Azure Portal Reaches General Availability


In today’s Ask the Admin, I’ll look at how the new Azure portal changes the way apps are deployed in the cloud.

Almost with no fanfare at all, Microsoft announced general availability of its new — or old, depending on how you look at it — Azure management portal at the backend of last year, December 2nd, to be precise. Most IT sites passed over it because let’s face it, it’s not very interesting news.

The new portal brings with it a fundamental shift in philosophy however, and I’m not referring to the cluttered pane-based GUI that impairs usability. The new portal is designed to facilitate Azure Resource Manager (ARM), where instead of deploying apps to cloud services — or Service Management as it’s known — templates are used to deploy resources in a single operation.

This approach is most evident in the ability to select from a gallery of templates that can be used to deploy cloud apps in one click, including all the necessary resources to make it tick, such as VMs, storage, network interfaces, and public IP address. Take a look at Deploy a SharePoint Farm in Microsoft Azure on Petri for a good example of this.

Resource Groups

At the heart of ARM are Resource Groups (RGs) that allow app assets, such as VMs and virtual networks (VNets), to be grouped together for easier management. The new portal also supports Role Based Access Control (RBAC) for ARM-based deployments, including a long list of built in roles that can be assigned to RGs, or you can create your own custom roles. Interestingly some Azure features, such as Azure Recovery Services, are still only available in the old management portal and aren’t covered by RBAC, despite the GA announcement.

PowerShell isn’t left out here, and Microsoft Azure PowerShell 1.0 and higher supports ARM-based deployment with a set of cmdlets that differ from the original Service Management commands that you might be used to. If you have Microsoft Azure PowerShell 1.0 or higher installed on your management PC, you’ll need to import the ARM modules and log in to Azure using a Microsoft Account before you can use the ARM cmdlets. See Install Azure PowerShell 1.0 Preview on the Petri IT Knowledgebase for details on how to install the cmdlets and sign in to Azure Resource Manager.

For more information on how to create RGs, see Why IT Pros Should Be Using Azure Resource Groups on Petri.

ARM Templates

This is where the conversation gets interesting. Currently the only easy way to utilize templates is by selecting one from the limited choice in the portal UI, or using community-submitted templates provided via GitHub here.

If you want to provision your own templates, you either need to author them from scratch, which is a rather complicated affair, or install Visual Studio, which includes a tool that allows developers to quickly provision cloud apps using ARM templates. But Visual Studio is a monolithic tool for developers that most Windows sysadmins are unlikely to be familiar with, so there’s a learning curve involved.

Azure Stack and the future of Windows Server administration

Microsoft recently announced the first public preview of Azure Stack, which aims to extend the public Azure cloud to private datacenters. What this means is that in the future, Windows Server based resources in the datacenter will be managed in the same way as they’re managed in the cloud today. And with the new template-based model, developers will be able to deploy resources themselves. So if you’ve been avoiding learning Azure and PowerShell, now is the time to start.