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Microsoft gins up admin-soothing Azure file vault

Wanna link many VMs to one storage pool? Now you can. Monday's looking up, eh? Eh?

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Microsoft has made it easier for Windows admins to migrate applications up into the cloud via a sysadmin-friendly file-sharing service.

The Microsoft Azure Files tech was announced at TechEd on Monday and gives admins a way to create a pool of storage and attach it to multiple virtual machines within the same data center.

This, Redmond says, marks the first time an admin can do that, and is thanks to Microsoft creating a storage service that works via version 2.1 of the Server Message Block protocol.

"The focus here is existing customers. On-premise, when they run workloads, they deal with VMs and disks and file shares," explained Microsoft corporate vice president Brad Calder in a chat with El Reg. "When you look at the cloud they have access to VMs and disks but [there's] no file share service out there. What we're releasing here is a platform-as-a-service that gives customers access to an SMB fileshare."

"Today you can attach a given disk to a VM in the cloud but that disk can only be attached to one VM," he explained.

The maximum size of a shared storage pool is 5TB, he said, and it will initially launch with the ability to do around 1000 input-output operations per second. The storage service has strong consistency, which means the information VMs read from is guaranteed to be up-to-date, and writes into the pool will be shared to other VMs before another transaction is permitted.

Though the VMs need to be located in the same Microsoft data center region as the storage pool, they do not need to share the same server rack, Calder explained. To achieve this Microsoft is using its NVGRE-based flat network to lash the services together.

Part of the underlying storage system for Files is based on Window Azure's venerable "COSMOS" system. Microsoft has also added a REST protocol into SMB, so admins can also access the shared storage pool remotely from "anywhere in the world".

"You could use the REST protocol to get data from that fileshare but if you want to put data into that fileshare you could put data in via your [in-region] VM," Calder explained.

Sysadmins might want to use the new service for storing configuration information for all their VMs, or putting debugging and development and testing tools into the shared storage. "This'll help building and maintaining and running your services much easier," he said.

Before the arrival of this service, admins would have to put their files and tools into Azure's blob storage service, then copy individually to each virtual machine. Even if you automate this with scripts, it's a pain.

"What we wanted to enable was give customers something they are doing on-premise and do in the cloud," Calder explained.

Microsoft believes it is the first cloud provider to create a service of this type, which makes sense considering that it, unlike rivals Google and Amazon, has a huge on-premises install base using just this type of tech. ®

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