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TechnologyNov 18, 2013

Windows Azure Cache: The Speedy, Managed Solution

Nick Mulenos

What is Windows Azure Caching and why do you need it?  Windows Azure Caching allows Windows Azure applications hosted in the cloud to achieve the best throughput at the lowest latency.  Implementing a caching solution into your infrastructure can drastically increase performance by temporarily storing highly utilized data to promote quick access.  Windows Azure currently offers a Shared Caching solution, and a recently released Dedicated Cache (Preview) solution.  With Shared Caching lined up for decommission, it’s important for current and future administrators to understand the difference between the old Shared Caching service, and the new Dedicated Caching service.  Let’s dive right in.

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Azure Shared Cache will be decommissioned by Microsoft on March 31, 2014.  That’s right, decommissioned.  But fear not!  Currently in preview, Microsoft has introduced its replacement called Windows Azure Cache Service. You’re probably wondering what is new, what are the benefits, and why such a shift.  This blog post will answer those questions as well as lay out the benefits of the new service, practical examples of how this technology will be used, and a brief comparison to Amazon’s analogous service called Elasticache.

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Azure Dedicated Cache Overview

Windows Azure Dedicated Cache (Preview) provides caching support for applications hosted on Windows Azure in virtual machines or Azure WebSites and cloud services.  This is extremely important and beneficial to applications that require quick, low latency access to frequently used data.  Examples include current user session data, in-cart data for e-commerce applications, high-hit-rate data from databases, etc.

Microsoft reports that support for Windows Azure Mobile Services is also on the way.  Windows Azure Cache provides a new way to cache, “by creating a dedicated cache for you in Azure guaranteeing isolation of your business critical data and the performance of your cache is solely under your control.”  You access the cache using a secure and publicly addressable endpoint.  This in turn allows you to use the cache from Windows Azure Web Sites, to share data across coupled applications on different cloud service deployments, to share data across multiple instances of the same application in different cloud service deployments, and from Windows Azure virtual machines.

Managed by Microsoft

The primary advantage to implementing Windows Azure Cache within your infrastructure is quite simple: It’s all managed by Microsoft.  That’s right, no more headaches around maintaining, updating, or patching the machines that host your caching services.  In addition, being in Azure’s cloud means you’ve got high availability (premium service offering only).  It works across multiple servers, so if one of your servers goes down, your caching service remains available.

One Millisecond

The main improvement you’ll notice when implementing Azure’s Cache Service is the quoted object retrieval by the cache service of around 1 millisecond.  You heard me, 1 millisecond to retrieve an object. This represents the potential for huge performance boosts in enterprise environments and clusters.  Not only will you be able to keep your business critical and/or highly utilized data cached in a highly available cluster, you’ll be able retrieve the data much faster than before.

Elasticity is Important

No one wants to even consider a caching solution in the cloud if it means they’d have to reboot their machines to change the size of that cache during business hours or seasons of high traffic.  With Windows Azure Cache, this isn’t a problem.  The cache size support is dynamic, therefore memory capacity can be increased or reduced as required and the apps don’t need to be redeployed for the change to take effect.  This will do wonders for applications with frequent and/or wide fluctuations in traffic.

Plans & Prices

So all these features are excellent, but how will they affect my bottom line?  For the current (Preview) release of Windows Azure Cache, Microsoft has allocated three price points, all with different size and support offerings.  See the figure below from Microsoft’s Azure website for details.

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Microsoft is offering three plans with three different cache sizes:  basic with 128 MB, standard with 1 GB, and premium with 5 GB.  Each level scales up to 8 units with 1 named cache, 10 units with 10 named caches, and 30 units with 10 named caches respectively.  Another significant point is Microsoft will only guarantee high availability with their premium service offering.  We can compare these prices to the soon to be retired Shared Cache prices (listed below).

 

Comparison to Amazon’s Elasticache

But how does Windows Azure Cache stack up to Amazon’s Elasticache?  Both services seem to offer the same product, but upon closer examination you will see some key differences.  Instead of simple three-tiered service offerings with respective price points, Amazon has a maze of five Cache Node types each with their own subset of sizes and subset of price points.  Instead of a monthly price model, Amazon charges by the hour based on the specific type and size of your cached node.  For comparison, the Standard Windows Azure Cache node will cost $50 per month, whereas the Amazon equivalent node will cost roughly $54 per month.  Both cache offerings support Memcache, live in resilient failover infrastructures managed by their respective provider, and the ability to quickly scale as necessary and/or when desirable.

Conclusion

Whether your current infrastructure lives in Azure, Amazon’s Cloud, or you’re deciding between the two services, Windows Azure Cache is highly attractive.  At the current preview price points, considering the value Azure Cache adds to an infrastructure, Microsoft’s Windows Azure Cache is not only difficult to ignore, it’s difficult not to take advantage of.

Are you considering adopting a cloud caching solution, or improving on your current caching solution and need additional information or real world expertise? Credera has extensive experience in designing, planning, and implementing cloud infrastructure and application solutions.  If you have questions about this blog post, points of view, or IT cloud infrastructure, please leave a comment below, reach us on Twitter, or contact us online.