AKS Edge Essentials: A Lightweight “Easy Button” for Linux Containers on Windows Hosts

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

Hello, Mike Bazarewsky writing again, now on our shiny new ISV blog!  My topic today is on a product that hasn’t gotten a huge amount of press, but actually brings some really nice capabilities to the table, especially with respect to IoT scenarios as we look to the future with Azure IoT Operations.  That product is AKS Edge Essentials, or AKS-EE for short.


What did Microsoft have before AKS-EE?

AKS-EE is intended to be the “easy button” for running Linux-based and/or Windows-based containers on a Windows host, including a Windows IoT Enterprise host.  It’s been possible to run Docker-hosted containers on Windows for a long time, and it’s even been possible to run orchestrators including Kubernetes on Windows for some time now.  There’s even formal documentation on how to do so in Microsoft Learn.


Meanwhile, in parallel, and specific to IoT use cases, Microsoft offers Azure IoT Edge for Linux on Windows, or EFLOW for short.  EFLOW offers the Azure IoT Edge container orchestrator on a Windows host by leveraging a Linux virtual machine.  That virtual machine runs a customized deployment of CBL-Mariner, Microsoft’s first-party Linux distribution designed for secure, cloud-focused use cases.  As an end-to-end Microsoft offering on a Microsoft platform, EFLOW is updated through Microsoft Update and as such, “plays nice” with the rest of the Windows ecosystem and bringing the benefits of that ecosystem while allowing running targeted Linux containers to run with a limited amount of “ceremony”.


What does AKS-EE bring to the table?

Taking this information all into account, it’s reasonable to ask “What are the gaps?  Why would it make sense to bring another product into the space?”  The answer is two-fold:

  1. For some ISVs, particularly those coming from traditional development models (e.g. IoT developers, web service developers), the move to “cloud native” technologies such as containers is a substantial shift on its own, before worrying about deployment and management of an orchestrator.  However, an orchestrator is still something those ISVs need to be able to get to scalability and observability as they work through their journey of “modernization” around containers.
  2. EFLOW works very, very well for its intended target, which is Azure IoT Edge.  However, that is a specialized use case that does not generalize well to general application workloads.

There is a hidden point here as well.  Windows containers are a popular option in many organizations, but Linux containers are more common.  At the same time, many enterprises (and thus, ISV customers) prefer the management, hardware support, and long-term OS support paths that Windows offers.  Although through technologies such as Windows container hosting, Windows Subsystem for Linux, and Hyper-V allow for running Linux containers on a Windows host, they have different levels of complexity and management overhead, and in some situations, they are not practical.


The end result of all of this is that there is a need in the marketplace for a low-impact, easily-deployed, easily-updated container hosting solution for Linux containers on Windows hosts that supports orchestration.  This is especially true as we look at a solution like Azure IoT Operations, which is the next-generation, Kubernetes-centric Azure IoT platform, but is also true for customers looking to move from the simplistic orchestration offered by the EFLOW offering to the more sophisticated orchestration offered by Kubernetes.


Besides bringing that to the table, AKS-EE builds on top of the standard k3s or k8s implementations, which means that popular Kubernetes management tools such as k9s can be used.


It can be Azure Arc enabled, allowing centralized management of the solution in the Azure Portal, Azure PowerShell, or Azure CLI.  Azure Arc supports this through an outgoing connection from the cluster to the Azure infrastructure, which means it’s possible to remotely manage the environment, including deploying workloads, collecting telemetry and metrics, and so on, without needing incoming access to the host or the cluster.  And, because it’s possible to manage Windows IoT Enterprise using Azure Arc, even the host can be connected to remotely, with centrally managed telemetry and updates (including AKS-EE through Microsoft Update).  This means that it’s possible to have an end-to-end centrally managed solution across a fleet of deployment locations, and it means an ISV can offer “management as a service”.  An IoT ISV can even offer packaged hardware offerings with Windows IoT Enterprise, AKS-EE, and their workload, all centrally managed through Azure Arc, which is an extremely compelling and powerful concept!


What if I am an IoT Edge user using EFLOW today?

As you might be able to determine from the way I’ve presented AKS-EE, one possible way to think about AKS-EE is as a direct replacement for EFLOW in IoT Edge scenarios.  The AKS-EE Product Group is finishing guidance on migrating from EFLOW to AKS-EE and it will be published as soon as it is completed.



Hopefully, this short post gives you a better understanding of the “why” of AKS-EE as an offering and how it relates to some other offerings in the Microsoft space.  If you’re looking to evaluate AKS-EE, the next step would be to review the Quickstart guide to get started!


Looking forward, if you are interested in production AKS-EE architecture, FastTrack ISV and FastTrack for Azure (Mainstream) have worked with multiple AKS-EE customers at this point, from single host deployments to multi-host scale-out deployments, including leveraging both the Linux and the Windows node capabilities of AKS-EE and leveraging the preview GPU support in the product.  Take a look at those sites to learn more about how we can help you with derisking your AKS-EE deployment, or help you decide if AKS-EE is in fact the right tool for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.