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Azure compute services: VM vs. App Service vs. Container Instance

How do you know which Azure compute service is right for your application? We compare Azure VM, Azure App Service, and Azure Container Instance to help.

Apr 10, 2024 • 4 Minute Read

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  • azure
  • Cloud
  • Software Development
  • Data

Azure provides various compute services, each designed with specific capabilities and use cases in mind. In the landscape of cloud computing, selecting the right Azure compute service ensures your application performs efficiently and cost-effectively. 

So you may be wondering, What is the difference between Azure VM, App Service, and Container Instance? We’re going to take a look at each compute service, how they differ, and why you might choose one over the other.

Table of contents

Why it’s important to choose the right compute service

The compute service you choose will increase or decrease your administrative overhead, ability to control underlying infrastructure, and the cost of your workload. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right one. 

Let’s say we have a web app with a database backend that we want to move from on-prem to Azure. We want to carefully consider what compute services we use. For example, a VM will give us more control over the compute down to the OS level—but we might not need (or want) that added complexity. 

If we go with App Service, on the other hand, we only have to worry about the application, not the administration. As you can see, different compute services can change your capabilities and the resources you need.

Overview of Azure Virtual Machines (VM)

Azure Virtual Machines stand as the cornerstone of Azure's Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), offering unparalleled control over your operating systems and the application environments they host. This flexibility makes VMs an excellent choice for applications that demand specific configurations or legacy software that hasn't yet transitioned to the cloud.

Pros, cons, and use cases for Azure VMs

Azure VMs provide scalable computing resources on demand, affording you full governance over your virtual infrastructure. However, this does come with some tradeoffs. 

  • Pros: VMs give you absolute control over OS and applications, extensive customization possibilities, and a comprehensive selection of VM sizes.

  • Cons: They require more hands-on management and may lead to higher costs if not diligently optimized.

  • Example application: VMs are ideal for migrating legacy systems to the cloud and hosting applications with specific OS dependencies.

Overview of Azure App Service

Azure App Service is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) that streamlines the deployment and management of web applications and APIs. Because it supports a broad spectrum of programming languages, it facilitates seamless integration and continuous deployment from sources like GitHub, alongside live debugging tools.

Pros, cons, and use cases for this service

Designed to simplify web application and API deployment, Azure App Service enables developers to focus on innovation rather than infrastructure.

  • Pros: App Service is easy to scale, offers built-in development and debugging tools, and provides multi-language support.

  • Cons: It offers less granular control over the operating environment compared to VMs.

  • Example application: Azure App Service is perfect for rapidly deploying web and mobile back-end applications and RESTful APIs with minimal configuration.

Overview of Azure Container Instance

Azure Container Instance (ACI) offers a serverless computing experience that allows you to run containers directly on Azure without managing the underlying virtual machines or adopting more complex orchestration services like Kubernetes. 

This makes ACI a standout for scenarios requiring a fast, isolated execution environment for containers. It supports both Linux and Windows containers.

Pros, cons, and use cases for Azure Container Instance

ACI is engineered for simplicity and speed, enabling you to run containers with ease and efficiency and scale on-demand.

  • Pros: Azure Container Instance has a quick start-up, is billed to the second, and provides straightforward scalability.

  • Cons: It’s primarily suited for containerized applications and offers limited network configuration options compared to solutions like Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS).

  • Example application: ACI works best for small-scale applications, batch jobs, and temporary workloads that benefit from the agility and cost-efficiency of containers.

How to choose an Azure compute service for your application

Deciding on the appropriate Azure compute service is contingent upon your application's specific requirements, the level of control you desire, and your scalability needs. 

Here’s a quick overview of each service to guide your decision: Azure VMs are the go-to for comprehensive control and customization. Azure App Service is your ally for quick, efficient web and API deployment. Meanwhile, Azure Container Instance serves as the prime choice for containerized applications prioritizing speed and simplicity.

Learn more about Azure compute for the AZ-104 exam

To further your understanding of Azure compute options and excel in the AZ-104 exam, check out my course AZ-104 Microsoft Azure Administrator Certification Prep. You’ll get hands-on experience with Azure's compute services, empowering you to make informed decisions tailored to your project requirements.

Remember, the journey through Azure's compute services is a continuous learning path. As your instructor, I'm here to support you every step of the way, providing clarity and guidance as you navigate the cloud computing landscape.

Learn more about the AZ-104 exam.