Cloud Computing

Azure Launches FS_v2-Series Virtual Machines

Microsoft has launched a new version of the F-Series virtual machines aimed at providing Xeon performance for application servers in Azure.

 

The F-Series Virtual Machine

The first version of the F-Series was a kind of rebirth for Azure virtual machines; the F-Series introduced a new naming standard that gave us meaning to the names of each machine. The F4 name indicated that the machine had 4 virtual processors and it wasn’t just the 4th size on a list.

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The name, F-Series, also indicated what this machine was; it had good horsepower and was a jack-of-all-trades, just like a certain pickup truck. Here’s how I explained the F-Series to customers:

  • When the A-Series wasn’t enough, you’d consider either the D-Series or the F-Series.
  • The D-Series focused on database workloads adding more memory than processors, such as the D2_v2 with 2 cores and 7GB of RAM. The F-Series focused on application workloads with a more equal processor/RAM balance, such as the F2 with 2 virtual processors and 4GB RAM.

The F-Series was the sibling of the D_v2-Series virtual machine; both ran on the same host hardware based on the 2.4GHz Intel Xeon® E5-2673 v3 (Haswell) processor. Interestingly, this has been in great demand and in short supply in some Azure regions.

Changes

The close relationship between the F-Series and the D-Series began to split with the release of the D_v3 virtual machines. The D_v3 was the first of the D-Series to stop chasing processor GHz. Microsoft aimed the D-Series at disk/database-focused workloads (“D is for disk or database”). In my experience, services such as SQL Server never complained about processor utilization; instead, they complained about a lack of cores (processor queue length). The solution to that was to add as many threads as possible.

Microsoft tackled this actual performance problem by running the D_v3 virtual machine on a host with Intel Hyperthreading enabled. Therefore, a virtual processor was not a full core but was one of two threads on the core. Combined with a higher-spec processor, this introduction of Hyperthreading reduced CPU performance by 28 percent (which doesn’t really affect database/disk workloads). To counter that, Microsoft reduced the cost of the D_v3 by 28 percent (versus the D_v2) and this meant that customers got more threads of execution for a lower cost.

And this is where the D_v3 and the F-Series began to go down different routes.

The FS_v2-Series

The F-Series has always been about affordable horsepower, so if you want some muscle in your machines, then this is a possible route to take. The exception is if you need one of the huge (H- or M-Series) or specialized (N-Series) machines. A new generation of the F-Series, the FS_v2-Series, has been launched by Microsoft.

The range of Azure FS_v2-Series virtual machines [Image Credit: Microsoft]
The Range of Azure FS_v2-Series Virtual Machines [Image Credit: Microsoft]
 

Microsoft claims that the FS_v2-Series is the best value in price-performance in the Azure portfolio. A step up from the A_v2-Series, these machines are based on the Intel Xeon Platinum 8168 processor. This CPU has a base speed of 2.7GHz with a maximum speed of 3.7GHz. Microsoft also says:

AVX-512 instructions, which are new on Intel Scalable Processors, will provide up to a 2X performance boost to vector processing workloads on both single and double precision floating point operations.

In other words, these processors are very fast.

Did you notice that I haven’t mentioned the phrase “F_v2-Series” at all in this post? There are no F_v2 virtual machines. This is because:

  • There is no cost difference between an “S” (Premium Storage or SSD-capable machine) and the non-“S” variant.
  • The “S” versions can run on Standard Storage (HDD) if you want to.
  • By deploying an “S” version of a series, you have to easy ability to move between Standard and Premium Storage.

So, why would you ever deploy a D_v3 when the DS_v3 is the same cost and is more flexible? I think Microsoft has realized this too, so we only have the FS_v2 now. Keep in mind that you can still deploy it on Standard Storage and it wouldn’t be any cheaper to deploy the non-existent F_v2.

 

Availability

The FS_v2 was originally launched in just West US2, West Europe, and East US. However, since then it has spread out to other locations. For example, I just stumbled upon the B-, NC-, NV, DV_v3, and F_v2-Series all running in Dublin/North Europe, none of which were previously available. Note that the official listing of service availability was not up to date at the time of writing this article.

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Aidan Finn, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), has been working in IT since 1996. He has worked as a consultant and administrator for the likes of Innofactor Norway, Amdahl DMR, Fujitsu, Barclays and Hypo Real Estate Bank International where he dealt with large and complex IT infrastructures and MicroWarehouse Ltd. where he worked with Microsoft partners in the small/medium business space.
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