In-Depth

Setting Up Virtual Machines on Windows Azure IaaS

Microsoft launched Windows Azure infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) options on April 16. The service is now commercially available. The move adds to Microsoft's Windows Azure platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings and sets the company up for competition with IaaS provider Amazon Web Services. Earlier this month, in a Webinar for the press, Microsoft showed how IT professionals can use the Windows Azure dashboard to quickly provision virtual machines (VMs) on the new Windows Azure IaaS.

With Windows Azure IaaS, IT shops comfortable with running their own on-premises servers are just a few clicks away from running those servers in a VM on Microsoft's cloud offering. It's now possible to run any application on VMs using Windows Server 2008 R2 and later. The service also includes new templates for spinning up BizTalk 2013, SharePoint 2013 and SQL Server 2012 VMs in Microsoft's cloud.

It's not just Windows Server VMs that can run from Windows Azure, but also various Linux server distros. Options include using OpenLogic CentOS 6.3, openSuSE 12.3, SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP2 and Ubuntu 12.10, among others. Prebuilt images for those Linux operating systems are housed in Microsoft Open Technologies' VM Depot portal. This portal is an online repository of operating system images maintained by third-party software vendors. Microsoft also provides a set of Node.js scripts, which can be used to configure multiple Linux OSes.

"This is all about expanding your datacenter into Windows Azure," explained David Aiken, technical product manager for Windows Azure, during the April press briefing. "Once you have the Windows box, it's just Windows Server. You can use System Center, [IBM] Tivoli, whatever."

VMs Spun Up in Minutes
Aiken used the Windows Azure dashboard to create new VMs in Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format, which is the same format used for Windows Server and which can be imported into other clouds. He noted that the dashboard doesn't yet support the Dynamic VHD format.

The VM creation task, using the dashboard's GUI, consisted of choosing a VM name, password, administrator name, machine size (from "extra small" to "extra large") and DNS name. Users next select a Windows Azure datacenter that's close to them to reduce potential bandwidth or latency issues.

Microsoft has eight Windows Azure datacenters worldwide, Aiken said, with four located in the United States, two in Europe and two in Asia (a Microsoft spokesperson put the number at "more than 10 and less than 100 data centers worldwide"). Users can configure georeplication for the VMs. In the demo, Aiken described having three copies each running in the West and East datacenters for a total of six copies.

"The virtual machine can be running in your datacenter or on [Windows Azure]…and the functionality is the same," Aiken explained.

The Windows Azure dashboard provides high-level statistics about the VM. Users get a quota of 20 cores per account. However, if they want to add to that quota to increase their compute power, they can open a support ticket with Microsoft through the dashboard. It takes about 11 minutes, on average, to close out a support ticket, Aiken said.

Aiken recommended setting up a virtual network first, using the dashboard, before setting up any VMs. Creating a virtual network consists of specifying an affinity group, region and affinity availability group name.

"An affinity group ties you into a cluster of machines and an availability group spreads you out between them," Aiken explained. "The idea here is to reduce the latency between all of your things in an affinity group."

PowerShell Scripting
It's possible to capture an image from a VM and then use it as a template for creating other VMs. Microsoft is promising to deliver PowerShell scripts to automate this image-creation process. It also expects to offer PowerShell scripts to help create "instant VMs" for Exchange and SharePoint in the near future.

Aiken explained that users can do much more with the PowerShell command-line interface than with the Windows Azure dashboard GUI. "Scripting is totally the way forward," he said.

For those wondering what the licensing scenarios are for running a VM on Windows Azure, it's basically a compute-time rental situation. Aiken said organizations don't buy Windows Server licensing to run VMs in Windows Azure because that's included as part of the cost of the Windows Azure service.

While the press demo wasn't recorded by Microsoft for on-demand playback, it's still possible for readers to see much of the same VM creation steps on Windows Azure IaaS that was shown by Aiken. To see how that's done, check out this recorded demo of the IaaS service conducted by Matt Hester, a technical evangelist at Microsoft.

Microsoft also reproduced images of the Windows Azure dashboard, which can be seen in this announcement of the IaaS service.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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