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Microsoft supports trend toward containers, serverless computing

At its Build 2017 conference, Microsoft highlighted new technologies focusing on containers, serverless computing and microservices as part of its DevOps strategy.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in the opening keynote at the Build 2017 conference, noted that DevOps and related technologies, such as containers and serverless computing, are driving major changes in the development paradigm and Microsoft is offering core technology to support the trend.

DevOps technology such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD), which merges development with testing and other parts of the application lifecycle, is among the most common uses for containers and is why Microsoft's container approach is playing a "massive role" in the company's developer strategy, Nadella said.

Meanwhile, serverless computing supplements DevOps because it frees up developers and IT operations staff from having to set up and tune systems. Serverless code is typically triggered by specific events, meaning users need only pay for virtual machines used once the code has been triggered.

"Serverless will be the core of the future of distributed computing," Nadella proclaimed.

Helping developers build systems

To that end, Microsoft is helping developers build systems with serverless computing and event-driven programming using its Azure Functions and Azure Logic Apps technology.

"Microsoft's serverless offering uniquely includes rich tooling support with Visual Studio, seamless workflow and systems integrations, and built-in DevOps with Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS), GitHub, and Bitbucket, said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the cloud and enterprise group at Microsoft, in a blog post.

To assist developers in building serverless apps, Microsoft announced a preview of its Azure Functions Visual Studio tooling, a Visual Studio 2017 extension that enables developers to integrate Azure Functions development seamlessly into development flows, Guthrie said.

In addition, Azure Application Insights support for Azure Functions preview provides telemetry information about Azure Functions code, enabling developers to measure performance and detect issues with serverless apps. And the new Azure Functions Runtime preview extends Azure Functions to on premises or anywhere outside of the Azure cloud, so developers can leverage the serverless programming model on premises, Guthrie added.

New technology for containerization

Moreover, Microsoft announced new technology to enable developers to "containerize" existing .NET apps and deploy them to Azure via Microsoft's Azure Service fabric microservices platform, which supports both Windows and Linux.

"We are updating Service Fabric to support taking any standard Docker-Compose-based solution and deploy it running on Service Fabric," Guthrie said. "This makes it easy to build microservice-based solutions that can leverage the best of the Windows ecosystem and the best of the Linux-based ecosystem -- all while easily using the existing code you have."

Microsoft announced the general availability of container support for Windows Server containers in Azure Service Fabric and previewed Service Fabric support for Docker Compose for deploying containerized apps.

"We embrace Docker as sort of the meta language for describing containers," Guthrie said in a Microsoft Channel 9 interview following the keynote. "You can take any .NET app -- even old ones -- and with Visual Studio 2017 you can right-click and say 'add Docker support,' and we will run that app in the context of Docker."

And, "With the Visual Studio Team Services integration, you can realize continuous integration and deployment of these containerized applications," Guthrie said in his blog post.

Microsoft also gives developers their choice of container orchestration technology, including Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, and Mesos DC/OS with Azure Container Service.

Microsoft focused on developer concerns

"The initial messaging coming out of Build 2017 highlights Microsoft's deep familiarity with key issues of concern for modern developers," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Moreover, "Microsoft is also continuing to enhance its existing DevOps solutions and frameworks," he said. "That's especially clear in the new serverless computing offerings -- event-driven programming in a fully managed environment -- that leverage Azure Functions and Azure Logic Apps," he said.

"Breaking down our systems into microservices has enabled us to move them to the cloud," said Patrick Boudreaux, software engineering manager at Alaska Airlines, which has standardized on Visual Studio Team Services and the Azure cloud.

Indeed, during his part of the keynote, Guthrie highlighted how enterprises could best modernize their applications as they shift to the cloud using containers and microservices.

Achieving digital transformation

Steve Smith, vice president of information technology at Geico, said following Microsoft's lead into the cloud, "helped us achieve our digital transformation."

Additionally, at Build 2017, Microsoft announced a variety of technologies to help with that transition, including updates to its artificial intelligence (AI) offerings and database technology.

Microsoft launched a preview of Azure IoT Edge, which runs on Windows and Linux and enables cloud functionality to be run on IoT devices remotely.

The company also announced extensions to Microsoft Graph and introduced Azure Cosmos DB, a globally distributed, multi-model database service. Also on the database track, Microsoft announced the availability of Azure Database for MySQL and Azure Database for PostgreSQL, as well as a preview of new database migration services to help Oracle SQL Server users to migrate their data to Azure SQL Database.

For developers targeting the Mac, Microsoft announced the general availability of Visual Studio 2017 for Mac. And, among a host of other innovations, the company announced the new Azure Cloud Shell, which provides a browser-based shell experience hosted in Azure.

For its part, at Build 2017, Microsoft focused on giving developers "the means to grow their businesses and find success, new or improved tools that simplify their jobs, access to new areas for potential projects, including edge computing and analytics, and easy to use solutions for adding new functionalities, like artificial intelligence to development processes," King summarized.

Next Steps

What is cloud computing's next big act?

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