Microsoft: Cloud services demand up; prioritization rules in place due to COVID-19

Microsoft is sharing more guidance around capacity limits it is putting in place for its cloud resources caused by higher-than-usual demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft officials say the company has seen a 775% increase in demand for its cloud services in regions enforcing social distancing and/or shelter-in place due to COVID-19. On March 28, officials also elaborated on some of the temporary cloud-service restrictions that Microsoft has put in place as a result of the pandemic. 

Update (March 30): In a massive after-the-fact correction, Microsoft updated its blog post to note that the 775 percent cloud services growth number actually was only for Teams calling and meeting minutes in a one-month period in Italy. I asked Microsoft for an updated number for overall cloud services growth due to COVID-19 demand and so far haven't heard back. It looks like the other growth claims in its original post still stand.

Update No. 2: "Unfortunately, we don't have additional figures to share beyond what's in the blog," a spokesperson said re: my inquiry about overall cloud services growth due to COVID-19.

In a March 28 blog post, officials said that demand for its new Windows Virtual Desktop usage has grown by more than three times. They also said government use of public Power BI for sharing COVID-19 dashboads is up 42% in a week. (As is the case with Microsoft's overall cloud services figure, we don't have a base number for WVD and Power BI from which to calculate these percentages.) 

Also: Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players

Last week, officials acknowledged the company has been throttling some "non-essential" Office 365 services so as to continue to meet demand. A number of Azure customers in Europe also have been hitting restrictions when trying to spin up virtual machines and some other services there, as Microsoft has been prioritizing health-related workloads given the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the March 28 post, Microsoft officials elaborated a bit more on how its prioritization criteria is impacting Azure customers. From the post:

"We're implementing a few temporary restrictions designed to balance the best possible experience for all of our customers. We have placed limits on free offers to prioritize capacity for existing customers. We also have limits on certain resources for new subscriptions. These are 'soft' quota limits, and customers can raise support requests to increase these limits. If requests cannot be met immediately, we recommend customers use alternative regions (of our 54 live regions) that may have less demand surge. To manage surges in demand, we will expedite the creation of new capacity in the appropriate region."

(Or, as officials have said publicly since last year when Azure was already hitting capacity issues in East US: "We're always adding capacity.")

In addition to the VM capacity issues some Azure customers were encountering, other users across the world have been reporting for the past couple of weeks that they were hitting capacity constraints when trying to create SQL Server databases on Azure. A number of threads on Microsoft's support forums include reports of customers using the free trial of SQL Server hitting this limit, as well as other existing customers using paid versions of SQL Server. Some users said they've continued to hit this limit regardless of regions.

Some users said in their posts that they were wondering whether Azure was experiencing outages that were causing them to be unable to create a SQL database on Azure. When I asked Microsoft officials about these SQL on Azure issues, they pointed me to last week's Azure blog post that discussed needing to prioritize healthcare workloads. Officials had no additional comment beyond that post.

Microsoft officials said in the March 28 post that in spite of the significant increase in demand, the company has not had any significant cloud service disruptions. They did note that in some regions they are "observing deployments for some compute resource types in these regions drop below our typical 99.99 percent success rates." They also noted that they're monitoring usage patterns to be able to continue to optimizing gaming services in a way as to not put a strain on Azure's overall capacity.

Microsoft officials said they'd continue to provide regular updates on cloud service performance and advised users to check their Azure Service Health, Microsoft 365 Service Health and Xbox Live dashboards to receive updates on performance issues.

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