Microsoft is moving fast to add new features and services to its Azure cloud platform. At the recently held AzureCon event, the company announced an array of features and enhancements that makes Azure more attractive for enterprises.

Here is an overview and analysis of some of the key announcements. For a complete list of new services announced at AzureCon, read the post by Jason Zander, CVP for Azure.

New and enhanced features in Azure

Azure Security Center provides a centralized view of security policies and configurations from multiple Azure subscriptions. It acts as an advisor, guiding customers through the process of identifying threats and separating the threats from false alarms. Microsoft claims that Azure is the first public cloud platform to deliver integrated visibility, control, and detection. The service is in private preview and is only available to a select set of customers.

Microsoft brings its decades of threat management experience to Azure; this is the same security infrastructure that Hotmail, Bing, MSN, and other services relied upon. I believe enterprise customers will benefit from the Azure Security Center feature.

Azure Mobile Engagement provides mobile developers with real-time analysis of user segmentation, analytics, and push notifications. Developers’ analysis of key performance indicators will help them gain insights into app usage patterns, retention, and monetization.

This service augments Microsoft Azure Mobile Services with additional analytics. With the majority of the mobile platform vendors and mobile backend providers adding analytics, this move from Microsoft was expected.

Azure File Storage is a file-sharing service in the public cloud. Applications that use Simple Message Block (SMB) file shares can be easily ported to Azure. With the latest SMB 3.0 protocol, applications can maintain a secure, persistent connection. The content stored in Azure File Storage can be accessed from virtual machines deployed in an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and applications hosted in a Platform as a Service (PaaS).

This service targets legacy applications that are architected around the traditional file-sharing mechanism. AWS offers a similar service called Elastic File System (EFS).

Microsoft Azure IoT Hub provides connectivity, provisioning, updating, and communication between the cloud and devices; it can control millions of devices deployed across multiple sites. The service supports cloud-to-device and device-to-cloud connectivity for real-time communication. Customers can use standard and custom protocols, including HTTP, Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), and MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT).

Microsoft Azure IoT Suite is a service that consolidates multiple Azure services to deliver a unified IoT solution. It leverages DocumentDB, Event Hubs, Stream Analytics, Event Hubs, and other services to enable easier integration with devices. Currently, the service supports remote asset management and monitoring scenarios.

Microsoft has been investing in IoT through Windows 10 and Azure. Azure IoT Hub makes it easier to consume Azure services aligned with IoT use cases and scenarios, while the IoT Suite is a fabric that brings relevant IoT services together. Azure is one of the first public cloud platforms to get IoT platform capabilities; Amazon and Google are expected to follow suit.

Azure Container Service is a container management and orchestration service for managing microservices deployed in Azure. Based on Mesosphere, the service uses Docker and Apache Mesos behind the scenes. Earlier this year at the Build 2015 conference, Microsoft demonstrated Mesosphere’s data center operating system (DCOS) running on Azure; now with the hosted container service, the company has taken its partnership to the next level.

The Container as a Service (CaaS) delivery model is gaining momentum. After Google announced Google Container Engine and Amazon went live with EC2 Container Service, Microsoft was expected to announce its CaaS. Instead of building a home-grown container orchestration layer, Microsoft chose Mesos for its offering. The service may support additional orchestration engines such as Docker Swarm and Kubernetes in the future.

Why this is such good news for customers

The public cloud has created healthy competition among the platform companies. Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are aggressively investing in the cloud to deliver more value to customers. They are competing both on the price point and functionality, which is ultimately benefitting customers.

Cloud has changed the face of Microsoft. What was known as a proprietary software company that was fiercely competing with Linux and open source software, it is now a major proponent of open source technologies. From Apache Hadoop to the latest Mesos integration, Azure keeps getting better at running open source. This move has helped Microsoft’s image and given customers more choices.

In other Azure news

Microsoft has expanded its Azure footprint in Asia by adding three new regions in India: Central India (Pune), South India (Chennai), and West India (Mumbai). Just ahead of AzureCon, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made this announcement during his meeting with the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi. These new regions bring the count of Microsoft data centers to 24, which is one of the highest for a public cloud provider.

Local data centers in India will fuel the adoption of cloud by government agencies and public sector companies. As large customers start to make the switch, existing data center providers such as Tata Communications, Reliance, and Netmagic will begin to feel the heat.

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