Microsoft aims to grow Azure's footprint, resiliency with more availability zones and new services

Microsoft is bringing on board two more Azure Availability Zones, readying an Azure Resource Mover service aimed at those who care about data residency, and previewing its Azure Orbital service for satellite operators.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft officials have been talking up over the past year the company's plans to try to provide greater Azure resiliency and capacity. Despite its moves, market analysis firm Gartner dinged Microsoft in its September 2020 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure and Platform Services report for issues for "concerns related to the overall architecture and implementation of Azure." Gartner officials said Microsoft has the lowest ratio of availability zones to regions of any vendor in this category and noted that only a limited set of Microsoft services support the availability-zone model. 

At its virtual IT Pro-focused Ignite 2020 conference this week, Microsoft is addressing some of these concerns head-on. This month, officials said, availability zones will be available in two more existing regions, namely Canada Central and Australia East, which will bring the total number of Microsoft's Availability-Zone-enabled regions to 14. 

Microsoft announced Azure Availability Zones for datacenter-failure protection in March 2018, starting with US Central and France Central. Availability Zones are located inside Azure regions and offer independent power source, networking, and cooling. Microsoft officials have said there is a minimum of three separate zone locations in enabled regions, which offer 99.99% uptime service-level agreements on covered services. 

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Availability Zones, in addition to being a key capability for users concerned with disaster recovery and business continuity, also play into how Microsoft and AWS differentiate and define their clouds. Microsoft officials often tout the "fact" that Azure has the biggest global footprint of all the public cloud vendors, with more than 60 available and announced Azure regions. (Microsoft defines an Azure region as "a set of data centers, deployed within a latency-defined perimeter and connected through a dedicated regional low-latency network".) But AWS defines a region as being comprised of at least two Availability Zones.

At Ignite this week, Microsoft is making several other Azure datacenter-related announcements. It is unveiling a new service called Azure Resource Mover, which is meant to help users move multiple Azure resources between regions so they can meet specific data-residency needs. Azure Resource Mover provides "a single pane of glass" to manage migrations. This service is now available in public preview.

Microsoft also is announcing Zone to Zone disaster recovery, a service allowing users to replicate, failover, and fail-back their virtual machines within the same region with zones.

It is announcing Azure Orbital, as well. It's a new service that will provide access to physical satellite communications capabilities to satellite operators. Via private preview, Orbital will enable satellite operators to process and analyze data in Azure and schedule access to Azure Orbital ground station antennas. Last year at Ignite, Microsoft announced a related service called ExpressRoute for Satellite. This service, aimed at enterprise customers, not satellite operators, enabled users to communicate from a remote site to Azure locations over private and dedicated connections. 

Also: Microsoft Azure: A cheat sheet TechRepublic

As CNBC noted earlier this month, this new Azure Orbital satellite service is a direct competitor to the AWS Ground Station service, which Amazon launched in 2018.

Microsoft also is announcing at Ignite its private Azure Marketplace service. This new offering is not meant to be a replacement for the Microsoft Store for Business. (I've heard from my contacts that Microsoft is planning to phase out the Microsoft Store for Business, but, so far, the company has not announced this plan publicly.) The private Azure Marketplace is considered a new feature of the existing Azure Marketplace and will include applications and services across categories including Compute, Networking, Security, AI, and IoT. 

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