Azure Announcements September 2017

We are only two days into Microsoft Ignite and I thought I would share the announcements which I believe will become ‘heavy hitters’  in the near future.

Planned Maintenance (Preview)

One of the biggest deal breakers when migrating to public cloud, is the shear amount of single instance VMs in a customer estate which relay upon infrastructure availability to meet business SLA’s.   The cost to translate this into cloud native applications to place them into an Availability Group to receive an SLA from Microsoft and to minimise the impact of planned maintenance is often too burdensome, so they are left to wither on the vine on-premises.

Microsoft have recognised this issue and have announced ‘Planned Maintenance’ which means that you will be notified of when maintenance is going to occur and you will have up to four weeks to schedule in a reboot of your virtual machine.

This is a game changer for customers, and I would encourage you to read more here.

Azure Migrate (Preview)

To start the journey to public cloud services, you need to understand your application estate.  This is a process which should not be under estimated as many customer environments are poorly documented, application owners have left the business, operations and IT don’t really understand how an application is coupled together so trying to migrate anything but low hanging fruit often gets placed into the ‘too hard to deal with bucket’.

To counter act this, Microsoft have announced Azure Migrate which uses an application based approach for the following:

  • Discovery and assessment for on-premises virtual machines
  • Inbuilt dependency mapping for high-confidence discovery of multi-tier applications
  • Intelligent rightsizing to Azure virtual machines
  • Compatibility reporting with guidelines for remediating potential issues
  • Integration with Azure Database Management Service for database discovery and migration

I wondering if this will be a PaaS offering of Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit? Any how read more here.

Azure File Sync (Preview)

You would have thought with the advent of SharePoint and OneDrive for Business that the traditional file server would be on the way out,  however file storage still continues to be an issue for many companies.  Microsoft have announced Azure File Sync which enables you to replicate file data across the globe and tier data from on-premises to Microsoft Azure without a StoreSimple device.

When more details are announced, I will be interested to understand how Microsoft deal with file locking and if this will be dealt with using Optimistic Concurrency, Pessimistic Concurrent or Last Writer Wins.  Also backup of data needs to be addressed as well.

For more information see here.

Azure DDoS Protection Service (Preview)

Security is always a hot topic when discussing public cloud services, figuring how you protect the ‘crown jewels’ is difficult and can be difficult to get Information Security Risk officers to agree on your approach.

To counter act this Microsoft have announced Azure DDoS Protection Service which in a nutshell protects a virtual network and everything behind it.  The service understands your normal application traffic profiles using machine learning and detects malicious traffic attacks.  Azure DDoS Protection can also be combined with Web Application Firewalls to provide protection from:

  • Request rate-limiting
  • HTTP Protocol Violations
  • HTTP Protocol Anomalies
  • SQL Injection
  • Cross site scripting

For more information see here.

 

Microsoft Azure Enterprise Cost Management

azureMicrosoft have announced the preview of Enterprise Cost Management for Azure, which is great news for Enterprise Agreement customers.

Until now gaining visibility of spend on an Azure Enterprise Agreement has been difficult to manage even when combined with Tags and Resource Groups.

It should also be noted that an Enterprise Agreement doesn’t provide spending limits (see offer details), quotas or even billing alerts (see prevent unexpected costs) so customers are often wary of migrating services to Microsoft Azure and/or providing access to their Azure Portals due to fear of being stung by large bills.

It is understandable that Microsoft do not want to ‘turn off’ customers workloads, however their could be a case for this in a development environment where a person leaves a ‘monster VM’ up and running of a month by mistake.

This is a step in the right direction, hopefully we will see billing alerts added in the not to distant future.

 

Azure Updates – Enhancement Summary April 2017 to July 2017

azureOver the past three months, I have been leading a delivery engagement which has meant that I’m not as up to speed as I perhaps should have been on the latest enhancements to Microsoft Azure.

With this in mind, I thought I would share with you , the feature enhancements over the past few months that have had the biggest impact to the customers I work with.

Azure Service Health (Preview)

Planned and unplanned maintenance events are always a hot topic when educating customers on the use of cloud for IaaS as it’s a paradigm shift from the on-premises operating model.

Rather than having an email letting you know that West Europe is going to be patched in the future or checking the Azure Status URL, Microsoft have rolled this up into Service Health.

In a nutshell this lets you know what ongoing issues in Azure services are impacting your resources, provides you with a PDF summary of the issue for problem management.

Read more here.

Azure VM Configuration Changes (Private Preview)

Let’s face it a significant proportion of operational outages are caused by people making changes without following the correct internal procedures.  To circumvent this, Microsoft have introduced Azure VM Configuration Changes which can track all Windows Services, Linus Daemons, Software by default.

Azure VM Configuration Changes also allows you to view changes in the last 30 minutes, hour, six hours, 7 days or 30 days so you can pinpoint when changes occurred to the VM.

See more here.

Azure Large Disks

One of the challenges around IaaS VMs was trying to fit existing file structures into or across multiple 1TB hard drives.  This caused a few challenges for customers who had to rework GPO’s or migrate data to enable the use of file services within Azure.

Another significant challenge was using Azure Site Recovery to protect a VM with a hard drive larger than 1TB.  To address both of these issues Microsoft have launchged 4TB for Azure IaaS VM’s,

See more here and here.

Azure Application Gateway

Security is always a hot topic when it comes to cloud and Microsoft has fixed the gap it had between DNS based Global Site Load Balancing using Traffic Manager and Azure Load Balancer which worked at Layer 4 (TCP/UDP).

Azure Application Gateway acts as a Web Application Firewall to protect from common web attacks such as SQL injection, cross site scripting and session hijacks.

Read more here.

Faster Azure VPN Gateway

When customers embark on their cloud journey, it normally starts with a Site to Site VPN whilst ExpressRoute is put in place.  A previous limiting factor with Site to Site VPN’s was the bandwidth limit and SLA.

Microsoft have resolved this by introducing a new series of VPN gateways appropriately titled VpnGw1, VpnGw2 and VpnGw3 which will provide an SLA of 99.95% with up to 1.25Gbsp throughput at the same cost as the previous gateways.

Read more here.

 

Azure Network Watcher

This is a guest blog post by one of my Cisco CCIE colleagues Adam Stuart on his view of Azure Network Watcher.

What is it?

Azure Network Watcher is a feature within Microsoft Azure to make consumption of network data/troubleshooting easier.

How much does it cost?

Free until August 1st.

Then

  • 5GB free network logs p/m, with small overcharge for extra GB
  • 1000 checks p/m, small overcharge per extra 1000 checks

Plus storage costs for log retention.

What Does It Do?

  • Monitoring Topology – Shows a very basic network topology diagram, no further drill down is possible.  To exactly useful but better than nothing.

Topology v0.1

  • Diagnostics – IP Flow Verify, simple packet trace function to test is a source/destination is allowed via a NSG policy.  Equivalent of packet trace in Cisco land.  Quite useful if you have lots of NSG.  Overall a good sanity check.

IP Flow Verify

  • Diagnostics – Next Hop, simple utility to verify next hop as per effective routing table.  This would be useful for a customer using Network Virtual Appliance (NVA) Firewalls and complex UDR.  It provides insight into the Azure routing service which is otherwise tricky to obtain.

Next Hop

  • Diagnostics – Provides details of NVA specific to network interface of VM.  Not useful unless you have overlapping NSG on a NIC and subnet and wanted to see the result of an aggregate policy
  • Diagnostics – Packet Capture, this is essentially an easier way to run tcpdump and get pcap files form virtual machines. Note, you need to install a VM extension* to get this to work see here.
  • Logs – NSG Flow Logs, the equivalent of checking Access-list log on a normal firewall. This is the primary function that most customer will be after. To answer the question “is the firewall blocking it”? Enabled on a per NSG basis, logs to a container in blob storage, which you export as JSON format.  This is probably quite powerful, but the default output is not very accessible. JSON format logs require another parser to provide any real value.

Azure Updates – Summary of 2017 Enhancements

azureWhen you shift your focus from on-premises architecture to cloud based services, you notice that the velocity of updates and new features is relentless.  To give you an idea, over the last 12 months Microsoft have released over 500 updates on the Azure platform, some of these are feature enhancements, betas, public previews and new services.

Microsoft Azure is a moving target keeping up to date with enhancements is a full time job!

With this in mind, I thought I would share with you , the feature enhancements over the past few months that have had the biggest impact to the customers I work with.

Azure DevTest Labs – Ability to set an expiry date on virtual machines

We all know that development environments should only be up and running for a short amount of time to facilitate an application enhancement or initiative.  However in reality the virtual machines which were only meant to be temporary, end up being on all the time with everyone afraid to power them off ‘just in case something bad happens’.

With Azure DevTest Labs we can now harness the inbuilt functionality to set expiry dates to virtual machines.  Sounds trivial but what a great feature addition to manage the compute resources around a VM lifecycle.

Read more here.

Azure Automation – Start/Stop VMs (Preview)

We are used to having our on-premises VMs running 24×7.   Because we have already invested in the compute and storage infrastructure so what is the real use case of shutting them down?  Instead we sweat our assets for the three to five year hardware lifecycle and rinse and repeat.`

Taking the same architecture principles to a cloud based platform increases costs.  Why not get smart and reduce your consumption costs by targeting applications to when users access them?  If HR only work Mon-Fri 9-5 and access Sage during this time frame, then why not power on the VM at 8am and shut it down at 6pm?  Reducing your Azure consumption costs by 58% over a 12 month period.

Read more here.

Azure Managed Disks

When running virtual machines in Azure it’s not just a simple case of creating a storage account, factors such as the number of virtual machines per storage account with their IOPS requirements as well as the impact that backups have need to be taken into consideration.

These manual considerations can be negated to a point using Azure Managed Disks in which Azure handles the Storage Account in the back end reducing your management overhead.

With the general availability release of Azure Managed Disks integrate with Azure Backup and also Disk Encryption.

Read more here.

Automated Backup for SQL Server 2014 and 2016 Virtual Machines

It can be common for enterprises to backup SQL Server databases outside of the general backup schedule applied to other applications.  With the release of Automated Backup for SQL Server 2014 and 2016 Virtual Machines this can be automated for you with the creation of the VM.

With a daily backup and a retention period of 30 days, this adds another layer of protection to your backup routine.

Read more here and here.

Azure Backup Instant File Recovery (Preview)

Azure Backup has always done a job, but backing up a VM level has had its disadvantages namely having to restore an entire VM to an alternate location to get back a single file or folder.

Azure Backup Instant File Recovery creates a writable mount point attached to the VM you want to restore data too using an iSCSI target.  This simplifies the process and reduces management overhead.

Read more here.

Azure Security Center Enhancements (Preview)

The Azure Cyber Security  team have announced a number of the new enhancements which are in preview.  The most poignant ones are:

  • Application White Listing – Allow only the authorised executables to run within the virtual machine, with Azure Security Center discovering and recommending white listing policies
  • Just in Time Network Access to VM’s – Reduce your attack surface by only allowing access to common ports when required

By simply deploying the above two changes, I can see a benefit for most organisations to enhance their security footprint.

Read more here.