An Azure Virtual Machine is a simulated computer (also known as a guest) hosted within a physical computer (also known as the host). Virtual machines have been around for decades but the technical capabilities have advanced greatly over recent years and they are now a significant commodity in hosted infrastructures. A virtual machine behaves like an actual physical computer but it shares the physical pool of resources, the memory, buses, processing power and storage, with other virtualised infrastructure. The end user can connect to their virtual machine and it will have the same look and feel as if it was a physical computer. The host computer runs a very specialised, reduced operating system (called the hypervisor) which takes care of the security, sharing and scheduling of all the guest operating systems on top of it.
The Azure Virtual Machine allows IT architects to create a network that will build success for the business. It means that the organization can easily set up temporary and therefore cost-effective environments for development and testing or they can transfer business-critical applications from on-premises servers to more advanced, reliable and economic hardware. It allows organizations to try new ventures in a safe way; trying out new operating systems such as Linux or open-source application software. It allows businesses to stretch and flex in a ‘fail fast’ way; if the business project or need is no longer relevant, then it can be switched off or even deleted without leaving redundant hardware.
Azure Virtual Machines are created through the Azure portal, which can be found at https://portal.azure.com or through programming interfaces such as PowerShell. The simplest way to create an Azure Virtual Machine is using the portal; a browser-based user interface for interacting with Azure. It’s a straightforward process to create and configure Azure Virtual Machines and there’s even a Quick Start so that your Virtual Machine is up and running within minutes.
The difference between an Azure Virtual Machine and an on-premises Virtual Machine is that, in Azure, the IT architect does not control the host machine or its operating system. All of the configuration is done through the cloud operating system, whether through the browser or the portal. In this example, we will create a new SQL Server Virtual Machine in Azure, using an image from the Azure gallery.
The portal opens the New window. Select the Compute option and then select the option See all.
In the search field, type SQL Server 2017, and press ENTER.
To see the relevant options, click the Filter icon, and select the image for Windows SQL Server, which will be published by Microsoft.
Select the image named SQL Server 2017 Developer on Windows Server 2016.
Under Select a deployment model, ensure that Resource Manager is selected.
There will be a number of options for configuring the Virtual Machine, such as its size, location, and security information. Once you have selected the relevant options, select Deploy. The Virtual Machine will take a few moments to deploy.
Once the deployment has completed, you can connect to the VM remotely using Remote Desktop Connection on your PC or in the case of our SQL Server installation, through the SQL enterprise tools.
When creating an Azure Virtual Machine, you will be presented with a wide choice of codes from A0 to M128s. These represent the intended use and configuration of your virtual machine; basically, how many cores, RAM and storage it includes but there are other intricacies to this as well. Your choice depends on the workloads you want to run on the virtual machine. The most important thing is that you understand what the virtual machine will be used for. Once this decision is made, the IT architect can select the series and the size of virtual machine.
How does the process of Virtual Machine selection differ from sizing on premise Virtual Machines? The machine will need as much RAM, CPU and disk as your operating system and applications will consume and in this respect, the selection of Azure Virtual Machine is identical to the process of selecting the sizes and configuration of on-premises physical or virtual machines currently.
One key aspect of Virtual Machine selection that is different, however, is that the Azure cloud environment allows the IT architect to scale. With some restrictions, you can scale your virtual machine up to a more powerful instance or down to a less powerful and cheaper virtual machine. Azure Virtual Machines also offer high availability (HA) via scale-out. For the on-premises architecture, this would require densely packed hardware and the IT team would have to take care of the Virtual Machine hosts, networks and storage whilst also thinking about redundancy and ensuring that the virtual machines were running at all times. Azure is different because the cloud takes care of that work for the IT team and offers high availability as part of that process.
Azure allows organizations to be cost-effective by setting up a group of smaller machines which share workloads and can be turned on or off according to demand or on a timed schedule. Effectively, Azure charges for the compute power you are using when the virtual machines are turned on and doesn’t charge for virtual machines that are turned off. The organization is only paying for any persistent storage or networking of the virtual machines when they are powered off, but not for unused compute power.
Selecting a Virtual Machine Size
To select the correct Virtual Machine series, the IT architect will need to know the intended workload. Each virtual machine type is optimised to run a different workload, so it’s essential that this planning is done first. For example, if you are looking for a virtual machine that can work with Big Data solutions, then the organization should select a virtual machine from the High Performance Compute VM series. At the time of writing, Microsoft offers six virtual machine types:
General Purpose – Balanced CPU-to-memory ratio Compute Optimised – High CPU-to-memory ratio Memory Optimised – High memory-to-CPU ratio Storage Optimised – High disk throughput and IO GPU – Specialised virtual machines for heavy graphics rendering and video editing High Performance Compute – Fastest, most powerful CPU with optional high-throughput network interfaces (RDMA) Once the series has been selected, the IT architect can choose the virtual machine size.
Selecting a Virtual Machine Size
One key piece of advice to note is that if the organization believes that they may need to move up to another larger virtual machine in the future, then it is best to check that the larger machine is available in the same hosting region (e.g. UK South, West US) as the original virtual machine. Otherwise, the organization will have to move the virtual machine to the new region. Although it’s not an onerous task to move a virtual machine from one region to another, it is best to avoid if possible.
The following table will help the IT architect to identify the correct size of virtual machine for the requirements.
To summarise, choosing an Azure Virtual Machine is a crucial part of the transition to cloud. There is a good choice available and you have the ability, with some restrictions, to switch in the future as your needs change.
The Azure Pricing Calculator, located at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/pricing/calculator helps you to predict the estimated monthly Azure bill for any Azure workload. Once you have Azure services running, the Azure Portal helps you to monitor actual costs that you have incurred.
Figure 1 Azure Pricing Calculator website
The Azure Pricing Calculator helps you understand the costs of moving your technical estate to Azure, and to estimate pricing once your data and applications are in Azure. The calculator allows you to view the price for different sizes and configurations of your Azure Virtual Machines in terms of the machine’s CPU, memory, storage, location and hours in use. You can add any combination of Azure services to the calculator and view the pricing for complete solution. This allows you to make better decisions on your move to the cloud by expediting the cost component of the decision.
The calculator is also useful in determining if you have all of the crucial resources in place for a successful migration to the cloud as relevant Azure services will be suggested when you add a component. For example, if you add a virtual machine, you will typically require storage so the calculator helpfully adds that component into the pricing.
Since the Azure Pricing Calculator allows you the mix your configurations before you make your purchase, the cloud migration process becomes clearer. This facility is particularly critical when the technical estate of the cloud infrastructure is in a constant state of change. Microsoft Azure has monthly releases of new updates and new features. This flexibility means there are a lot of different choices that can be made and the calculator not only helps you plan for your costs but can even reduce them altogether by helping to overcome the challenge of comparing your existing costs with the impact on cost of moving to Azure.
Azure has a great deal of choice but, in some ways, too much choice can be a difficult problem to have! The Azure Pricing Calculator helps navigate the complexities of the Azure migration and choose the optimal configuration and pricing for your environment. By proactively playing with the Azure Pricing Calculator, you can simulate various scenarios amongst the various Azure instances, types and features that are available.
Often, it can be perceived that organisations need to move all of their estate to the cloud but in reality, this is not always the case. When onboarding your technical and data infrastructure to the cloud, it can be a good idea to start small in order to set yourself up for success. The Azure Pricing calculator can help you to price up different scenarios to help you to navigate hybrid architectures as well as full cloud architectures.
Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform and infrastructure created by Microsoft and the Azure Portal is one way for administrators to work with the cloud-based services and resources that are held in Azure. It’s extremely straightforward and as it’s browser based, doesn’t require any new client software to be installed.
The portal can be found at portal.azure.com and it is sometimes known as the Azure Resource Manager or ARM for short. The Azure Portal allows users to conduct a range of activities in Azure including creating and browsing resources, configuring settings for services such as Virtual Machines and monitoring the resources while they are in operation.
Due to the range of activities available on the portal, a detailed description is beyond the scope of a brief article but the main activities of the portal are very easy to use. To log in to the Microsoft Azure portal, open a browser and navigate to https://portal.azure.com. Log in with your Azure subscription account or if you don’t have one yet, you can set one up using the link on the portal page.
Once you are logged in, you can see the Azure dashboard. There is a good search facility, which means that developers and IT architects can find what they need quickly. You can also see your account information at the top right-hand corner. The portal itself is free to access and does not incur any cost to use.
It’s possible to bring your existing knowledge to bear on Azure. For example, the portal has its own Bash functionality and you can deploy JSON templates and your existing web apps via the portal. Azure offers a wide range of varied services on the portal but everything is located in one place. This unified approach means that people can find what they want quickly, rather than having to use different interfaces or applications for different things.
Like most administrative tasks, once your Azure deployments are established, well-known and documented, it’s more likely the Azure API or PowerShell interface will be used to provide ongoing automated operations and functions. For example, a PowerShell script to spin up a new instance of a pre-configured virtual machine with SQL Server for the marketing team who want to store some results of a campaign. This is straightforward to include as part of your operations workflow rather than expect an IT administrator to log into the portal and create the virtual machine.
From the Finance perspective, you can access billing information through the portal so that it’s possible to keep an eye on costs for each service. User rights can be set to allow IT administrators access to the Azure services but not the subscription or billing information and vice versa for finance users. The Azure portal uses Power BI to provide context and clarity to the billing information as well as other types of data such as service and maintenance information. From the users’ point of view, this means it is easy to port experience from the Azure portal onto Power BI, which is another interesting and useful data visualisation and reporting technology from Microsoft.
To summarize, the Azure portal is a unified window into Microsoft Azure. It’s an easy, one-stop-shop to everything Azure.
How Does Premium Assurance Differ from Custom Support Agreements?
We detailed the new Premium Assurance in a previous blog post. At a high level it looks similar to an existing Microsoft service called Custom Support Agreements.
They are very different beasts though. Custom Support Agreements are where organisations cannot move off an older software version and take out a support contract with Microsoft. They are typically expensive, not off-the-shelf and thus taken by larger organisations with complex needs. They cover different products, are sold and supported by different Microsoft teams, have different objectives, business rules and pricing.
Premium Assurance is a standard add-on to Software Assurance and is listed in the price list. It’s easy for customers to purchase, for partners to sell and for everyone to understand.
Will Premium Assurance spell the end of Custom Support Agreements? Microsoft hasn’t elaborated at this stage but so far it looks like all existing CSA products in the market today will continue unchanged.
Software Assurance Add-on (requires SA)
Only for Windows Server and SQL Server starting with 2008 versions
All eligible servers must be included
Up to 6 extra years of support
Includes ‘critical’ and ‘important’ security updates
Available through certain volume licensing programs
Sold via Worldwide Licensing with commissions paid to sellers
Discounts and price-protection for signing up early
Custom Support Agreements
Premier Support Add-on (requires Premier)
Software Assurance not required
Covers multiple products including Windows and Office but does not cover Windows Server or SQL Server
Typically last 1-3 years, not 6
Customer can cover just a subset of affected licences and pricing is tiered according to numbers
Only includes ‘critical’ updates but ‘important’ can be included sometimes for a fee
Bought when a product goes end-of-support; no discounts for buying early
Sold through Microsoft Premier and Services staff
Faster support through Premier-level support services and Technical Account Managers
Performing a clean install of the free Windows 10 upgrade is a 2 step process. Firstly as an in-place upgrade to register the free upgrade and then as a clean install. This is an inconvenience especially when upgrading multiple desktops and sometimes in-place upgrades from one version of an OS fail to complete.
In-place Upgrades can Fail
Reasons for failed upgrades range from undetected incompatible hardware drivers, erroneous applications, user tweaked settings, malware, antivirus and hard disk accelerator software through to not enough disk space, underlying bad disk sectors and proprietary disk compression or encryption software.
Although these possibilities have been around for many years, the free offer of a Windows 10 upgrade has made more people than ever want to jump up onto this new release and because of the time limitation before the free upgrade offer expires in July 2016, it has made the heightened the perception of urgency to do it now (it could just be because ‘the grass is greener’ or maybe even some think Microsoft will suddenly have a change of heart and whip this free upgrade from under them).
And while the vast majority of people will simply perform the in-place upgrade and allow Windows 10 to merge onto their existing PC setup, some, however, prefer to go down the ‘purists’ route of a clean install. Migrate all the useful data off their existing system, wipe the drive (preferably after having run a HDD surface scan on older drives), install a fresh OS and enjoy the challenge of searching out any missing drivers for those odd hardware pieces.
In order to be eligible for a Windows 10 free upgrade you must allow the upgrade process to identify that your existing OS installation is valid in terms of version (Windows 7, 8.0, 8.1), edition (Home or Pro), and activation (genuine software, not a trial, or otherwise not properly activated). For those interested in more detail, go to the Windows 10 FAQ.
Two-Step Upgrade Process
This leads us back to our original point; performing a clean install of Windows 10, whilst trying to qualify for the free upgrade, is a 2 step process. Firstly the existing OS must be registered as being eligible and secondly that eligibility must be migrated over to the new clean install.
Given that quite often the reason for a clean install is that this existing OS is experiencing some of the issues I mentioned right at the very start of this article this can mean that this initial in-place upgrade never completes, preventing enrolment of the PC to enable a subsequent clean install.
However, this is a shortcut to this initial step – that of enrolling/registering/certifying (call it what you will) the PC’s existing OS that it is indeed suitable and eligible for a free Windows 10 upgrade without having to perform the entire Windows 10 in-place upgrade first.
Naturally, before proceeding, any data migration from the old PC must be completed, either in the form of a backup, file transfer or Easy Transfer Wizard. You may even want to consider performing a full system image copy in case you do not successfully complete the fresh install phase. Proceed only if you have a way to recover.
Use your preferred method to access the files within the downloaded ISO (such as burn it to disk, mount it within Windows or use a 3rd party utility to expand it).
Search for gatherosstate.exe. Depending on the version of the image you chose, it will either reside in sources or \Windows\x64\sources or \Windows\x32\sources. Copy gatherosstate.exe to your desktop.
Ensuring you are properly connected to the internet, run the gatherosstate application. After a few seconds, an additional file should appear on your desktop – GenuineTicket.XML. This is confirmation that your existing PC and OS have passed the pre-requisites needed to perform a clean Windows 10 install. Save the file GenuineTicket.XMLto a location NOT on your system HDD (as this is going to be wiped). Any location will do; USB, network share, even email it to yourself!
Perform your clean install of Windows 10. When requested for the product key, click the ‘SKIP’ button.
When the clean install has completed and you’re looking at your fresh desktop, locate GenuineTicket.XMLand copy it to the hidden folder C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\ClipSVC\GenuineTicket. You can navigate to it directly by pasting this URL directly into a RUN dialog box (Win+R to activate, or Win+X,R or just type in RUN into the Cortana search box).
Reboot your PC.
That’s it! In order to confirm activation, bring up the SYSTEM panel (Win+Pause, Win+x, S, or type SYSTEM into the Cortana search box). The System dialog box will now confirm that this new installation is activated.
Allow updates to be performed on your new system, via SETTINGS, Update & Security.
Enjoy that new-fresh Windows 10 installation smell!
Q – When does a device cease being the same device? If a faulty PC motherboard is replaced but the HDD remains unchanged will Windows 10 continue working? We frequently re-install existing Windows operating systems to return to a clean test environment. How many times will we be able to do this with a Windows 10 licence before the re-installs are blocked?
A – Typically, the motherboard is the critical mass here. You can change the hard drive(s) and reinstall, change the video card, even upgrade the processor and Windows will still work on the device. With the free upgrade offer, you must upgrade on a pc that has Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 already installed (except Enterprise and RT editions). Once you have upgraded to Windows 10 on the PC and successfully activated it, you won’t have a Windows 10 product key but you will be able to perform a clean installation and select the Skip button on the product key page. Your PC will activate online automatically so long as the same edition of Windows 10 was successfully activated on the PC by using the free Windows 10 upgrade offer.
You are also allowed to install Windows virtually on the device (but not off the device, e.g. on a network share as that becomes virtual desktop access and requires its own licensing). Section 2d (iv) of the EULA (end user licence agreement):
(iv) Use in a virtualized environment. This license allows you to install only one instance of the software for use on one device, whether that device is physical or virtual. If you want to use the software on more than one virtual device, you must obtain a separate license for each instance.
There are limits on how many times you can activate Windows over the Internet on the same device but if you ever hit that limit, you should be able to perform telephone activation instead. There’s no activation limit enforced in the licence terms. If you move a HDD containing a physical installation of Windows 10 or move a .VHD with Windows installed to another pc, it may work but you may also find that reactivation is triggered by the changes and unless the Windows licence is transferable you’ll be non-compliant.
Q – How will licensing work for people who build their own PC and would normally buy a retail version of Windows? Is that licence going to be transferable to a subsequent build, or is the retail licence going to be limited to that particular PC [and if so, what’s the definition of “that particular PC”]?
A – You can still purchase the retail (FPP) licence of Windows 10, install that on a bare-metal pc and the licence will be transferable to another device (subject to only installing Windows on one device at a time). Preinstalled Windows (OEM) remains non-transferable. Now this does open up new territory for retail Windows; you can buy the retail version once, enjoy updates to Windows and when you want to upgrade your pc, simply transfer your Windows licence to your new pc without requiring an OEM licence. It’s pretty tricky to buy a bare-metal pc from the major manufacturers however and OEM licences became a lot cheaper recently so that may not save much money. Section 4b of the EULA details transfer rights:
b. Stand-alone software. If you acquired the software as stand-alone software (and also if you upgraded from software you acquired as stand-alone software), you may transfer the software to another device that belongs to you. You may also transfer the software to a device owned by someone else if (i) you are the first licensed user of the software and (ii) the new user agrees to the terms of this agreement. You may use the backup copy we allow you to make or the media that the software came on to transfer the software. Every time you transfer the software to a new device, you must remove the software from the prior device. You may not transfer the software to share licenses between devices.
If you are an OEM or System Builder, there remains the COEM (Commercial Original Equipment Manufacturer) product for just that purpose. Windows 8.1 COEM licence removed the DIY (personal use rights) addendum so if you’re building your own pc for personal use, buying the retail product is the correct way to licence.
Q – How is the lifespan of a PC going to be determined? If I have a PC with Windows now, will it still be supported as long as the hardware is still operational, or is there going to be a time limit? Or just a drift towards bits of hardware no longer being supported which would result in being forced to upgrade to a newer PC [and a new Windows licence]? Not everyone cares about the latest capabilities – plenty of people only use PCs to browse the web.
A – No time limit but you’ll find that certain components will become superseded and as such the minimum system requirements for Windows may change. The Microsoft Product Lifecycle pages state:
• Updates are cumulative, with each update built upon all of the updates that preceded it. A device needs to install the latest update to remain supported. • Updates may include new features, fixes (security and/or non-security), or a combination of both. Not all features in an update will work on all devices. • A device may not be able to receive updates if the device hardware is incompatible, lacking current drivers, or otherwise outside of the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (“OEM”) support period. • Update availability may vary, for example by country, region, network connectivity, mobile operator (e.g., for cellular-capable devices), or hardware capabilities (including, e.g., free disk space).
Q – How much will an OEM version of Win10 cost; a version to be incorporated into our instruments? I cannot find any info on this.
A – There are new editions of Windows 10 called Windows 10 Mobile and Windows 10 Core. These are ideal for industry and embedded devices such as instruments. They’re on the price list and you should be able to get this information from your Microsoft retailer.
Select Disable Updates and none of your Office applications will be updated; you won’t need to do this in each application. Somewhere in the world a puppy will start crying however, because you are defying Microsoft.
This action shouldn’t be taken lightly though; you will also not receive security patches so your products may become vulnerable. And at some point, your installation of Office will become unsupported.
Option 3 is performed by running OfficeC2RClient.exe from an administrative command-prompt and using the updatetoversionswitch with the specific version you want to deploy which can be newer or older than the current version (or you may not have one installed at all). If you don’t specify a version, it defaults to the latest one. The versions only go back so far but theoretically you could deploy an older release going back a couple of years.
How will rollbacks work when Office 2016 applications are brought into mainstream Office 365?
We’ll post an update to this blog when we try it.
The last point may seem obvious and irrelevant but we have to mention it for completeness. You can of course still use Office 2011 for Mac on the device whilst connecting to the Office 365 cloud services. But this is not going to help if you’ve subscribed to an Office 365 plan which includes Office applications; who wants to pay twice for the same thing?
If the customer tried to create a new D series VM in the same VNet or cloud service, they will also receive the following warning message telling them the cloud service doesn’t support those compute units.
If you create an A series VM in a new cloud services, Azure’s cloud fabric will host that VM in a cluster that currently may only support A series. That’s why you’ll see the behaviour that our customer has experienced.
It is not possible to move a VM between cloud services either so even if you had a service currently hosting D series VMs, the customer would need to delete their VM (but choosing the option to keep the attached disks) and recreate the VM from the attached disks in the other cloud service.
So our little trick would be for this customer to create the VM as a D series initially and as soon as it’s created, scale the VM down to an A2. That way Azure will host the VM in a cluster capable of supporting both A and D series compute units. The customer can scale up, down and mix VMs of A and D series to their heart’s content (with the exception of the A8-A11 compute sizes). The image below shows a cloud service with both A and D series compute units.
This doesn’t work with G series currently but at present they can only be hosted in the West US and East US 2 data centres anyway. Of course the feature release cadence of Azure is rapid so it’s likely this will be possible at some point in the future.
How would the customer have known to create the D series first to avoid this trap? We’d recommend utilising a Microsoft partner with experience in Azure services or attend one of our training courses; that’s what we’re here for.
There are three main routes to purchasing Microsoft Azure services:
1 – Direct through Azure.com and your credit card is billed monthly in arrears for the services you use. Can result in a scary bill if you’re unsure of the cost of the Azure services.
2 – Purchase an Azure ‘top-up’ via an IT reseller through the Open volume licence channel. Just like a mobile phone top-up; the top-ups are available in multiples of $100 and if your credit runs out, your services stop until you top-up again.
3 – Purchase via an Enterprise volume licence agreement. You can read more detail in an earlier blog post about How to buy Azure.
Imagine you are an IT reseller. You might actually be one in which case, not so tricky. You have a new customer who has been running some infrastructure on Azure and purchased the services direct. You’ve worked hard to persuade them that you can offer a nice managed service with single billing. To effect this, you’ll need to move them from direct into Open licensing. How do you do this?
Call Ghostbusters Support
First, you need to create the new Azure in Open subscription and also make sure that the service administrator is the same on both the subscriptions. This will involve the following steps:
Once you log in, you should be at the Subscriptions page of the Account tab but if not, click on the Account tab at the top of the page.
Select the subscription for which you want to change the Service-Administrator
Click on Edit Subscription Details on the right hand side of the page
Change the Service Administrator to the same as the customer’s direct subscription
Then phone Azure billing support to ask them to migrate the existing services across. Billing support is included in all Azure subscriptions.
Not all services can be migrated from one subscription to another but here is a list of services that should be ok to move: Virtual Machines Cloud Services CDN Web sites Media Services Service Bus Storage Multi Factor Authentication Traffic Manager Mobile Services Virtual Network Access Control Service
Some services can be migrated easily by the partner or customer (self-service migration): VSO SQL DB Multi-Factor Authentication
Finally, some services cannot currently be moved: Azure Active Directory BizTalk Services HD Insight Backup Hyper-V Recovery Manager Azure Store Import / Export Scheduler Management Services SQL Reporting Caching
If in doubt, support will be able to advise but this should give you an idea of what’s possible.