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Microsoft Releases Preview of Azure Container Service (AKS), a New Managed Kubernetes Service

| by Daniel Bryant Follow 804 Followers on Oct 31, 2017. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |

Microsoft has released a preview version of a new managed Kubernetes service, "Azure Container Service (AKS)", which is a separate product from the existing ACS that offers support for multiple orchestrators Kubernetes, Mesos DC/OS and Docker Swarm. AKS features an Azure-hosted control plane, automated upgrades, self-healing, user configurable scaling, and a "simple user experience for both developers and cluster operators". At launch, AKS will default to using Kubernetes 1.7.7, the software's latest stable release, and customers can opt into using the new 1.8 beta if they choose to do so. 

In the Azure blog AKS announcement post, Gabe Monroy, principal program manager of Containers at Microsoft, states that the current Kubernetes support on Azure Container Service (ACS) has grown 300% in the last six months, and promises that the preview of the new AKS makes it "easier to manage Kubernetes environments without sacrificing portability". The existing ACS service has been available since 2015, and offers support for multiple container orchestrators, such as Kubernetes, Mesos DC/OS and Docker Swarm. Monroy discusses that "[Kubernetes] has emerged as the open source standard for container orchestration" and that "Kubernetes unique community involvement and its portability makes it an ideal orchestrator to standardize on".

This apparent pivot by Azure to focus exclusively on Kubernetes as the platform upon which to base its managed container orchestration offering has triggered some discussion within the community, with some users questioning the relationship between ACS and AKS. Saurya Das, product manager of Azure Container Service, has responded that ACS and AKS will continue to co-exist for the time being, as ACS is generally available and AKS is in preview. ACS is also not deprecated, and Das is "looking at making DC/OS and Swarm available only through the Azure marketplace where they have always been available".

The use of AKS itself is free, with the exception of the cost of running the underlying compute resources, such as the VMs. This stands in contrast with Google's GKE managed Kubernetes service, which charges $0.15 per hour for managing a "standard" cluster of 6+ nodes in addition to the underlying compute resources. In the AKS release blog post Monroy states that this costing model is a permanent fixture:

Unlike other cloud providers who charge an hourly rate for the management infrastructure, with AKS you will pay nothing for the management of your Kubernetes cluster, ever.

The launch of the AKS preview service has not been without issue, with access to the Kubernetes dashboard not yet available (outside of using "az aks browse" to access the Dashboard pod vis kubectl port-forward), and some problems around Service Principle permissions on Resource Groups. Also interesting is that deploying an AKS cluster using Windows Desktop appears to not be possible at this time due to an issue with the required "get-credentials" command in Powershell not working in this environment. Additionally, Windows Server Containers are not currently supported in AKS due to the fact that several core Kubernetes components must be run on Linux hosts.

In addition to the launch of AKS, Microsoft has also announced the preview of container image geo-replication in Azure Container Registry (ACR), their hosted container image storage solution. The geo-replication preview is currently only available within the Azure premium service level "SKU" supported ACR.

Through the click of a map, customers can now manage a single registry, replicated across any number of regions. Any push/pull of a container image to ACR will be routed to the closest registry. ACR geo-replication enables customers to manage their global deployments as one entity. Geo-replication is a first of its kind feature catering to customers who operate at global scale, further separating Azure from competitors with much smaller global footprints.

Earlier this year, Microsoft joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) as a platinum member. The CNCF oversees the Kubernetes open source project. Microsoft has been contributing code to Kubernetes, among other CNCF projects, and developing interesting software like Draft, which aims to make Kubernetes easier to use for developers.

Additional information on AKS can be found on the Azure blog "Introducing AKS (managed Kubernetes) and Azure Container Registry improvements".

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