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Getting Started with Windows Azure IaaS

Cloud computing is the next generation of computing and taking your first step into the cloud can be revolutionary for you

Based on Matt Hester's Cloud Expo Presentation: Overview of Windows Azure IaaS

Introducing the concept of cloud computing into your existing environments can seem to be a daunting task. Cloud computing is the next generation of computing and taking your first step into the cloud can be revolutionary for you and your company. The question you need to ask yourself is where to start? What are some of the low risk workloads that I can test the cloud with? More important, which cloud do you use as there are many different forms of clouds to choose from that could benefit your business. In this article we will take a look at some of the common clouds in today's computing world, and then we will focus in on using infrastructure as a service, as this probably provides the easiest entry point into the cloud.

Cloud Models
Before we dive into the clouds let's talk about simple models to help keep the clouds straight. There are four main models, and they all boil down to what is in your sphere of control. Clouds really should be considered as a "how" and not a "what." They are how you manage, automate and control your resources.

  • Private: This is your on premise datacenter. You control everything from the cabling to the applications. Private clouds are organized on how you provide workload automation for your environment
  • Software as a service (SaaS): SaaS is where you are essentially are paying someone else for the services normally on a monthly/user basis. There are a variety of examples of SaaS from consumer-based services like Xbox live or business based services like Office 365
  • Platform as a service (PaaS): PaaS is where you have control over the actual application and data; howeve, you rely on the cloud provider to provision the underlying supporting infrastructure. This allows your developers to write applications that take advantage of the elasticity of the cloud.
  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): IaaS allows you to control the application down to the underlying OS; however, the cloud provider manages the virtualization layer and the hardware. In this model you have full control of the virtual server running in the cloud. In a sense this is no different than other virtual servers running in your data center.

When you consider cloud providers, Microsoft is one of the few companies that can provide services across all the cloud models, and allows you choose what makes the most sense for you and your organization. With Windows Azure you will also find PaaS and IaaS services.

Most customers I talk with are not all in when it comes to the cloud. Fundamentally you will only use the cloud in two instances: to improve your bottom line or to improve your strategy. If you want to still maintain on-premise IT and combine it with a cloud model for a specific workload you can. I refer this to as hybrid, and in a sense you get the best of both worlds.

How you implement IaaS in your environment really depends on your needs. IaaS can encompass many different roles in your company, from directory services to backup to virtual machines. In this article we are going to focus on how to create your first virtual machine in Windows Azure IaaS, and along the way you will learn many of the aspects of Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Windows Azure virtual machines allow you to provision a fully functional server in the cloud. This is a server that you will have complete control over the operating system. You will need to provision any roles and services that you will need it to support just like any other server in your infrastructure.

Create a Windows Azure IaaS Virtual Machine
Getting started with Windows Azure IaaS is easy. The first thing you will want to do is sign up for a free Windows Azure trial, you can learn more here to get started: http://aka.ms/getazureiaas or you can visit the home page for Windows Azure here: http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/.

After you get your trial subscription you will then be able to immediately start using Windows Azure. While this focusses on just one workload, you do have access to all the workloads in Azure from web sites to mobile services to SQL Services and everything in between.

Let's get started with creating your first virtual machine. On the home page of Windows Azure, click on portal (in the upper right side of the page). This will take you to the Windows Azure management portal. While we will focus on the GUI, one important note before you start is that everything you can do in the GUI portal can be scripted with PowerShell.

  1. In the Windows Azure Management portal click + NEW in the lower left hand corner.
  2. In the New selection window, select COMPUTE, select VIRTUAL MACHINE and select FROM GALLERY, this will launch the Create a Virtual Machine wizard
  3. In the first part of the wizard you will need to choose an image to start. Note there are several images to choose from including many Linux versions, SQL, Oracle, SharePoint and Visual Studio. These templates make it easy for you start with a prebuilt environment. For the purpose of the article select Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter and click the arrow in the lower right hand corner to proceed to the next step.
  4. In the Virtual machine configuration screen you will be asked to give your virtual machine a name, choose a size, set the administrative user name, and password. Before you fill in the wizard it is important to understand some of the choices as it will control the overall security of your virtual machine as well as performance and cost.
    -First, regarding security your user name cannot be a common administrative name, like admin, administrator, root, etc. Make sure you choose a secure name. The same goes for the password; it has to be strong; it cannot be blank; it has to be 8 characters, upper and lower case, number and a special character. Additionally the password cannot be a variation of the word ‘password'.
    -Second, regarding the size of system you have a choice of 8 configurations. The more memory and processor you select will increase the cost of running the virtual machine. Note, the Windows Operating System license is covered in the cost of Windows Azure. You can use the calculator to get an estimate of costs here: http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/pricing/calculator/ . When you are done, click on the arrow to continue.
  5. The next screen has several choices that are important for your virtual machine, from the placement to the availability of your virtual machine. Some the choices could be a single article in and of themselves. For this you will get a brief look at them.
    a. Cloud Service:
    are containers for the virtual machines you will create. You have just a single virtual machine in a cloud service or several that are load balanced
    b. Cloud Service DNS Name:
    is the public DNS name given to your service, and by default ends in cloudapp.net. You can redirect to a preferred name.
    c. Region/Affinity Group/Virtual Network:
    these three choices control the placement of your virtual machines. Regions determine in which geographic location your virtual machines will be placed. Affinity groups are ways to group your cloud services for better performance. Affinity groups are associated with the same datacenter region; ultimately they will help improve performance and reduce latency. You can learn more about affinity groups here: Affinity Groups Overview. Virtual networks enable you to extend your enterprise networks into Azure, for your hybrid applications. They also allow you to set up secure private IPv4 networks contained in Windows Azure. The virtual networks allow you to create point-to-site VPN connections or site-to-site VPN Connections. You can learn more about virtual networks here: Virtual Networks Overview
    d. Storage Account:
    the virtual machines you create are essentially hyper-v machines and all the files you create the virtual machines, like the .vhd files, are stored in this account and by default there are three copies.
    e. Availability Set:
    provides fault tolerant placement to your virtual machine in the Windows Azure datacenters. This will help spread the virtual machines for your cloud services across fault and update domains.
    As you can see there are lots of choices to be made about creating your virtual machine. For this walk through, choose a region closest to you, leave the default choices and click on the arrow to go to the last step.
  6. The last step is to create endpoints. Endpoints allow you to access your Windows Azure virtual machines, not only for internal administrative access but also to allow external access to your Windows Azure virtual machines. By default you have two endpoints that are created for you. One for remote desktop access into the virtual machine and the other for PowerShell remoting. You can change the ports as needed. It is important to note that there are no external facing endpoints, which means if you were going to create a Web application you would need to create at least one more endpoint for that access either for port 80 or 443 for secure access. Additionally if you created virtual networks for your virtual machines, it provides an alternative administrative access method. The virtual networks allow you to create point-to-site VPN connections or site-to-site VPN Connections to connect to all of the virtual machines that are on the virtual network. When you're done click the checkmark to begin provisioning your virtual machine.

After you are done with the final step your virtual machine will be provisioned in about 10 minutes. Think about that for a second. In about 10 minutes you have a fully functioning server to run your workloads on. Once the virtual machine is finished being provisioned you will then need to connect to the virtual machine to provision it. You can connect to the virtual machine from the virtual machine's dashboard. To access the dashboard, select the virtual machine from your Windows Azure portal, and click on the dashboard on the menu below the virtual machine name. The dashboard provides a lot of useful information; you can get basic performance data of the virtual machine, as well configuration data (public and private IP address, DNS name, etc.). Also on the dashboard on the bottom of the screen you should see the connect option. Simple click connect and it will bring up the remote desktop connection program. Fill in your credentials you created above to log in and configure your virtual machine.

Hopefully you enjoyed creating your virtual machine. If you are ready for more, you may want to try another great aspect of using Windows Azure take a look at backing up your server to the cloud. If you want to learn how to do that, take a look here: Backup Windows Server 2012 R2 to Windows Azure

More Stories By Matt Hester

Matt Hester is a Senior Information Technology Professional Evangelist for Microsoft. Matt has been involved in the IT Pro community for over 20 years. Matt is a skilled and experienced evangelist presenting to audiences nationally and internationally. Prior to joining Microsoft Matt was a highly successful Microsoft Certified Trainer for over 8 years. After joining Microsoft, Matt has continued to be heavily involved in IT Pro community as an IT Pro Evangelist. In his role at Microsoft Matt has presented to audiences in excess of 5000 and as small as 10. Matt has written 4 articles for TechNet magazine. In addition Matt has published 3 books:

You can contact Matt off his blog at http://aka.ms/matthester

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