Azure Site Recovery Deployment Planner

As per the following Azure blog post, the Azure Site Recovery (ASR) Deployment Planner tool was released earlier this month, following previews earlier in the year. The tool aims to provide a friction-free way to assess your existing Hyper-V/VMware estates allowing you to understand the costs for compute, network, storage and licensing to protect your workloads to the cloud (including the difficult to understand ones, like initial replication costs..).

I’ve blogged before that I think the ASR solution is a great way to either provide secondary or even tertiary instances of your on-premises workloads in a secondary location with minimal effort and cost. Previously it has been fairly time consuming and manual to gather the information required to correctly estimate costings in Azure.

Let’s have a quick look at the tool from a Hyper-V perspective. The tool is command line based, and can be downloaded from here. Once downloaded you’ll need to extract it onto a workstation that has access to the environment you’ll be assessing. My environment consists of a standalone device with Hyper-V enabled and a couple of VMs. The tool can be executed against clusters if you were in a larger/production setup.

The following link provides additional detail and optional parameters that can be used.

Generate your list of VMs

The first thing I did was generated a .txt file containing the hostname of my Hyper-V host. This can either be IP, individual hostnames, or cluster name. I then executed the following command to retrieve an export of machines running on the host:

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Profile your VMs

Once you have a list of VMs, it’s now time to profile them. Profiling monitors your virtual machines to collect performance data. Again it is command line based and you have the option to configure settings such as how long the profiling will take place (minutes, hours, days) if you wish. Note: 30 minutes is the minimum duration.

In addition, you can connect an Azure storage account to profile the performance from the host(s) to Azure for additional info. As per the guidance in the Microsoft documentation the general recommendation is 7 days, however as always with any sizing tools 31 days is preferred to capture monthly anomalies. I used the generated list of VMs and executed the following command as a next-step:

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I created an infinite loop in PowerShell to simulate some CPU load on one of the VMs, rather than it just staying static:

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Report Generation

Once you have finished profiling, you can execute the tool in report generation mode. This creates an Excel file (.xlsm) which provides a summary of all of the deployment recommendations. To complete this example, I executed the following command:

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Job done! – The report is now saved in the location detailed above. The report contains a number of areas, with the opening page looking as follows:

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There are many tabs included which breaks down individual details. One thing to bear in mind is configuring the frequency of DR drills and how long they last, as that will affect the costings. The default assumes 4 test failovers per year, lasting 7 days each time. You will want to reduce/increase this accordingly.

This tool contains many good recommendations above and beyond cost, e.g. initial required network bandwidth to fulfil replication, the recommendation as to what VM type, and where to place storage (standard/premium) as well as the throughput from the host platform to an Azure Storage account. Give it a try!

Hints and tips to optimise your Azure costs!

Frustration

It costs too much!

I didn’t expect this bill!

Why am I being charged for this?!

How do I know what I’ll be spending next month!

These are all common queries I hear from customers concerned about their cloud spend when transitioning away from traditional infrastructure. IT teams (as well as finance depts.) are relatively comfortable justifying expenditure every 3, 5 or 7/10 years (if they’re unlucky!) to perform a refresh of their infrastructure hardware, generally through capital based expenditure. However when transitioning to the cloud and operational based expenditure (in most circumstances) this makes the spend much more transparent and therefore increases the accountability on IT teams to justify costs.

Note: Hints and tips are at the bottom, if you want to skip ahead!

Understanding your existing IT ops cost

There are many hidden costs associated with the operation of on-premises infrastructure, some of which are hidden entirely from IT. Broad generalisation incoming! For the most part, (and there are lots of exceptions) IT teams are very good at understanding the costs associated with the components that make up the infrastructure, e.g. servers, racks, network devices, storage, cabling etc. When it comes to other costs such as estates, power, cooling, security and the associated costs with maintaining and managing infrastructure – these are often less understood.

This makes understanding the true cost (per hour or minute) of running an application or service difficult to understand and thus it is different to perform a like for like comparison against a typical cloud service, such as a virtual machine, or database.

As an example let’s take the requirement to run a workload running on a single Windows virtual machine with 4 cores, 16GB memory and 500GB data. Through the Azure pricing calculator this is quick to model:

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The above demonstrates clear ops based pricing on a monthly and yearly basis (yes, other components may be required, e.g. VPN gateway) to run the virtual machine workload. This factors in all ancillary costs for Microsoft to run the workload on their infrastructure. Performing the above activity on-premises is much more difficult as you need to understand all the ancillary costs discussed earlier in the post (e.g. estates, power, cooling, etc.), whilst also attempting to break this down into a catalogue of services that you can price individually (e.g. virtual machine, website, database) in order to directly equate costs.

Due to commodities of scale in the hyper-scale cloud platforms like Azure, it is unlikely that you will be able to compete (unless you own your own estate, generate your own power, and manufacture your own hardware!). The following illustrates the catalogue of services available in Azure, each individually priced:

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Appreciating Cloud

It is my opinion that the lack of appreciation or understanding of the true cost to operate services on-premises often leads to some of the concerns I discussed in the opening paragraph (remember, it costs too much!) – however this is not the only reason. Many times organisations have a legitimate concern over their cloud spend due to a lack of understanding of the nature of PAYG cloud as well as not using methods that are available to them to get the best possible value out of their cloud spend.

The following paragraphs detail a number of techniques, solutions and methods (some of which only made available recently) to help reduce your spend in Azure through optimising your services and playing cloud at its own game!

Hints & Tips

Remember you are paying as you go (PAYG) in the cloud. Dependent upon the resource type, cloud providers charge per minute or hour. Azure is largely per minute for most resources and is more granular than most providers. It is key to remember this as you can greatly reduce spend by keeping it simple and turning off workloads when not required! Specific to virtual machines, a good example includes domain controllers that typically receive much less demand out of core hours. Other examples may include servers that are part of a load balanced farm, again similar principles applies in that it can be powered off if you know demand has fallen. Again technologies such as Azure Automation (free for the first 500 minutes per month) can be used to do this on a schedule so you don’t even have to remember! Equally, take a look at dev/test labs to help reduce and control your development spend.

Leverage PaaS technologies rather than sticking with tried and tested IaaS workloads. PaaS workloads typically have much more granular billing (i.e. databases in Azure are priced around a DTU, or e-DTU if you want to be all elastic) – by transforming applications to make them cloud-native this can help to better control spend, whilst having other benefits such as increasing agility.

Make use of ‘Reserved Instances’, recently introduced by Microsoft which can reduce spend by up to 72%. This is a game changer for those workloads you know are consistently required, i.e. will be around for 1/3 years. Dependent upon how long you want to commit, Microsoft will provide hefty discounts. Find out more here.

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Leverage Azure Hybrid Use Benefits either standalone or in conjunction with Reserved Instances to receive even greater discounts (up to 82% as seen in the figure above). If you have existing Windows licenses with Software Assurance, then these can be leveraged with more information here.

Right-size your workloads, don’t just lift and shift as-is! When you have on-premises virtualisation clusters, VM sprawl fast becomes a big problem, and typically because there is no accountability (usually) for the number of CPUs or Memory allocated to a virtual machine then you often see over provisioned workloads, and lots of them with clear mismatches between CPU/memory (CPU wait, anyone?) Key guidance in this post is to ‘right-size’ your workloads. Analyse them using a tool (Azure Migrate comes to mind) to understand utilisation and then move them to the most applicable Azure VM series.

Get rid of VM sprawl before migration… as with the above recommendation, many VMs do not need moving. Have a hard and fast rule that states you will only migrate what you know is required. Anything else stays on-premises and is powered off at a suitable time. This will avoid your sprawl becoming an expensive sprawl in the cloud.

Understand Azure VM series types as all VMs are not created equally! Azure has a catalogue of VM types canvassing the alphabet. Review the following link and ensure you choose an applicable VM for the workload you are running. For instance, if you require high compute, then an F series may be best, for I/O intensive workloads then look at the Ls series. This leads me nicely to the B-series VM (recently announced as GA in many regions)

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Look at what the B series VM can do for you when you have workloads that are very burstable from a CPU perspective. The B series is a cost-effective type for workloads that burst in their performance, e.g. don’t require continuous performance of their CPU. When B series VMs are not using CPU (e.g. in low periods), the VM is building credits. When you have enough credit the VM can burst to 100% of the available CPU. The base price of these VMs are much cheaper than comparative virtual machines

Take a look at Cost Management and Billing (and Cloudyn). Azure has made great strides in providing excellent capabilities available to all users to help manage existing and future spend. Thanks to the acquisition of Cloudyn, Microsoft have introduced these technologies into the Azure portal with reports to help you monitor spending to analyze and track cloud usage, costs, and trends. This capability is free for Azure usage, but can also manage 3rd party cloud systems (e.g. AWS) as a chargeable extra. But we’re trying to save money here, right – not spend more!

Summary

There are many more techniques and methods that you can use to optimise your spend. You could look at using even more modern technologies such as those in the serverless space. Serverless technologies are the nirvana as generally you only pay when the service is being used, as opposed to PaaS which typically heralds a core cost for the type of plan you acquire. Equally, ensuring you are managing your platform in a robust fashion, through modern infrastructure-as-code techniques will help to prevent abuse seen through over-provisioning.

I hope this has provided some useful recommendations/guidance to help you gain more control over your cloud costs, specific to Azure (principles apply across other clouds too) and provided some tips on how to reduce spend where applicable! Hopefully this will help to reduce some of the frustration as done right, cloud can deliver on the cost savings you anticipated whilst also giving you access to all the other benefits.

Increasing automation opportunities with Azure

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Automation (and Orchestration which is succinctly different) is always a hot topic for many organisations, for a variety of reasons. From freeing up time completing repetitive tasks, reducing errors in execution (because we’re human!) to making the environment you manage much more efficient are all key benefits.

But what is Automation (and Orchestration if it differs?) At the highest level automation is the ability to take a task, or procedure that you may execute manually and automate it. This task may involve several stages and automation will perform those stages given an input automatically. Examples may include restarting a service, deleting temporary files or creating accounts. Orchestration takes this a step further and allows you to take a series of “tasks” and orchestrate them into a workflow. Examples may include joiner/leaver/transfers account management, virtual machine, application or service provisioning, etc.

For most IT pros, automation has always been something that we’d like to do but either suffer from lack of time to develop the required script/Runbook, lack of environment from which to build the automation or have a mixed estate for which common automation tools have been difficult to come by.

Since Microsoft acquired Opalis in late 2009, Automation trends have become much more commonplace due to the ease by which automation can be created. System Center Center Orchestrator (the evolution of Opalis) provided a platform from which automation “Runbooks” could be created and executed. Using this technology, Organisations began to expand their automation capabilities to create highly automated, self-service driven  environments. Alternative technologies exist outside of the Microsoft ecosystem, e.g. VMware vRealize or Cisco UCS Director.

Whilst Orchestrator is still an excellent technology it requires a fairly hefty server footprint needing management, Runbook, web and database servers to function. In a highly available configuration (and hey, you’ll want your automation platform HA!) this can be a costly investment that requires on-going management and maintenance even before you start to automate.

Azure has evolved this by providing automation technologies in the cloud. This allows you to automate both on-premises workloads as well as cloud based workloads. The following technologies are relevant to Automation in Azure:

I wanted to focus on some of the capabilities within Azure Automation for this particular blog post, but it is worth giving a quick mention to Azure Functions as a possible automation engine, as I’ve seen several customers using this to date. Azure Functions is one of the serverless technologies within Azure providing an engine that can execute several programming languages (C#, JavaScript, PowerShell, etc.) Since majority of operational based automation is created using PowerShell scripts, then Azure Functions can provide a good option. Functions supports Web Hooks (HTTP) which can act as a trigger to run your code. In addition, Functions can also use timers which can execute at a particular date/time.

Whilst Functions provides a legitimate engine for your code, it lacks some of the Azure Automation features, e.g. Hybrid worker roles for on-premises execution. Azure Automation is essentially the cloud/PaaS equivalent of System Center Orchestrator on-premises. It allows you to create either your own PowerShell workflows or use one of the many available via the gallery. The service can be found under “Automation Accounts” in the portal, and the main functionality concerning this post under “Process Automation” with “Runbooks” (and the gallery) as seen in the figure below:

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As you can see from the following figure, there are numerous pre-canned Runbooks available. These can either be used as-is, or could form the basis of your own Runbooks:

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Reviewing one of the options takes you to the PowerShell code for that particular script and provides an option for you to “import” to your own automation account for execution:

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From here you can then edit the script, configure WebHooks, deploy or publish the script:

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Azure Automation is not only concerned with automation of bespoke activities via Runbooks, it also contains other great functionality, e.g.

  • Ability to perform update management (similar to traditional WSUS / SCCM technologies),
  • Ensure compliance of your workloads via desired state configuration (DSC) which can track configuration and ensure the machine meets the desired state
  • Perform inventory management of your services, in a similar way that you would use tools such as Configuration or Operations Manager
  • Track and manage change related activities integrated into your existing ITSM processes

It is worth nothing that a recent preview announcement for Azure Automation is the introduction of watcher tasks. This relies on the Hybrid Worker role for on-premises integration and allows automation to be triggered when a specific activity occurs, e.g. new ticket in a helpdesk, new event in a SOC, etc. More information can be here.

From a pricing perspective, Azure Automation is very competitive. Process related automation is priced per job execution minute, whilst configuration management tooling is priced per managed node. Typically you get 500 minutes free, per month and then each additional execution per minute is charged at £0.002. You can wrap pricing into the Operations Management Suite (OMS) technologies for further functionality and value.

In summary, Azure Automation is a mature, well developed and agile platform to satisfy your automation requirements. It provides great features and is continuously evolving. Even better, you can take advantage of pre-canned Runbooks, rather than having to write them from scratch!

Azure Virtual Datacentre – Free eBook

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Governance in Azure is a hot topic and I often find myself talking to customers about Azure Enterprise Scaffold which is a prescriptive approach to subscription governance. I noticed today that a new (free) eBook has been released by the Azure Customer Advisory Team (AzureCAT). This book discusses how hosting on a cloud infrastructure is fundamentally different from hosting on a traditional on-premises infrastructure, and provides detail about how you can use the Azure Virtual Datacentre model to structure your workloads to meet your specific governance policies.

The first part of the eBook discusses three essential components; Identity, Encryption and Software Defined Networking with compliance, logging, auditing and reporting running across all these areas. It goes into detail about the technologies available in Azure that can help you to achieve this, for example Microsoft Compliance Manager, Availability Zones and other features such as Global VNet peering which I’ve discussed in other blog posts. It also talks about new and upcoming features such as confidential computing through TEE as well as virtual machine capabilities such as Secure Boot and Shielded VMs. There are many more areas discussed in the book which is well worth reading.

The second part of the eBook brings this to life using Contoso as an example case study and this helps you to visualise and understand how you could interpret it for your organisation. The final part of the book discusses the cloud datacentre transformation, and how this is an on-going process to modernise an organisations IT infrastructure. It talks about the balance between agility and governance and discusses some common workload patterns.

This looks to be a great read (kudos to the AzureCAT team!) to make what is a difficult area easier to understand, and also provides a great model to pin design considerations against. Look forward to reading it in more detail later! The book can be downloaded at the following link: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/resources/azure-virtual-datacenter/en-us/

Recap of key Azure features from Ignite Part 1

I started writing a post about some of the Azure features I found interesting from the Ignite event, but then put this on hold as I decided to do a topic on this instead at the Microsoft Cloud User Group (MSCUG) in Manchester last week. Now that’s done, I thought it’d be good to summarise the presentation!

This post will be split into two parts to avoid the article being too lengthy…

Azure Top 10 Ignite Features

First up…
10. Virtual Network Service Endpoints (Preview)

Virtual Network Service Endpoints is a new feature to address situations whereby customers would prefer to access resources (Azure SQL DBs and Storage Accounts in the preview) privately over their virtual network as opposed to accessing them using the public URI.

Typically, when you create a resource in Azure it gets a public facing endpoint. This is the case with storage accounts and Azure SQL. When you connect to these services you do so using this public endpoint which is a concern for some customers who have compliance and regulatory concerns OR just want to optimise the route the traffic takes.

Configuring VNSE is fairly simple – it’s setup on the virtual network first and foremost – and then when you configure the resource you select the VNet that you would like to attach it to. The resource then does not get a public URI and instead is accessible via that VNet.

This feature is currently only available as a preview in the US and Australian regions… be interested in knowing when this is looking at being publically launched and rolled out across regions, as it looks to be a great Enterprise feature!

9. Azure File Sync (Preview)

Azure File Sync is a new tool that complements Azure Files. Azure Files has been around for some time and essentially provides the capability to create an SMB 3.0 file share in Azure, running on Azure Storage. This is a great solution, however can suffer from performance considerations when users who are on-premises, or connecting via the internet try and access large files due to the latency and bandwidth considerations.

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Step up Azure File Sync, which is currently in preview at the moment. Azure File Sync aims to provide a solution to the performance concerns noted above by allowing you to synchronise files hosted in Azure to a local file server you host on-premises. This sounds fairly trivial, and perhaps unimpressive as surely the whole point of an Azure File Share is to… host the files in Azure? Why duplicate the storage? Well this is where Azure File Sync impresses as it has the capability to tier the files and only hold the most frequently accessed files on premises, whilst still providing the capability to view all the other files through cloud recall.

More details on this feature can be found here… https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/blog/announcing-the-public-preview-for-azure-file-sync/?cdn=disable

8. Cost Management and Billing

This is an massive announcement, in my opinion, and if I’d ordered my top ten correctly it would be nearer to number one! Several customer concerns over the last 12-18 months have primarily being around controlling, understanding and forecasting cost across their cloud platforms. Partners have typically innovated in this space, and a number of third party solutions have come to market, e.g. Cloud Cruiser which can perform this functionality across multiple public cloud vendors (e.g. AWS, Azure and Google)

In response to customer concerns (in my opinion) and to also increase the feature set on Azure, Microsoft acquired Cloudyn to help organisations manage their cloud spend. It provides tools to monitor, allocate, and optimise cloud costs so you can further your cloud investments with greater confidence.

The tool is currently free for customers of Azure, and can be accessed directly from the Azure Portal, under Cost Management in the Billing section. Looking forward to talking to customers about this to help remove a potential (simple) barrier to cloud usage.

Cloudyn - Cost Management and Billing

7. Azure Availability Zones (Preview)

This feature is intended to provide parity with other vendors, such as AWS by allowing organisations to select a specific “zone” to deploy their resource to within a region. Currently when deploying resources in Azure, the only option you have is regional. For example, when deploying a virtual machine you get to choose “North Europe”, or “UK South”. This means that if you want to plan DR / BCP for a specific application you typically need to plan this cross region which can lead to key considerations around latency and bandwidth.

This feature allows you to stipulate a specific “zone” when deploying a supported resource. Supported resources include Virtual Machines, Scale Sets, Disks and Load Balancers. When you deploy one of these resources you can choose an “instance”, identified by a number. The instance corresponds to a zone. If you then deploy a secondary resource and select a different zone, this will be in a differing datacentre. Generally the round trip time between such datacentres is very low (as part of the design considerations Microsoft have when designing their regions). This allows you to plan true DR for your applications without having to worry about regional latency.

Availability Zone visual representation

Source: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/updates/azure-availability-zones/

This is a great feature and is currently in preview in a selected number of locations; US East 2 and West Europe. For a region to qualify for AAZ, it must have 3 or more localised datacentres. For more information about this feature, please look here.

… and finally for Part 1:

6. Azure Gateway – 6x faster!

This was a raw feature increasing the potential throughput an Azure Gateway by up to 6x faster! The gateways now come in four flavours:

  • Basic – which is suitable for test or development workloads, supporting up to 100Mbps and a 3 9s SLA (99.9%)
  • VpnGw1 – suitable for Production workloads, with speeds up to 650Mpbs and a 99.95% SLA
  • VpnGw2 – suitable for production workloads, with speeds up to 1Gbps and a 99.95% SLA
  • VpnGw3 – suitable for production workloads, with speeds up to 1.25Gbps and a 99.95% SLA!!!!

This is important as for some organisations an ExpressRoute connection does not provide the best-fit nor is it cost feasible therefore by placing further investment in the standard gateways opens up more performance which allows even more organisations to fully leverage the power of the Azure Cloud!

And that’s it for this post – I’ll summarise the remaining features I found interesting shortly in Part 2.

Azure Compute goes supernova…

Yesterday saw two key announcements on the Azure platform, with the launch of the new Fv2 VM series (officially the fastest on Azure) as well Microsoft sharing details on a partnership being formed with Cray to provide supercomputing capabilities in Azure.

Sun, Explosion, Planet, Moon, Orbit, Solar System

The Fv2 virtual machine addresses the need for large scale computation and runs on the fastest Intel Xeon processors (codenamed Skylake). The specification comes in seven sizes, from 2 vCPU/4Gb through to 72vCPU and 144Gb! The CPUs are hyper-threaded and operate at 2.7Ghz base with a turbo frequency of 3.7Ghz. These types of machines are generally targeted at organisations performing large scale analysis that requires massive compute power. For more details see: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/blog/fv2-vms-are-now-available-the-fastest-vms-on-azure/ Note, at this time the Fv2 is only available in specific regions (West US 2, West Europe and East US)

The more eye-catching announcement was with regards to the partnership with Cray to bring supercomputing capabilities to Azure. A supercomputer is defined as:

A supercomputer is a computer with a high level of computing performance compared to a general-purpose computer. Performance of a supercomputer is measured in floating-point operations per second (FLOPS) instead of million instructions per second (MIPS). As of 2017, there are supercomputers which can perform up to nearly a hundred quadrillions of FLOPS[3], measured in P(eta)FLOPS.[4] The majority of supercomputers today run Linux-based operating systems. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_supercomputing)

Supercomputers have always felt like a bit of a mythical to me – as they have always been out of reach of the general public and the vast majority of organisations. The raw speed of the worlds fastest supercomputers (with China currently leading the road with the Sunway, operating at an insane 93 PFLOPS!) will still be something that is mythical in a sense, however Microsoft Azure is going a long way to bringing some of these capabilities to the Microsoft Azure platform, through their exclusive partnership with Cray.

This partnership is intended to provide access to supercomputing capabilities in Azure for key challenges such as climate modelling, scientific research, etc. It will allow customers to leverage these capabilities as they leverage any other type of Microsoft Azure resource, to help to transform their businesses by harnessing the power of the cloud. Microsoft are hoping this will lead to significant breakthroughs for many organisations as it opens the doors to supercomputing capabilities which will have previously been out of reach.

To read more, please refer to the Microsoft Announcement: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/blog/cray-supercomputers-are-coming-to-azure/

On a closing note, the other key advantage, and one of the key tenets of any cloud computing platform is that these resources are available on a consumption basis – you can use them for as long as you need to use them – without having any up-front capital investment, or having to pay for the time and effort required to build the capability on-premises! This is one of many compelling reasons you should be looking to build a platform like Microsoft Azure into your overall Cloud or IT strategy moving forwards.

Azure ‘Just in time’ VM access

When I first saw “’Just in time…(JIT)” as a new preview announcement for Azure VMs, my mind was cast back to one of my first roles in IT, working for an automotive firm who supplied parts for car manufacturers. JIT was (or is!) a supply chain strategy whereby the parts or products arrive at a specific point only when required. Although I wasn’t directly involved, it used to fill me with dread as some of the penalties for holding up the supply chain were eye watering Smile with tongue out Anyway, I digress…

In relation to the Azure announcement, JIT is a security process currently in preview in Azure, whereby access is granted to a virtual machine only when required. It is simple in it’s architecture, in that it uses ACLs/NSGs to lock down access to specific inbound ports until a request by an authorised user is made. This drastically reduces the attack surface of your virtual and reduces any potential attacks through basic port scanning and brute force.

Licensing wise, JIT is part of the standard tier of Azure Security. Azure Security Center comes in two tiers:

  1. Free tier – this is enabled by default on your subscription and provides access to key security recommendations to help protect your infrastructure
  2. Standard Tier – extends the cloud and on-premises capabilities of Azure Security Center. Additional features are noted below:
    • Hybrid Security
    • Advanced Threat Detection
    • JIT VM access
    • Adaptive application controls

The following link provides pricing details: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/security-center/security-center-pricing (Note: the standard tier is free for the first 60 days to allow you to evaluate the components!)

Over the next few weeks I’ll aim to create blog posts for each of these areas to provide a rounded picture of what the standard security tier can provide for your organisation.

The preview of JIT can be found within the Azure Security Center pane, on the home page as seen in the below screenshot. As it is a preview you need to activate it:

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An overview of some of the alert types and an activation link can be found on the next page:

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If you click through the following page you will receive information around pricing and have the ability to “on-board” into the standard tier:

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Once you click through, you need to apply the plan to your resources, select upgrade and then save the applicable settings:

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If you navigate back to Security Center homepage – you will now see all of the new features activated within your subscription:

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Enabling JIT is very simple. Click within the JIT context in the screenshot above, and you’ll be presented with the JIT pane. From within here, click the “Recommended” option, and you should see any VMs you have in your subscription not currently enabled for JIT:

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From here simply click on the VM on the left hand side, review the current state/severity and then click “Enable JIT on x VMs”… A pane will appear recommending key ports that should be locked down. It is important to note from here you can add any additional ports, and also specific key things like source IPs that will be allowed access upon request, and the duration for which access will be granted.

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Following this your VM will now go into a “resolved state” and you will be able to head back to the main JIT screen, navigate to the “configured” tab, and hit request access…

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The request access screen will allow you to permit access to specific ports from either “MyIP” (which will detect the current IP you are accessing from) or a specific IP range. You can also specific a time frame, up to the maximum limit configured in an earlier step.

Note: the ability to request access will depend upon your user role and any configured RBAC settings in the Resource Group or Virtual Machine.

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In summary? I think JIT is a great feature and another measure of the investment Microsoft are making in security on the Azure platform. It is a feature I will be talking about with clients and in conjunction with the other features of Security Center I think it is an investment many organisations will look to make.

Visibility and increasing your Azure Subscription limits and quotas

Azure contains a number of default subscription limits that should be considered as part of any Azure design phase. Majority of these limits are soft and you can raise a support case to have them raised. To avoid delays to any project I always recommend this is one of the first areas of consultation as there can be a lag between the request and it being actioned. The limitations are there for a number of reasons, primarily to help Microsoft control and capacity plan the environment whilst also ensuring usage is limited to protect the platform.

There is a very handy  view in the Azure Portal from which you can view by going to the new, preview “Cost Management + Billing” blade. From here go to “Subscriptions” and click the subscription you would like to view. From here you get some great statistics, e.g. spending rate, credit remaining, forecast, etc. all of which holds great value to assist you in planning and controlling your cost. If you navigate to “Usage and quotas” under the “Settings” menu you will see the following view:

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There are other ways to view your usage quotas via PowerShell, however these are individual commands per resource. It wouldn’t take much to create a quick script that you can run regularly to expose this however the above view deals with it nicely I think. One of the example commands include “Get-AzureRmVmUsage –location <location>”

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The bottom part of the page shows your current usage against your limits. It is now also very easy to “Request an Increase” – if you click this link you will be taken through a guided wizard to increase your limits.

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Bear in mind this is resource and type specific, e.g. you will be asked to demonstrate the model you are using (Classic/ARM) , the impact on your business so they can set a priority, the location you need a request in and also the SKU family.

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The final screen asks you to supply contact details and who should be notified throughout the ticket.

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.. and there you go! – limits raised. Evidently this can take some time and it asks you to be pretty specific about what you are requesting therefore I highly recommend you take time to plan your deployments correctly to avoid any frustration.

Azure Portal–Ability to Quick Delete Resources

Very minor, and very finicky but one thing that’s always frustrated me in the Azure Portal is the inability to clear up my test subscriptions without having to resort to PowerShell. Occasionally I’ll spend some time spinning new services up directly in the portal rather than using PowerShell and when I’ve finished I like to clear things down to avoid costs which usually involves just deleting any resource groups I’ve spun up.

Now, the PowerShell to do this is pretty straight forward… can just use Get-AzureRmResourceGroup and Remove-AzureRmResourceGroup with a –force flag and a for-loop if you don’t want to iterate through, so why complain? Smile well sometimes launching a script or PowerShell is just too much which invariably means I’ll leave stuff running and then incur costs.

I’m not sure when this feature change came about (either last week during Ignite, or sooner, or has it been there all along and I’ve missed it?!) – however you can now do a select on all your resources (rather than individually), enter the word delete and then it’ll attempt to remove. This doesn’t always work as sometimes you’ll have nested resources that will block the deletion, however it’s a quick way to delete resources if you don’t want to resort to PowerShell.

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Azure Network Announcements at Ignite 2017

My blog has been very quiet recently having taken a few weeks off to spend time with the family, before joining Insight UK as a Cloud Architect in the Hybrid Cloud Team. The new role is exciting and with all of the innovations in the cloud space across all vendors, it’s a great time to join Insight to help them with their quest to advise and help clients and the community in leveraging this.  However, enough of the excuses about why things have been quiet… Smile 

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Ignite 2017 is like Christmas for anyone with interest in the Microsoft ecosystem and there have been a ton of announcements from a technical, strategy and business perspective to keep us all busy for some time to come. I’ve been collating my thoughts and plan on pulling together an all up view of the event once it wraps up.

One of the key things to peak my interest (being heavily focused on Azure) is the announcements today in the networking space. The following Microsoft Azure Blog post by Yousef Khalidi, CVP of Azure Networking provides a great overview:

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/blog/azure-networking-announcements-for-ignite-2017/

At first glance on the above blog I expected a small number of changes/innovations however there is 22 (with my very rough counting!) individual areas in the announcements. From general performance, better availability through to enhancements in monitoring and management. Some of the key areas that interested me include:

  • Virtual Network Service Endpoints – this is a very positive change. A number of customers questioned the need to publically address Azure services citing obvious security concerns and how this would be managed. There key question was always “how do I turn this off?” From an architecture perspective I guess the key challenge for MS was on-going management, how it would be accessed, etc. This new innovation removes the requirements for the public endpoint instead allowing you (if you want to!) restrict access to the service from your own VNet, not the internet. Awesome! As per the original MS blog, more info can be found here: https://docs.microsoft.com/azure/virtual-network/virtual-network-service-endpoints-overview
  • ExpressRoute peering changes – this interested me as one of the key topics I usually discuss with clients is the 3 different peering options avaialble over ExpressRoute; private, public and Microsoft. As the blog notes, private includes traffic to your own VNets, public is traffic to Azure VIPs and Microsoft is traffic to SaaS services, e.g. 365. Customers have had several challenges with the MS peering namely around routing configurations within their own network and with the ExpressRoute provider. More recently, it was my understanding that Microsoft Peering was actually not recommended unless specific compliance regulations demanded this. With the above announcements it will be interesting to dig into this in more detail to understand it better. One for the ExpressRoute black belt calls.. Smile
  • General monitoring improvements – it’s great to see that OMS is mentioned everywhere and is becoming a key focal point across lots of components in the MS space. There are some great improvements that will help customers in this announcement, e.g. availability of your connections, monitoring endpoints (e.g. PaaS or SaaS availability) and some cool innovations around real user measurements and traffic flow within Traffic Manager.

Each of the above topics deserves individual consideration, as evidently a lot of effort has gone in behind the scenes by the Azure team, and it’s great to see them listen to customers and act on recommendations made. Big thumbs up and look forward to trying some of these out!