Among the many ways to purchase and consume Azure resources are Azure low priority VMs. These virtual machines are compute instances allocated from spare capacity, offered at a highly discounted rate compared to “on demand” VMs. This means they can be a great option for cost savings – for the right workloads. And we love cost savings! Here’s what you need to know about this purchasing option.

How Azure Low Priority VMs Work

The great part about these virtual machines is the price: it’s quite attractive with a fixed discount of 60-80% compared to on-demand. The “low priority” part means that these VMs can be “evicted” for higher priority jobs, which makes them suitable for fault-tolerant applications such as batch processing, rendering, testing, some dev/test workloads, containerized applications, etc.

Low priority VMs are available through Azure Batch and VM scale sets. Through Azure Batch, you can run jobs and tasks across compute pools called “batch pools”. Since batch jobs consist of discrete tasks run using multiple VMs, they are a good fit to take advantage of low priority VMs.

On the other hand, VM scale sets scale up to meet demand, and when used with low priority VMs, will only allocate when capacity is available. To deploy low priority VMs on scale sets, you can use the Azure portal, Azure CLI, Azure PowerShell, or Azure Resource Manager templates.

When it comes to eviction, you have two policy options to choose between:

  • Stop/Deallocate (default) – when evicted, the VM is deallocated, but you keep (and pay for) underlying disks. This is ideal for cases where the state is stored on disks.
  • Delete – when evicted, the VM and underlying disks are deleted. This is the recommended option for auto scaling because deallocated instances are counted against your capacity count on the scale set.

Azure Low Priority VMs vs. AWS Spot Instances

So are low priority VMs the same as AWS Spot Instances? In some ways, yes: both options allow you to purchase excess capacity at a discounted rate.

However, there are a few key differences between these options:

  • Fixed vs. variable pricing – AWS spot instances have variable pricing while Azure low priority VMs have a fixed price as listed on the website
  • Integration & flexibility – AWS’s offering is better integrated into their general environment, while Azure offers limited options for low priority VMs (for example, you can’t launch a single instance) with limited integration to other Azure services.
  • Visibility – AWS has broad availability of spot instances as well as a Spot Instance Advisor to help users predict availability and interruptibility. On the other hand, Azure has lower visibility into the available capacity, so it’s hard to predict if/when your workloads will run.

Should You Use Azure Low Priority VMs?

If you have fault-tolerant batch processing jobs, then yes, low priority VMs are worth a try to see if they work well for you. If you’ve used these VMs, we’re curious to hear your feedback. Have you had issues with availability? Does the lack of integrations cause any problems for you? Are you happy with the cost savings you’re getting? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Katy Stalcup

Katy Stalcup is the Director of Marketing for ParkMyCloud, where she’s responsible for a wide variety of content development, campaigns, and events. Since ParkMyCloud's founding, she's evangelized its message of simple cost savings and automation (seriously, in the words of one of our customers, "There is literally no reason not to use ParkMyCloud"). Katy is a Northern Virginia native who is happy to contribute to the region’s growing reputation as an East Coast gathering point for technology innovation - particularly as a graduate of the Alexandria, VA Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She also earned bachelor’s degrees in communication and psychology from Virginia Tech. In her free time, she enjoys reading novels, playing strategy board games, and travel both near and far.

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