renowned for its groundbreaking revelations in the tech sphere, has introduced a range of new features, enhancements, and visionary developments within the Microsoft ecosystem. I invite you to join me in exploring these developments in detail, as I offer my personal insights and analysis on how they are set to shape the future of cloud infrastructure and services.
Microsoft recently unveiled Copilot for Azure, an AI companion designed to enhance the design, operation, optimization, and troubleshooting of applications and infrastructure, from cloud to edge. Leveraging large language models and insights from Azure and Arc-enabled assets, Copilot offers new insights and functionality while prioritizing data security and privacy.
In AI infrastructure updates, Microsoft is optimizing its hardware and software stack, collaborating with industry leaders to offer diverse AI inferencing, training, and compute options. Key developments include:
- Custom silicon chips, Azure Maia and Azure Cobalt, for AI and enterprise workloads, enhancing performance and cost-effectiveness.
- Azure Boost, enhancing network and storage performance, is now generally available.
- ND MI300 v5 virtual machines with AMD chips, optimized for generative AI workloads.
- NC H100 v5 virtual machines with NVIDIA GPUs, improving mid-range AI training and inferencing efficiency.
Additionally, Microsoft and Oracle have announced the general availability of Oracle Database@Azure, integrating Oracle database services with Microsoft Azure’s security and services, starting in the US East Azure region in December 2023 and expanding further in early 2024.
Azure is introducing new AMD-based virtual machines (VMs), now in preview, featuring the 4th Generation AMD EPYC™ Genoa processor. These VMs offer enhanced performance and reliability across various series, each with different memory-to-core ratios catering to general purpose, memory-optimized, and compute-optimized needs.
For SAP HANA workloads, the Azure M-series Mv3 family, powered by 4th-generation Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors and Azure Boost, provides faster insights and improved price-performance. They also offer improved resilience, faster data load times for SAP HANA OLAP workloads, and higher performance per core for SAP OLTP workloads. Azure Boost enhances these VMs with improved network and storage performance and security.
Azure also introduces new confidential VMs with Intel processors, featuring Intel® Trust Domain Extensions (TDX) for secure processing of confidential workloads in the cloud. These VMs support a range of new features, including RHEL 9.3 for AMD SEV-SNP confidential VMs, Disk Integrity Tool for disk security, temporary disk encryption for AMD-based VMs, and expanded regional availability. The NCCv5 series confidential VMs, equipped with NVIDIA H100 Tensor Core GPUs, are unique in the cloud sphere. They offer AI developers the ability to deploy GPU-powered applications confidentially, ensuring data encryption in both CPU and GPU memory and providing attestation reports for data privacy.
Also, Azure has introduced two new features in public preview:
- Azure VMSS Zonal Expansion: this feature allows users to transition their VMs from a regional to a zonal configuration across Azure availability zones, significantly enhancing business continuity and resilience.
- VM Hibernation: Azure now offers a VM hibernation feature, allowing users to save on compute costs. When a VM is hibernated, its in-memory state is preserved in the OS disk, and the VM is deallocated, incurring charges only for storage and networking resources. Upon reactivation, the VM resumes its applications and processes from the saved state, allowing for quick continuation of work.
These updates reflect Azure’s commitment to offering advanced, secure, and versatile cloud computing options.
Azure has announced several updates to its storage services to enhance data management, performance, and cloud migration:
- Azure Ultra Disk Storage: the IOPS and throughput for Azure Ultra Disk Storage have been increased, now supporting up to 400,000 IOPS and 10,000 MB/s per disk. This enhancement allows a single disk to support the largest VMs, reducing the need for multiple disks and enabling shared disk configurations.
- Azure Storage Mover: this service, now generally available, facilitates the migration of on-premises file shares to Azure file shares and Azure Blob Storage. It includes new support for SMB share migration and a VMware agent image.
- Azure Native Qumulo Scalable File Service: the ANQ V2 offers improved economics and scalability, separating performance from capacity. It simplifies cloud file services, enabling rapid deployment and management through a unified namespace.
- Amazon S3 Shortcuts: now generally available, these shortcuts allow the integration of data in Amazon S3 with OneLake, enabling a unified virtualized data lake without data duplication.
- Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 Shortcuts: these shortcuts, also generally available, enable connection to external data lakes in ADLS Gen2 into OneLake. This allows data reuse without duplication and enhances interoperability with Azure Databricks and Power BI.
Azure introduces several updates aimed at enhancing network security, flexibility, and performance:
- Private Subnet: a new feature allowing the disabling of default outbound access for new subnets, enhancing security and aligning with Azure’s “secure by default” model.
- Customer-controlled maintenance: this public preview feature allows scheduling gateway maintenance during convenient times across various gateway resources.
- Azure Virtual Network Manager Security Admin Rule: now generally available in select regions, it enforces standardized security policies globally across virtual networks, enhancing security management and reducing operational complexities.
- ExpressRoute Direct and Circuit in different subscriptions: this general availability feature allows ExpressRoute Direct customers to manage network costs and connect circuits from multiple subscriptions, improving resource management.
- ExpressRoute as a Trusted Service: now customers can store MACsec secrets in Azure KeyVault with Firewall Policies, restricting public access while enabling trusted service access.
- ExpressRoute seamless gateway migration: this feature enables a smooth migration from a non-availability zone to an Availability-zone (AZ) enabled Gateway SKU, eliminating the need to dismantle existing gateways.
- Rate Limiting on ExpressRoute Direct Circuits: this public preview feature allows rate-limiting on circuits, optimizing bandwidth usage and improving network performance.
- ExpressRoute Scalable Gateway: The new ErGwScale Virtual Network Gateway SKU offers up to 40 Gbps connectivity and features auto-scaling based on bandwidth usage, enhancing flexibility and efficiency in network connectivity.
Azure Stack HCI
Azure Stack HCI version 23H2
At Microsoft Ignite 2023, the company announced the public preview of Azure Stack HCI version 23H2, introducing several advancements. Key features include cloud-based deployment, update management, and monitoring, enhancing the ease and efficiency of managing infrastructure at scale. With version 23H2, deployment from the cloud is now possible, simplifying the setup process and minimizing on-site expertise requirements. The new Lifecycle Manager consolidates updates into a monthly package, streamlining update management and reducing compatibility issues. Azure Stack HCI now offers comprehensive monitoring with Azure Monitor, providing detailed insights into system performance and health.
The update also emphasizes central management of diverse workloads, whether container-based, VM-based, cloud, or edge-run, through Azure Arc and an adaptive cloud approach. Version 23H2 supports a variety of virtual machines and introduces Azure Kubernetes Service for edge-based container management. Additionally, Azure Virtual Desktop for Azure Stack HCI is in preview, offering enhanced virtualized desktops and apps with improved latency and optional GPU acceleration.
Significant attention is given to security with Azure Stack HCI version 23H2. It ensures a secure deployment by default and integrates with Microsoft Defender for Cloud for comprehensive security management. The Trusted launch feature for Azure Arc-enabled virtual machines, previously exclusive to the Azure cloud, is now available at the edge, providing additional protection against firmware and bootloader attacks.
While the 23H2 version is currently available for preview, it is not yet recommended for production use, with general availability (GA) expected in early 2024. Microsoft advises customers to continue using version 22H2 for production environments, with an update path from 22H2 to 23H2 to be detailed later. For more detailed information on Azure Stack HCI version 23H2, readers are encouraged to visit this article.
As we wrap up our exploration of the latest updates from Microsoft Ignite, it’s clear that the advancements in Azure IaaS and Azure Stack are not just incremental; they are transformative. Microsoft’s commitment to innovation and its vision for a more integrated, efficient, and scalable cloud infrastructure is evident in every announcement and feature update. These developments promise to redefine how businesses and developers leverage cloud computing, enhancing agility, security, and sustainability.
The implications of these updates extend beyond mere technical enhancements; they signal a shift towards a future where cloud infrastructure is more accessible, resilient, and adaptive to evolving business needs. As I conclude this article, I am left with a sense of excitement and anticipation for what these changes mean for the industry. The journey of cloud computing is ever-evolving, and with Microsoft’s recent announcements at Ignite, we are witnessing a significant leap forward in that journey.
Thank you for joining me in this deep dive into Microsoft’s latest innovations. I look forward to continuing this discussion and exploring how these advancements will unfold and impact our digital world in the days to come.