Microsoft aims to increase confidence in cloud services with better networking

The company upgrades physical and virtual networking capabilities

Microsoft has announced Azure networking improvements that will give IT staff more flexibility, and in the process help convince them to move more applications to the cloud.

The network often plays second fiddle to other parts of enterprise IT infrastructures, but its performance has always been key to keeping users happy. For cloud services, that's truer than ever. The upgrades Microsoft announced this week at the Ignite conference promise to improve performance and control, the company said in a blog post on Tuesday.

One of the most important networking services Microsoft offers is ExpressRoute, which provides direct network connectivity to Azure. Bypassing the Internet should result in better and more predictable performance.

While the service has seen strong adoption, it hasn't been a good fit for enterprises with global networks, according to Microsoft. To help change this, the company has launched the ExpressRoute Premium add-on. It offers better scalability and global connectivity. A virtual network created in Europe can be accessed through an ExpressRoute circuit provisioned in a U.S. region.

All this comes at a cost: A standard 100Mbps connection costs US$1,300 per month and the new Premium version is priced at $4,300.

It will soon be possible to use ExpressRoute to connect to other cloud services, including Office 365 and Skype. The goal is to offer better and more predictable performance than when using the Internet. Microsoft will launch the capability with AT&T, British Telecom and Equinix during the third quarter.

Microsoft has also upgraded virtual networking features such as user-defined routes and reserved IP addresses.

The IP addresses can be moved between virtual machines to re-direct traffic and reduce the impact of downtime. With user-defined routes, administrators have more control over traffic flows. They can now customize the routing tables to direct traffic through firewall and intrusion protection appliances. To accompany that feature, Microsoft has added A10 Networks, Cisco Systems, F5 and Fortinet to the list of vendors that offer compatible appliances.

Microsoft has high hopes for the future of Azure, and part of that is making its offerings more competitive versus the likes of Amazon Web Services, which these upgrades help do.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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