Revolutionizing hyperscale application delivery and security: The New Azure Front Door edge platform

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Community Hub.

Prologue - The creation of a new proxy with Linux, Rust, and OSS

In this introductory blog to the new Azure Front Door next generation platform, we will go over the motivations, design choices and learnings from this undertaking which helped us successfully achieve massive gains in scalability, security and resiliency.



Azure Front Door is a global, scalable, and secure entry point for caching and acceleration of your web content. It offers a range of features such as load balancing, caching, web application firewall, and a rich rules engine for request transformation. Azure Front Door operates at the edge of Microsoft's global network and handles trillions of requests per day from millions of clients around the world.


Azure Front Door, originally built upon a Windows-based proxy, has been a critical component in serving and protecting traffic for Microsoft’s core internet services. As the commercial offering of Azure Front Door expanded, and with the ever-evolving landscape of security and application delivery, we recognized the need for a new platform. This new platform would address the growing demands of scale, performance, cost-effectiveness, and innovation, ensuring we are able to meet the challenging scale and security demands from our largest enterprise customers. For our next-generation Azure Front Door platform, we opted to build it on Linux and embrace the open-source software community. The new edge platform was designed to incorporate learnings from the previous proxy implementation, while allowing us to accelerate innovation and deliver enhanced value to our customers. We will delve into the key design and development decisions that shaped the next generation proxy, and a modern edge platform that meets innovation, resiliency, scale and performance requirements of Azure and Microsoft customers.


Why Linux and Open Source?

A key choice that we made during the development of the new proxy platform was to use Linux as the operating system for the proxy. Linux offers a mature and stable platform for running high-performance network applications and it has a rich ecosystem of tools and libraries for network programming which allows us to leverage the expertise and experience of the open-source community.


Another reason for choosing Linux was that it offers a vibrant ecosystem with containers and Kubernetes for deploying and managing the proxy instances. The use of containers and Kubernetes offer many benefits for cloud-native applications, such as faster and easier deployment, scaling, and updates, as well as better resource utilization and isolation. By using containers and Kubernetes, we were also able to  take advantage of the existing infrastructure and tooling that Microsoft has built for running Linux-based services on Azure.


The next decision that we made was to use open-source software as the basis of the platform. We selected high-quality and widely used open-source software for tasks like TLS termination, caching, and basic HTTP proxying capabilities. By using existing and reliable open-source software as the foundation of the new edge platform, we can concentrate on developing the features and capabilities that are unique to Azure Front Door. We also gain from continuous development and enhancement by the open-source community.


How did we build the next generation proxy?

While open-source software provides a solid foundation for the new proxy, it does not cover all the features and capabilities that we need for Azure Front Door. Azure Front Door is a multi-tenant service that supports many custom proxy features that are not supported by any open-source proxy. Building the proxy from scratch was faced with multiple design challenges but in this blog we will focus on the top two that helped build the foundation of the new proxy. We will discuss other aspects such as resilient architecture and protection features in later parts of this blog series.


Challenge 1: Multi-Tenancy

The first major challenge in developing Azure Front Door as a multi-tenant service was ensuring that the proxy could efficiently manage the configurations of hundreds of thousands of tenants, far surpassing the  few hundred tenants typically supported by most open-source proxies. Each tenant's configuration dictates how the proxy handles their HTTP traffic, making the configuration lookup an extremely critical aspect of the system. This requires all tenant configurations to be loaded into memory for high performance.


Processing configuration for hundreds of thousands of tenants means that the system needs to handle hundreds of config updates every second which requires dynamic updates to the data path without disrupting any packets. To address this, Azure Front Door adopted a binary configuration format which supports zero-copy deserialization and ensures fast lookup times. This choice is crucial not only for efficiently managing current tenant configurations but also for scaling up to accommodate future growth, potentially increasing the customer base tenfold. Additionally, to handle dynamic updates to the customer configuration delivered by the Azure Front Door's configuration pipeline, a custom module was developed to asynchronously monitor and update the config in-memory.



Challenge 2: Customer business logic

One of the most widely adopted features of Azure Front Door is our Rules Engine, which allows our customers to set up custom rules tailored for their traffic. To build the proxy from scratch means that we must enable this extremely powerful use case in the open-source proxy, which brings us to our second challenge. Rather than creating fixed modules for each rule, we chose to innovate.


We developed a new domain-specific language (DSL) named AXE (Arbitrary eXecution Engine), specifically designed to add and evolve data plane capabilities swiftly. AXE is declarative and expressive, enabling the definition and execution of data plane processing logic in a structured yet flexible manner. It represents the rules as a directed acyclic graph (DAG), where each node signifies an operation or condition, and each edge denotes data or control flow. This allows AXE to support a vast array of operations and conditions, including:


  • Manipulating headers, cookies, and query parameters
  • Regex processing
  • URL rewriting
  • Filtering and transforming requests and responses
  • Invoking external services


These capabilities are integrated at various phases of the request processing cycle, such as parsing, routing, filtering, and logging.


AXE is implemented as a custom module in the new proxy, where it interprets and executes AXE scripts for each incoming request. The module is built on a fast, lightweight interpreter that operates in a secure, sandboxed environment, granting access to necessary proxy variables and functions. It also supports asynchronous and non-blocking operations, vital for non-disruptive external service interactions and timely processing.


This innovative approach to building and integrating the Rules Engine using AXE ensures that Azure Front Door remains a cutting-edge solution, capable of meeting and exceeding the dynamic requirements of our customers. Though AXE was developed for supporting Rules Engine feature of Azure Front Door, it was so flexible that we use it to power our WAF module now.


Why Rust?

Another important decision that we made while building the next generation proxy was to write new code in Rust, a modern and safe systems programming language. All the components we mentioned in the section above are either written in Rust or being actively rewritten in Rust. Rust is a language that offers high performance, reliability, and productivity, and it is gaining popularity and adoption in the network programming community. Rust has several features and benefits that make it a great choice for the next generation proxy, such as:


  • Rust has a powerful and expressive type system that helps us write correct and robust code. Rust enforces strict rules and performs all checks at compile time to prevent common errors and bugs, such as memory leaks, buffer overflows, null pointer exceptions, and data races. Rust also supports advanced features found in modern high-level languages such as generics, traits, and macros, that allow us to write generic and reusable code.
  • Rust has a concise and consistent syntax that avoids unnecessary boilerplate and encourages common conventions and best practices. Rust also has a rich and standard library that provides a wide range of useful and high-quality functionality with an emphasis on safety and performance, such as collections, iterators, string manipulation, error handling, networking, threading, and asynchronous execution abstractions.
  • Rust has a strong and vibrant community that supports and contributes to the language and its ecosystem. It has a large and growing number of users and developers who share their feedback, experience, and knowledge through various channels, such as forums, blogs, podcasts, and conferences. Rust also has a thriving and diverse ecosystem of tools and libraries that enhance and extend the language and its capabilities, such as IDEs, debuggers, test frameworks, web frameworks, network libraries, and AI/ML libraries.


We used Rust to write most of the new code for the proxy. By using Rust, we were able to write highly performant and reliable code for the proxy, while also improving our development velocity by leveraging existing Rust libraries. Rust helped us avoid many errors and bugs that could have compromised the security and stability of the proxy, and it also made our code more readable and maintainable.



The Azure Front Door team embarked on this journey to overhaul the entire platform a few years ago by rewriting the proxy and changing the infrastructure hosting the proxy. This effort enabled us to increase our density and throughput by more than double along with significant enhancements to our resiliency and scalability. We have successfully completed the transition of Azure Front Door customers from the old platform to the new one without any disruption. This challenging task was like changing the wings of a plane while it is airborne.


In this blog post, we shared some of the design and development challenges and decisions that we made while building the next generation edge platform for Azure Front Door that is based on Linux and uses Rust and OSS to extend and customize its functionality. We will share more details about AXE and other data plane and infrastructure innovations in later posts.


If you want to work with us and help us make the internet better and safer, we have some great opportunities for you. Azure Front Door team is looking to hire more engineers in different locations, such as USA, Australia, and Ireland. You can see more details and apply online at the Microsoft careers website. We hope to hear from you and welcome you to our team.


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