My Favorite Azure New Features

On May 12, Microsoft has announced a whole bunch of new Azure features (here). If you try, like myself, to be up to date with them, you will realize how hard that is. These ones, however, are major and worth a word about. I was asked to pick my favorites, so, here you go.

Well, before you go, please spend some time getting to know Azure. A wonderful resource is the Microsoft Virtual Academy, which has plenty of information to keep you busy for a long time. This training (http://channel9.msdn.com/Series/Partner-Practice-Enablement-Windows-Azure-Technical-Training/Module-1-Introductions-Course-Overview-and-Infrastructure-Services-Introduction), that is an very good starting point (don’t be afraid of the sales side of it, it is pretty technical). And if you don’t have a trial account yet, stop everything you are doing and please go here NOW!

Ok, for the main course: my favorite new features.

First, Networking. All the new features in that are very good, but I want to talk about my favorites among them.

  • Multiple Site-to-Site VPNs – prior to this feature, you were not able to reach an Azure virtual network directly from multiple on premises networks. Only one connection was allows per Azure Virtual Network. Now, one virtual Azure network allows for multiple connections to it (actually, to its gateway). That is great because from an application connectivity perspective, you were limited to a single pipe and all the traffic to your cloud and applications needed to be routed through a main hub. Now secondary datacenters and even branches can reach out directly to the servers in the cloud. The details are here, but be ready to deal with configuration files, since this release won’t allow for the configuration to be done in the portal.
  • VNET-to-VNET Secure Connectivity – now Azure can route between two Azure virtual networks and even between different subscriptions. This is also great, since before, you had to make that traffic go back to your premises and then go back up if those networks were completely unrelated. Now you can save traffic and bandwidth in your pipe. You can find details here and a good article on how it is done here.
  • Reserved IPs – I love this one, since it will answer a big question users had: what if my IP changes. Still today, there are many applications that will need to rely on a static IP, so, there you have it. You can reserve up to 5 IPs per subscription. Only PowerShell for now, but will come to the portal soon.
  • Premises-to-Azure Recovery Services – I don’t think this feature is mentioned in the original post, but I believe it is worth mentioning. You can now replicate your machines and orchestrate the recovery not only between two On-Premises deployments, but also between premises and Azure! This awesome, since you can leverage storage, computing and availability in Azure without having to deploy a secondary location of you own. The setup is relatively simple (I don’t like the word ‘hard’) and there is a great step by step guide here.

Second, Virtual Machines: lots of goods stuff here.

  • Capturing : one thing I really like the new capturing capabilities. You can capture VMs now when they are started or stopped and create your new images for testing in the blink of an eye. And not only that: you can now capture VMs with data drives! Actually multiple data drivers! And no sysprep! Can you ask for anything more? Development and testing scenarios can take a lot of advantage from these new features.
  • The new VM Agent is also worth mentioning. Not sure though how many people will use the available Antivirus extensions, but the agent will allow for future installations and who knows what kind of interesting and useful stuff will come out. Although there may be some security concerns, being able to inject them into your VMs is a very nice to have feature. Now, the AWESOME part is this small comment: “This week we’ve also enabled a new “Custom Script” extension that enables you to specify a PowerShell script file (.ps1 extension) to run in the VM immediately after it’s created.  This provides another way to customize your VM on creation without having to RDP in.” Can you see the potential for automation? Adding certificates, monitoring agents, special configurations…I can! Take a look here for some detailed explanation on how it is implemented.

On the Storage front:

  • SMB: I like the idea of being able to use SMB file sharing and making it simpler between VMs to share files and exchange data between applications. SMB is the Microsoft standard for network file share and it is about time for it to be available in azure. Implementation details here!

The rest of the features are sure great, but these are my favorites. Note that as infrastructure consultant, naturally, the infrastructure related stuff will be on the top of my mind. Make sure to spend some time in the Azure portal and I guarantee you will love all the other offers and features that can’t stop popping up!

Hope this inspires you to go and get your trial subscription right now!

If you are in Toronto, please take some time to check our user group page out! Toronto Azure Group: Infrastructure Focus