Azure Fabric Service is Microsoft's answer to 'microservices' app dev

New PaaS offering combines service orchestration and automation


Microsoft has taken another step into the world of modern web app development with a new service aimed at making it easier to compose complex applications out of multiple interconnected components.

Azure Service Fabric is Redmond's stab at a platform-as-a-service PaaS offering that lets developers compose apps from what have lately been termed "microservices" – bits of a larger application that run as their own processes and communicate with each other via APIs.

It's the style of application development largely pioneered by Google but lately popularized by such companies as Docker and CoreOS, who advocate deploying microservices as easy-to-manage application containers.

While most of the other players have concentrated their attention on Linux, however, Microsoft wants you to know you can do the same stuff on its platforms, and it's thrown in some added automation smarts to sweeten the pot.

"We've been building public cloud services for a while, and over the last five years we've built some of our most scalable public cloud services on some of these technology concepts," Microsoft server and tools product man Mike Schutz told The Reg in a phone briefing.

By way of example, Schutz said Microsoft Azure SQL DB, its database-as-a-service offering, is built using a microservices approach, and it currently hosts some two million databases concurrently. With Service Fabric, he said, Redmond is bringing the same building blocks it uses to create such services internally to its Azure public cloud.

Cue the orchestra

Much like Kubernetes, an open source project derived from Google's internal tools, Service Fabric lets devs orchestrate their microservices in a declarative way. Essentially, they can say "I want this many instances of this service and they need this much compute power and this much storage," and the system takes care of the drudgery of spinning up virtual machines, launching services, and so on.

Where Service Fabric gets clever, though, is that it also offers automated lifecycle management. When a given service is under heavy load, for example, Service Fabric can spin up more instances of it automatically. It can also manage software updates and keep watch over the health of the services throughout the process.

"A developer can update one of the components of the application, one of these microservices, and have Service Fabric roll that into production and replicate that update throughout the environment," Schutz explained. "And if there's a problem, the system will roll that update back."

Schutz said Microsoft plans to pitch the new service at ISVs who want to get new offerings to market quickly, iterate them quickly, and then scale them to meet the needs of their customers as their businesses grow.

For now, Service Fabric is very much a service for Windows platform devs. As of today, a microservice in Service Fabric terms means a Windows Job Object – a way of grouping processes that was introduced with Windows XP/Windows Server 2003. But when the next version of Windows Server arrives with support for Windows Containers, Schutz said Service Fabric will be able to manage those, too.

And believe it or not, Schutz said Microsoft even plans to eventually support Linux containers on the service – Microsoft loves Linux, remember? – although he said that's still some way down the road.

In fact, it will be a while yet before any of this is production-ready. Microsoft has nothing to show off today, but it will be demoing Azure Service Fabric at its Build developer conference, which takes place in San Francisco from April 29 through May 1.

Schutz said Redmond will also have a Service Fabric SDK ready in time for the conference, and that a preview version of the service will be made available shortly after that. ®

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