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Microsoft Azure

What's New with Azure– June 2021 Edition

July is here and we are halfway through the year. Am I the only one that feels like 2021 is zipping by? I have been working non-stop for the last 6 months preparing for and migrating legacy workloads from a data center to Microsoft Azure and I have barely had time to look up from my monitor. But that ends next week – I will be looking back on this series of articles and finding things that I need to start playing within the lab! And maybe I’ll try to get a gaming controller for my iPad.

Template Specs Are Generally Available

While “Bicep” (the higher-level language alternative for ARM/JSON) has been getting all the publicity, the new ARM feature that I’ve been looking forward to is Template Specs.

One of the ambitions of templates is that you can create a “best practice” way of deploying something. This might be a template that deploys a simple workload or even just a single resource type (referred to as a module).

Wait – isn’t Blueprints for this? Blueprints have been in preview for … I’ve lost track of how many years it’s been. Blueprints are D-E-A-D. OK, the official line is that Blueprints are still supported, etc, but they are D-E-A-D.

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Traditional IT tools, including Microsoft SCCM, Ghost Solution Suite, and KACE, often require considerable custom configurations by T3 technicians (an expensive and often elusive IT resource) to enable management of a hybrid onsite + remote workforce. In many cases, even with the best resources, organizations are finding that these on-premise tools simply cannot support remote endpoints consistently and reliably due to infrastructure limitations.

So, I have this great module and I want to share it. How do I do that? Some of us create libraries that we share it using DevOps or GitHub (probably a better choice, technically, thanks to raw file sharing). But what if my devs/ops want to use the Azure Portal? You are out of luck! There was a template sharing system there, but that has been in Preview since an arc sailed two kangaroos to Australia.

With Template Specs you can bring your code-managed templates into the Azure Portal and share them with your colleagues/customers. Now, everyone can work off of the same standard deployment. And Template Specs are generally available now.

Disk Bursting

Microsoft made two announcements about performance bursting for disks last month:

Imagine you have virtual machines using disks. Each disk (and virtual machine SKU/size) has limited performance constraints. For example:

  • A Standard SSD, up to 4 TiB in size, offers up to 500 IOPS per disk
  • A P10 Premium SSD offers up to 500 IOPS per disk.

Disk performance requirements can sometimes be “bursty”. Maybe a batch job kicks in once a week/month and hammers an application or database virtual machine. Or maybe Citrix Cloud creates/starts a bunch of new virtual machines for your machine catalog on a Monday morning and you want to minimize latency from create-to-login. Some of us have been in situations where you have over-provisioned disk capacity to get more IOPS:

  • Switch from Standard tier disks to Premium SSD
  • Deploy larger Premium SSD disks (P10 = 500 IOPS, P30 = 50,00 IOPS)

What if we just need that capacity for the burst scenarios? The good news is that Microsoft has added that capability to Standard SSD and Premium SSD in two forms:

  • On Demand-Bursting (Preview): Available on Premium SSD only, this charge-based system allows disks larger than 512 GiB to burst their IOPS. For example, a 4 TiB P50 could go from a limit of 7,500 IOPS to 30,000 IOPS. There is no time limit on the burst but it might be more affordable to upgrade the disk where bursting goes on for too long. This feature must be enabled.
  • Credit-Based Bursting (Generally Available): Disks have a “credit bucket” and can dip into that bucket to increase their limits for up to 30 minutes. This free system is available to Premium SSD and Standard SSD disks that are 512 GiB or smaller. This feature is enabled by default on eligible disks.

Keep in mind that a virtual machine also has a limit on how many IOPS it will handle! Today, only the following series support machine-level bursting:

  • Lsv2-series
  • Dv3 and Dsv3-series
  • Ev3 and Esv3-series

Other Announcements from Microsoft

Azure Storage

Networking

Azure Virtual Machines

App Services

Azure Backup & Site Recovery

Management

Azure Security Center

Miscellaneous

And Now for Something Different

As a father to young twins, I have approximately zero time (or less) for my Xbox. My favorite games are the Rockstar games like GTA or Red Dead Redemption series. Once upon a time, I might find myself alone in the house with no jobs to do and I would power up and drop out, running rampant around a mythical wild west or fictionalized version of Los Angeles.

Like many who attended Microsoft Ignite Online last year, I had a surprise in my inbox soon afterward. I was granted an allowance (to spend my own money) in the Microsoft employee online store. As a Microsoft Valuable Professional, I knew this would be of awesome value – Microsoft employees can buy Microsoft products at “cost price”. For example, I have years of activated credit for Office 365 Home for less than the cost of 1 year. I didn’t need any Microsoft software so I purchase 1 year of Xbox Gamepass Ultimate. I have gotten some games on the Xbox and even thrown a few touchdowns or cruised around Gotham. I even tried Flight Simulator on my under-powered Intel NUC PC. But last Sunday, I was in for a shock.

I was awake early and started reading the news in bed. I read that “X-Cloud” was GA. Oh wow! My Gamepass Ultimate gives me rights to that. A couple of minutes later, GTA V was running on my iPhone – not exactly a great gaming experience, especially considering that I didn’t have a controller.

That got me thinking about the loops and roundabouts in life. I once lived my life in the Hyper-V world. I was a Hyper-V MVP, writing books about Hyper-V, blogging about Hyper-V, presenting about Hyper-V, and I had some connections to the team and related teams in Redmond. I saw some of those folks move to Xbox. Later we learned that Xbox One uses Hyper-V to run gaming and UI partitions – Windows-supremo Dave Cutler was a part of the engineering of that.

Windows Server 2008 R2 added RemoteFX, an acquired technology to accelerate graphics. I was convinced that this could be used for gaming in the future – why manufacture consoles and limit your market to those customers if you could reach all TVs (with a client)? The downside was that this would require a global network of data centers close to the customer. Hmm!

And then I notice a few people leaving Xbox and going to Azure and vice versa! Hmm – interesting! What we know now is that:

  • Microsoft has (number changes every week) a global network of Azure datacenters
  • X-Cloud is powered by Xbox consoles refactored as servers
  • Microsoft has invested a fortune in 170+ edge data centers that accelerate traffic to their Azure regions for other workloads such as Office 365 and Xbox Live (Azure Front Door)

It’s kind of cool to see the threads of the past intertwine to create the future.

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Aidan Finn, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), has been working in IT since 1996. He has worked as a consultant and administrator for the likes of Innofactor Norway, Amdahl DMR, Fujitsu, Barclays and Hypo Real Estate Bank International where he dealt with large and complex IT infrastructures and MicroWarehouse Ltd. where he worked with Microsoft partners in the small/medium business space.