New Windows Azure Instances on Steroids


Microsoft has recently launched two new types of instances – A8 and A9. These two new types of instances are like a bulldozer from the perspective of the available RAM memory and processor. Each of these machines has 8 or 16 virtual cores and 56GB or 112GB of RAM memory. Yes, you heard me right, 112GB of RAM memory available on cloud instances.

This is great news for customers who have intensive work to do. It will be pretty easy to have  demanding processor tasks processed on the cloud, without using multiple machines. Another option is to use it for applications that need a lot of memory – cache systems for example. It is great to have more than 100GB of memory available for such systems. If we think about it a little bit, we can imagine a scenario where we have 100GB of data loaded from a relational database into a cache. This is great!

But, it is not all. These new kinds of instances are more than just instances on steroids. They represent a new generation of instances, with not only more CPU and RAM but also other new features (see below).

Having an instance on steroids can be without real value if you don’t provide the perfect environment for using all this power. That is why the A8 and A9 instances have Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) and InfiniBand.

RDMA is a feature that allows two different computers to access the same memory directly without using the operating system infrastructure. Basically, this way we have a low-latency network with an extremity high-throughput. This is a part of the key for an instance that can be used for massive parallel processing.

This mechanism allows us to transfer data from application with zero-copy time (we don’t need to copy the content between applications or use buffers). The advantage of this feature is the fact that it requires almost 0 resources from CPU, cache or context switches. Theoretically, using this feature we can move 4GB of data in the memory between two machines in under 1 second.

The second feature, which unlocks RDMA and also allows high throughput is InfiniBand. This allows a fast connection between processor nodes and I/O nodes. It allows all the resources to be used at maximum level. If you are hearing about InfinitiBand for the first time, you should know that it is not a traditional Ethernet network architecture. It is based on a switched fabric topology. All the information that is transmitted is in form of packages that form a message. Each message can have different types like:

  • Atomic Operation
  • Multicast Transmission
  • Channel Send or Receive
  • Transaction Based Operation
  • Direct Memory Access (RDMA)

These two features enable Messaging Passing Interface (MPI). This system is used to sustain applications that need to be scalable. You should know that MPI is not specific to Microsoft stack (you can use different languages to write applications for it – Fortran).

These new types of instances can be used with success for applications from different fields like: weather modelling, science, different types of simulations or intensive computing tasks that can be parallelised.


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