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:

Blog1Blur

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!

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.