Microsoft introduced a nifty new feature to its Azure public cloud this week called Managed Disks. The idea is that developers will not have to worry about provisioning storage when spinning up virtual machines. Managed Disks automatically adds persistent disk storage for Azure virtual machines as applications demand it.
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Microsoft officials say the move is blending two flavors of cloud computing: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which gives users granular control when provisioning resources, and Platform as a Service (PaaS), which automates many of the scaling tasks associated with application deployment. Microsoft offers both IaaS and PaaS functionality in Azure. “With this deep experience in both PaaS and IaaS, we can take insights from our PaaS services, like the agile benefit of automated management and scale, and apply it to improve our infrastructure services,” wrote Director of Azure Compute Corey Sanders in a blog post announcing the Managed Disks.
Microsoft also announced that it’s previously-available Azure Virtual Machine Scale Sets (VMSS) have increased capacity, now up to 1,000 virtual machines, a 10x increase. With this feature, Azure will automatically add up to 1,000 pre-determined virtual machine instances to an account based on demand. These VMSS can also take advantage of Managed Disks.
The features are not necessarily ground-breaking or industry-first, but they are helpful tools for developers and cloud operators and they show that Microsoft is willing to develop innovative new features for Azure.
Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft’s two biggest competitors in the cloud market, and even IBM, all have a range of capabilities for auto-scaling applications and infrastructure resources. Full-functional PaaS platforms like Google Application Engine and IBM Bluemix completely abstract infrastructure resource management from developers. AWS has a broad range of developer tools too, including the AWS Auto Scaling service, as well as Cloud Formation tools that automatically provision infrastructure, and its serverless computing platform named Lambda.
“These capabilities are just the beginning to bring the agility of PaaS to the comfort of IaaS,” Sanders wrote in the blog post announcing the Managed Disks feature, adding that other functionality such as OS patching support, application lifecycle integration, application health monitoring, and load-balancer app health integration.
The blending of these two areas of cloud computing is only expected to continue. As cloud platforms mature, vendors will continue to abstract away the management of the clouds and increase automation in an effort to make their platforms easier to use for developers. While doing so the basic building blocks of IaaS will still be composable. At the end of the day customers will have more choice: do they want to build their infrastructure environment themselves or rely on a cloud platform that will automate many of those tasks? As features like Managed Disks show, that doesn't have to be an either-or decision as vendors like Microsoft blur the lines between IaaS and PaaS.
To read more detail about Azure Managed Disks and to see a demonstration of how to deploy them, check out Sanders’ Azure blog post here.