After a preview in April, Microsoft this morning announced the total availability of Azure virtual machines (VMs), including Ampere Altra, a processor based on the Arm architecture. The first Azure virtual machines powered by Arm chips, Microsoft says are available in ten Azure regions today and can be included in Kubernetes clusters managed using the Azure Kubernetes service starting September 1.
Azure Arm-based virtual machines have up to 64 virtual CPU cores, 8 GB of memory per core, and 40 Gbps of network bandwidth, as well as SSD local and attachable storage. Microsoft describes them as “designed to efficiently run scaled, cloud-native workloads,” including open source databases, Java and .NET applications, and game, web, application, and media servers.
Pre-releases of Windows 11 Pro and Enterprise and Linux OS distributions including Canonical Ubuntu, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Enterprise Linux, CentOS and Debian are available on VM Day 1, with support for Alma Linux and Rocky Linux to come in the future. Microsoft notes that Java applications in particular can run with few additional code changes, thanks to the company’s contribution to the OpenJDK project.
The Azure VM launch is a landmark victory for Ampere, which emerged from stealth in 2018 with the ambitious goal of competing with Intel for a share of ~$10 billion data center chip market. Backed by $426 million in venture capital and led by a former Intel president, the company has been able to establish itself in recent years, striking deals with Oracle, Equinix, Google Cloud and China-based cloud service providers Tencent Cloud, JD Cloud and UCloud to boot on Arm-based virtual machines.
Ampere competes with Arm-powered virtual machines from Amazon Web Services, which acquired startup Annapurna Labs in 2015 to build its own range of Arm-based general-purpose server hardware called Graviton. It’s Microsoft it is reported pursuing its own Arm chip design, as well as Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Huawei.
Research firm Omdia said last August that it expects Arm to account for 14% of servers by 2025. If the prediction comes true, it will be a major blow to Intel’s x86 chips that control appreciated 89% of the market as of March 2022.
For Microsoft, the launch of Ampere VM is a step towards the implementation of bet did so five years ago to power more than half of its cloud data center capacity with Arm-compatible servers. After a false start with the Centriq server processors from Qualcomm, which ended up being terminatedthe company appears to be in a better position to reach that threshold.
“The general availability of Arm’s Microsoft Azure VM marks an important milestone in redefining what’s possible in cloud computing,” Arm SVP Chris Bergey said in a blog post describing Azure VM. “Through market-leading scalable performance and the freedom to innovate, Arm … enables Azure customers to embrace a growing variety of workloads with better overall total cost of ownership and cleaner cloud service operations.”