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.

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/

Azure Migration assessment tool when moving to CSP

More and more customers are moving to CSP as the preferred licensing model for their Azure platform. Azure CSP is explained here, however in short it is a licensing program for Microsoft partners, as well as a license channel for various cloud services. It allows partners to offer added value to customers through many services, as well as being able to become a trusted advisor to those customers. CSP currently includes Office 365, Dynamics 365, Enterprise Mobility + Security, Azure as well as other Microsoft online services.

When customers are moving from other agreements, e.g. EAS or PAYG they typically need to perform some form of assessment to ensure they can safely migrate their subscriptions to the CSP program. One of those assessments entails understanding whether you have any services that are not available on CSP, as well as also making sure you are running ARM based resources as opposed to ASM (classic) which is not supported through CSP.

The following assessment tool provides a mechanism to analyse your resources…  https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cloud-solution-provider/migration/ea-payg-to-azure-csp/ea-open-direct-assessment ..

The CSP Status and Suggested Approach columns

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cloud-solution-provider/migration/ea-payg-to-azure-csp/ea-open-direct-assessment

As you can see from the figure above, it will show you a suggested approach per resource id/type and guide as to whether there are any issues and what the next steps are.

It will also show you the estimated costings, etc. after moving to CSP, compared with your existing rate via EA:

View the subscription resource costs

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cloud-solution-provider/migration/ea-payg-to-azure-csp/ea-open-direct-assessment

All in all, a fairly simple tool but if you are considering a migration to CSP then well worth running to get some quick details on your current status!

Recap of key Azure features from Ignite Part 2

… continuation of the Part 1 post which can be found here

The following post summarises the recap of the remaining 5 features that I found interesting from the announcements at the Ignite conference.

Azure Top 10 Ignite Features

5. Global Virtual Network Peering (preview)

Inter-VNet peering is a technology that allows you to connect a VNet directly to another VNet, without having to route that traffic via a gateway of some sort. Bear in mind that VNets are isolated until you connect them via a gateway, this feature allows you to essentially peer the VNet with another VNet thus removing the complexity of routing that traffic via a gateway and/or back on-premises. In addition, it allows you to take advantage the Microsoft backbone with low latency and high bandwidth connectivity. Inter-VNet peering is available to use today, however is constrained to a particular region (I.e. you can only peer VNets that exist within UK South, for instance – not between UK South and UK West).

virtual network peering transit

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-network/virtual-network-peering-overview

Global VNet peering addresses that and allows you to peer between regions thus gaining global connectivity, without having to route via your own WAN. This feature is currently in preview in selected regions (US and Canada)

4. New Azure VM Sizes

Many new virtual machine sizes have been announced recently, factoring in differing workload types (e.g. for databases) as well as more cost effective virtual machines. A large number of organisations see Azure IaaS as a key platform allowing them to scale workloads that still require complete control over the operating system.

The announcements around Ignite were mainly focused around SQL server and Oracle type workloads that require high memory and storage, but are not typically CPU intensive. Some of the latest specifications, e.g. DS, ES, GS and MS provide constrained CPU counts to 1/4 or 1/2 of the original VM Size.

An example of this would be the Standard GS5 which comes with 32vCPU, 448GB memory, 64disks (up to 256TB total), and the new GS5-16 which comes with 16 and 8 active CPU respectively.

Another interesting VM type announced recently would be the B-series (burstable VMs) which allows credits to be recovered and applied back to your monthly totals for unused CPU. One to review!!

3. Planned VM maintenance

Maintenance in Azure has long been a bug bear of many customers. If you are operating a single virtual machine (which to be fair, you should think about architecting differently anyway…Smile) then at any time Microsoft may perform updates on the underlying hypervisors that run the platform. If your virtual machine is in this update domain then it will be restarted… and certain data (i.e. that stored in cache) may be lost.

Planned VM maintenance helps greatly here as it provides better visibility and control into when maintenance windows are occurring. Even allowing you to proactively start maintenance early at a suitable time for your organisation. You can create alerts, and discover which VMs are scheduled for maintenance ahead of time. In addition, you can choose between VM preserving and VM restarting/re-deploy state to better manage the recovery of the VM post maintenance.

As stated above, this problem goes away if you can re-architect your application accordingly with HA in mind. Plan to use Azure Availability Zones (AAZ) when they come out of preview and if not, look into regional availability and/or introduction of traffic manager and load balancers into your application.

2. Azure Migrate (preview)

Another great announcement was the introduction of a new capability called Azure Migrate, which is currently in preview. This service is similar to the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) kit however is very Azure focused (whereas MAP tended to be all about discovery and then light-weight Azure assessments).

The tool provides visibility into your applications and services and goes one step further to map the dependencies between applications, workloads and data. Historically, those working with Azure for a while will remember using tools like OMS to achieve this inter-dependency, or mapping it out themselves in pain staking fashion. A brief overview of the tool console is provided in the figures below:

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Source: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/blog/announcing-azure-migrate/

The tool is currently in preview, and is free of charge for Microsoft Azure customers (at time of writing). It is appliance based, and discovers virtual machines and performs intelligence such as “right-sizing” to the correct Azure VM type (thus saving costly IaaS overheads!!). It maps the multi-tier app dependencies and is a much deeper and richer capability set than MAP.

… and finally… drumroll please…

1. Azure Stack

I wrote a lengthy post on Azure Stack recently for the organisation I work for; Insight UK, and that post can be found here. Azure Stack was and is a big announcement from Microsoft and demonstrates their commitment to the Enterprise in my opinion. Microsoft have firmly recognised the need to retain certain workloads on-premises for a variety of reasons, from security/compliance through to performance, etc.

The Azure Stack is Microsoft’s true Hybrid Cloud platform and is provided by four vendors at present in HPe, Dell, Lenovo and Cisco. It provides a consistent management interface from the public Azure Cloud to on-premises, ensuring your DevOps/IT teams can communicate with applications in the same way irrespective of location. It allows for consistent management of both cloud native applications and legacy applications.

Image result for Azure Stack microsoft

Source: https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/uktechnet/2016/02/23/microsoft-azure-stack-what-is-it/

Provided as either a four, eight or twelve node pre-configured rack, the software is locked down by Microsoft and only they can amend or provide updates. In addition the Stack firmware and drivers and controlled by the manufacturer and remain consistent with the software versions.

The hardware is procured directly from the vendor and then the resources are charged in a similar way to the public Azure cloud. The stack offers either a capacity based model or pay as you go, and can even operate in offline mode (great example with Carnival Cruise Ships)…

.. thanks for reading! – that’s my top 10 summary of Azure related announcements that came out of the Ignite conference in 2017. There is many more announcements and features and I hope to get more time to lab and write about them in the near future!

Update: Azure VNet Service Endpoints – Public Preview Expanded

I blogged about Virtual Network Service Endpoints (VNSE) recently after it was announced in preview mid September. From the earlier post;

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.

Initially this feature was restricted to the US and Australian regions. I missed the announcement last week that this feature has been expanded into all Azure regions (still in preview) – which is great news. I have introduced the preview of this feature to several customers recently and they saw great advantages in being able to address resources from a storage and SQL perspective privately rather than with a public URI and considered this something that would increase their opportunities in  the Azure space.

Protect yourself from disaster with Azure Site Recovery!

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Having a robust Disaster Recovery (DR) plan in place is a key foundation of any IT strategy and risk management approach. Ensuring key services are protected, at a minimum through backup, or cost permitting through some form of replication, is of critical importance. This will help to ensure that, in the event of a disaster, be it small or large, the organisations IT systems can be recovered allowing the business to continue functioning from an IT perspective.

This post will focus on the capabilities provided by Azure Site Recovery (ASR), and how this is a perfect solution to bolster an organisations protection. However protecting yourself from disaster involves a much wider set of considerations, e.g. Backup, Plans, RunBooks, Automation and Replication services. Each of these topics has its own unique considerations and is for another post.

A large number of organisations survive with a single datacentre, or perhaps two but at a single location, mainly because of cost constraints. This leaves those organisations susceptible to many disasters, e.g. natural disasters (flooding, earthquake, fire, etc.) as well as man-made, e.g. electrical failure, collapse, etc. A disaster like this could result in the need to recover to a temporary location, perhaps from backup (with finger crossed that the backups work!), with a lengthy lead time to rebuild and recover systems. This lead time can be the difference between an organisation recovering or suffering serious financial loss/reputation damage, etc. Come in ASR…

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Azure Site Recovery (ASR) provides a great solution to help organisations overcome the risks outlined above. Put short, ASR provides a solution that can provide protection and replication of your on-premises (and cloud) based services to ensure they are protected to the Microsoft datacentres. If you are an organisation that only has a single datacentre then this can provide that much sought after secondary/tertiary location. In addition to replication, ASR can also provide monitoring, recovery plans and testing services. As pointed out earlier, ASR can protect on-premises workloads, as well as workloads already in Azure (to ensure they are replicated to another Azure region). Since the focus is on-premises in this post, how does this part work?

ASR supports the replication of services/virtual machines from all key platforms, including Hyper-V and VMware. If you do not use these virtualisation platforms you can use the “physical” agent option which can be installed on a physical server or as an in-VM agent (if using a differing virtualisation platform, e.g. KVM). If you are using the VMware integration, or Physical option, a configuration server is required. The following link provides more detail around the support matrix for replicating these workloads.

Dependent upon the on-premises capabilities, the following Microsoft links provide the architectural details for each configuration:

Architecture

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/site-recovery/concepts-hyper-v-to-azure-architecture

To get started with Hyper-V, you require an Azure subscription, System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) server, Hyper-V hosts, VMs and appropriate networking. A Site Recovery Vault and Storage Account is configured in the Azure Subscription and the Site Recovery provider is installed on to the VMM server  which is then registered into the above vault. The recovery services agent .exe is installed on all Hyper-V hosts (or cluster members). In this configuration, no agent is required on any of the Hyper-V virtual machines as it is proxy’d via the host connection.

Virtual machines can then be replicated as per the associated replication policy (e.g. sync intervals, retention, etc.). Initial sync’s can take time to move the data up to the Azure platform (unless using Import/Export and seeding).

Note: two key questions that come up with clients are as follows:

  1. Do I need Azure Networking / VPN in place
  2. Can replication traffic be forced over the VPN?

1) Strictly speaking no, however if you want to provide client access to private virtual machine IPs then the answer is yes. If you have a client/server application that is internally addressed, then that application will need to support IP address change/DNS update and the client will still need a network route to connect to the application. If the application can be made publically accessible then you may have alternatives.

2) In short, no – ASR is designed (like many Azure services) to be publically accessible via a public URI. This means that data is typically sent via HTTPS to the endpoint over the internet. There is some changes you can make if you have ExpressRoute however that is outside of the scope of this post. This may change soon with the introduction of virtual network service endpoints however this is currently preview feature only supported on storage accounts and Azure SQL.

I hope this helps you to understand how ASR can help your organisation, and provide a brief overview of some of the typical considerations and architectures.

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.

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.