Microsoft Azure: 10 Tips to Get Started With the Cloud

The cloud is flexible, scalable and therefore essential to drive digitization in your company. Microsoft Azure is an easy way to get you started. But you should follow these 10 tips to make sure you really save costs, increase efficiency and avoid typical stumbling blocks.

Eric Berg, IT-Architect and Microsoft MVP

An article by Eric Berg , IT-Architect and Microsoft MVP

Microsoft Azure provides an extensive range of client services that let you gradually migrate resources to the digital cloud. The cloud is a great way to cut costs and increase efficiency. But anyone who just leaps into the cloud without preparation and perhaps even creates the wrong structures or inadequate security measures might end up increasing the costs unnecessarily. Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls:

Tip 1: Define the structure and rules

The first step – before the technical aspects are even relevant – involves precise planning of your Azure environment and the definition of suitable hierarchies and security precautions. This is the only way to prevent downstream chaos.

Microsoft Azure is organized around subscriptions. Each of them are complete, logical units in which users are able to create and manage resources. Rules can be defined and roles assigned within each subscription. For instance, they determine who is permitted to create resources, as well as setting the cost limit for each individual resource.

It is advisable to create a number of subscriptions, e.g. for various departments or locations. In addition, internal systems and customer systems should be located separately in their own individual subscriptions.

Tip 2: Assign roles prudently

Many companies draw on the assistance of an external consultant when getting started with the Microsoft Azure cloud. This is a sensible approach, as a specialist can contribute meaningful and targeted know-how. But be careful when assigning roles. Never allow external service providers to hold admin or co-admin roles, as in this case they would have complete insight, as well as access to your descriptions, databases and data. Only give your externals the permission to access the environments they actually need.

Tip 3: Use Managed Disks

With its Managed Disks feature, Microsoft is simplifying disk management for virtual machines in Azure IaaS. Managed Disks automatically ensures that the VMs have sufficient IOPS at their disposal by automatically administrating the underlying storage accounts. This eases the management workload immensely. What’s more, Managed Disks ensure high availability at the storage level by organizing data in availability sets associated with the corresponding VMs. This means that operations will continue smoothly, even if one area fails.

If highly available installations are configured in Azure without Managed Disks, the VMs will continue to run on separate host systems, but storage will not necessarily be failsafe.

Tip 4: Never run virtual machines in the cloud without a firewall

Every virtual machine in the cloud needs a firewall. It remains an essential feature, even if they do not have a public IP address or are only accessible via the intranet. Let’s not forget, it doesn’t take much to change settings in Azure, whether it’s on purpose or by accident: VMs can suddenly be assigned a public IP with just one click, opening the door to hackers if a firewall is not active.

Tip 5: Create backups

Deleting virtual machines or storage accounts in Azure removes them irretrievably. So it is absolutely crucial that you create backups to protect against the loss of data. For virtual servers, Azure offers the solution “Azure Backup”. It allows users to back up servers and to restore them completely or partially at file level. Azure also lets you use third-party products. This can be advisable, for instance to back up Office 365 data, as Microsoft does not have a comprehensive backup solution for this task.

Tip 6: Keep an eye on the hidden costs

Outbound data traffic costs money in Azure. These are the hidden costs that you need to take into account – especially if you are using a backup tool by a third party provider. Let’s say, for instance, that you need to restore four terabytes from a fileserver: this would mean four terabytes of outbound data transfer that you will need to pay for additionally. But there are other items – often forgotten – that can prove costly. Although a public IP address only costs €2.50 a month, it can quickly amount to €250 if you happen to need a hundred.

Tip 7: Check the third-party provider licenses

You need to take a good look at the terms before you use software by third-party providers in the cloud. Some vendors do not allow you to run their software in Azure. Or they insist on an additional agreement. License violations can be expensive!

Tip 8: Calculate for sufficient bandwidth

Backup, recovery and log analyses often require the transfer of significant volumes of data. Suitable bandwidth will be necessary to complete these tasks. You should therefore conduct a long-term study to analyze your systems’ logging patterns. This will tell you how much bandwidth you need. But tracking consumption over one or two days will not be sufficient. You should also include phases in which the load on the system is higher than usual, as these times involve more logs and therefore more traffic.

Tip 9: Schedule realistic resources for virtual machines

Do not assign too much CPU, RAM and storage to a virtual machine, as you will only incur unnecessary costs. You pay for the resources you consume in Azure, so 16 GB RAM will cost twice as much as 8 GB

But how can you calculate realistic figure of how much a VM needs to operate reliably? Empirical values from your own datacenter are not directly translatable for Azure. The cloud runs on a completely different, higher performance class of hardware. It is a good idea to use the new Microsoft tool “Azure Migrate” for planning. It checks the systems running in your current VMware environment and calculates which resources you will need in Azure.

Tip 10: Embrace innovation

Give some thought to how you could grow your use of the cloud. As an example, Platform as a Service is not just an interesting concept for developers. Find out how PaaS can replace current systems in certain areas. For instance, a web app could do the job of a classic web server, and SQL as a Service might be an alternative to your proprietary SQL server. By nature, PaaS will be more affordable than installing and running your systems.

These 10 tips give you a good idea of how important it is to take time for precise planning. Only then will you avoid unnecessary costs and risks.

Is planning your Microsoft Azure cloud getting a little bit too much for you?

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Leipzig, 20.12.2017

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