On September 22, Microsoft made some major availability announcements. The first was its announcement that the Marea subsea cable has been completed. This is a joint Microsoft, Facebook, and Telefónica project that will deliver 160 terabits of data per second across the Atlantic. To put that in perspective, the eight pairs of fiber optic cables that make up the Marea cable can deliver over sixteen million times the traffic of an average home Internet connection.
The cable has landing points near Bilbao in Spain for connectivity to the major European fibre networks and multiple US landing points in Virginia Beach, Virginia, close to data centers owned by Microsoft and Facebook. Another benefit of this new cable is that both Microsoft and Facebook no longer need to share capacity with other providers for transatlantic communications.
The Marea cable continues the trend of tech giants’ laying their own high-capacity subsea cables rather then leasing capacity from other operators. In doing so, they are no longer at the mercy of the telcos’ QoS based on their needs to fairly service their customers.
Microsoft intends that the cable will help it improve its various cloud services, such as Azure, Office 365, Skype, and Xbox Live, and Facebook states it will help it to improve the “increasingly data-intensive services” that it provides with its WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram services.
According to Microsoft, it is expected that the cable will become operational in early 2018.
This falls in nicely with its next announcement, one about Azure Availability Zones. An Availability Zone increases Azure’s resiliency capabilities. According to Microsoft, it has designed Availability Zones to give customers greater confidence in delivering services with a 4×9 (99.99%) virtual machine uptime SLA. Microsoft says its customers can immediately begin using Azure Availability Zones in preview to build highly available applications, and that an Availability Zone further broadens customers’ options to choose the business continuity solution that is right for their organization.
What is good about an Availability Zone is that it is a fault-isolated zone within an Azure region. This means that there is no requirement for customers to be located in multiple regions for resilience; it means less complication for customers and greater data locality. Currently, there are only two regions in the preview, these being the East US 2 region in Virginia and the West Europe region in the Netherlands. However, Microsoft has advanced plans to introduce Availability Zones to additional regions in the US, Europe, and Asia, including its new France Central region in Paris, during the preview period before the end of 2017.
The investment that Microsoft is putting into Azure is more than impressive. It is now now the second-largest public cloud provider—second only to AWS—and it is catching up in terms of coverage, features, and services. It is a sign of Microsoft’s belief in Azure that it is heavily investing in core infrastructure, like the Marea subsea cable.
Things are definitely looking up for the former lame duck of technology. It is hard to believe that it is only three years since Nadella took over the helm there. Once again, I will say I would not like to take a bet against Microsoft in the public cloud space, especially with the release to market of Azure Stack, which blends the gap between on-site and public cloud infrastructure.