Great management tools can be a catalyst for Azure adoption

John Joyner illustrates the management tool features of the Windows Azure IaaS platform.

Drivers of cloud adoption for infrastructure as a service (IaaS) have generally focused on the economic, availability, and security aspects of the public cloud compared to private cloud and/or on-premise datacenters. There are other elements that can significantly impact the attractiveness of a cloud solution. One of these is the manageability of the IaaS resources in the cloud. When you have effortless yet excellent visibility into the health of your infrastructure, compared to known overheads to manage infrastructure using in-house or private cloud resources, this can be a catalyst or a tipping point.

The minimum management tools for IaaS-class VMs in a public cloud will include the basic features found in conventional host-based VM management -- status indicators such as "running" or "stopped" and tasks such as "start VM" and "delete VM". The Windows Azure management portal introduces a new Metro-style interface for VM management with a fresh, clean approach to presenting VM health and availability data. In a previous article we deployed a new VM in the Window Azure IaaS preview, seen running in Figure A, the Windows Azure virtual machines panel.

Figure A

Top-level menu in the virtual machines panel, includes images and disks

Observe the buttons in the ribbon at the bottom of the panel: from here you can connect an RDP session to the VM, restart or shutdown the VM, attach a new hard disk, or delete the VM. Notice grayed-out to the right is a Capture button. If the computer were stopped, this button would become active. Capturing the image of a stopped, ("syspreped") VM makes that image available to select from the My Images list in the Virtual Machine Gallery when creating a new VM.

Clicking on the VM instance name opens a dashboard seen in Figure B. The ribbon of tasks from the VM panel remains at the bottom of the screen. A chart at the top of the page shows CPU, data in and out, and disk read and disk write throughput statistics, in user-selectable views of 1 hour, 24 hours, and 7 days. This information is useful not only for performance assessment but also to check on your use of Azure resources such as bandwidth out that might be metered. To make this task easier, the peak value of the chart period you select is tagged.

Figure B

The dashboard of a selected virtual machine in the Azure portal, 7-day view selected.
Near the top of the VM dashboard seen in Figure B, there are links to Endpoints and Configure pages. On the Configure page, you can change the VM size from a small instance (1 core, 1.75-GB RAM) to an extra-large instance (8 cores, 14-GB RAM). On the Endpoints page, seen in Figure C, you configure the Azure host Internet firewall to publish services on the VM.

Figure C

The endpoints page configures the Azure host firewall to publish services from the VM to the Internet.

In a default example, only the RemoteDesktop endpoint is listed, which publishes the RDP protocol on a non-standard Internet port of your selection. The Internet port is mapped to the standard RDP port TCP 3389 on the VM. The setting to use the non-standard Internet-facing port is included in the RDP file shortcut that appears when you click the Connect button. If you wanted to publish a web server on the standard port of TCP 80, you would click the Add Endpoint button in the ribbon seen at the bottom of Figure C, specifying TCP 80 for both public port and private port.

Management from the cloud

While these management interfaces in the preview release of Azure IaaS features are a first-generation effort by Microsoft to provide cloud-based IaaS-class VM management tools, there is a natural fit and feel to management from the cloud. In delivering Azure IaaS on a subscription basis to the public, Microsoft has a unique opportunity to deliver an excellent management experience. The essence of the Metro UI-space and clarity, sharp edges and clean typography-prompt a rethink in application design that has a universal appeal these days. The opportunity arises from applying Metro-based rethink about how management tools present information to administrators and operators, combined with a new platform of awesome scale (Windows Azure).


John Joyner, MCSE, CMSP, MVP Cloud and Datacenter Management, is senior architect at ClearPointe, a cloud provider of systems management services. He is co-author of the "System Center Operations Manager: Unleashed" book series from Sams Publishing, ...