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.

mysyncgroup

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 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 

Image result for no excuses

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!