Everything You Need to Know About Azure Infrastructure – March 2021 Edition

Microsoft ran another virtual edition of the Ignite conference in March. As usual there were a large number of Azure infrastructure announcements.

Availability Zones Expansion

Microsoft has committed to introducing availability zones to all Azure regions by the end of 2021.
An Azure region (supposedly) is made up of one or more physical data centers – a few, such as Norway West are rack space rented from third-party hosting providers. Some regions have many data centers, some beside each other, some spread across a city (within 2 milliseconds of latency). Before availability zones were added to Microsoft Azure, a facilities outage (power, networking, cooling) to one building could bring down all the data centers in the region. With compute and storage, we have been able to use locally-redundant storage (LRS) and availability sets (anti-affinity) to spread data replicas and compute instances across different nodes, but they were constrained to the same co-lo (the Microsoft term for a room) in a single data center in the region. One faulty temperature or climate sensor could bring down that room, and all replicas for your workload – this has happened in Microsoft Azure.

Availability zones create a boundary between sets of the physical data centers in a region. Each availability zone has independent power, cooling, and networking. Compute resources can be spread across zones and storage can use zone-redundant storage (ZRS) to place the data replicas across 3 availability zones. It sounds great, but only a few Azure regions have supported availability zones. This limitation affects things other than availability and SLAs; some features, such as VPN over ExpressRoute for encryption, are only possible in Azure regions that support availability zones.
Microsoft has promised:

  • All regions will support availability zones by the end of 2021. I wonder if or how that will be possible in regions such as Norway West.
  • Every new region will support availability zones.
  • In 2021 all “foundational and mainstream” services in Azure will support availability zones.

Windows Server Lives!

Microsoft also announced that Windows Server 2022 is now available in preview. Isn’t this an Azure article? Why are we talking about Windows Server? I don’t know about you, but most of what I deploy/migrate in Microsoft Azure is based on Windows Server so the guest OS is still quite relevant to my day.
I was recently asked if I could discuss the new features of Windows Server in a podcast. I had to admit that I was the wrong person – the improvements in the guest OS have had no impact on my work since 2016. I work with things like Active Directory Domain Services, File Services, Network Policy Server, and IIS. When was the last big improvement in any of those? Anyway, here’s a quick breakdown of what is new:

  • TPM 2.0 is used to secure the OS, firmware protection is added, and virtualization based-security/hypervisor-based code integrity are in a “secured-core server”. This reads like extra protections for Azure Stack HCI.
  • There is a vague statement about new network connectivity security.
  • New improvements in Windows Admin Center.
  • The Storage Migration Service adds a new “to-Azure” scenario for migrating file servers.
  • A smaller image size for containers.
  • A new containerization tool in Windows Admin Center.

To be honest, getting a listing of the new features that aren’t written in marketing-speak is pretty hard.

Other Announcements from Microsoft

Azure Storage


Azure Virtual Machines

App Services

Azure Backup & Site Recovery


Azure Security Center


And Now for Something Different

Did you know that there is Microsoft Ignite and there is also “Microsoft Ignite”? Does that sound confusing to you? Maybe it makes sense to whoever is planning the content for Microsoft Ignite, the event that you can (virtually) attend, but it’s confusing to the rest of us.
I signed up to (virtually) attend Microsoft Ignite. And when the session planner came out I was left wondering “if this was an in-person event, would I attend any sessions?”. This is the first time that there was a Microsoft TechEd/Ignite conference and I had no interest in any of the sessions.
I am interested in the work that Microsoft is focused on. I work with clients that want to use Microsoft Azure or are planning on moving all workloads/data to Azure. I typically work on the cutting edge. So, you’d expect that a Microsoft conference on enterprise IT would be of interest to me. But the Microsoft Ignite sessions were a bunch of 30 minutes, level 100 marketing dumps, with little information of interest to me. I did put a few sessions in my planner, but I didn’t attend a single one.
But just like the previous virtual Ignite, something odd happened. Some product teams released “Microsoft Ignite” sessions outside of the scope of the actual Microsoft Ignite. It was like there was a shadow “Microsoft Ignite” being run in spite of the session planners of the official Microsoft Ignite. In these shadow sessions, one could find technical content with content that had real value.
I’ve heard some people wonder if Microsoft will run Ignite as an in-person conference once it is safe to travel and meet up again. If sessions are going to be as poor as they were in the last virtual Microsoft Ignite then I can imagine 20,000+ disappointed paying attendees.