Azure Lab Services: how to create lab environments in the cloud

In Azure there is a service called Azure Lab Services to enable lab environments in the cloud, built from a collection of preconfigured virtual machines, in a simple and rapid way. Thanks to this service you can provide a custom lab environment for training or to work in isolated test and development environments. This article shows how to enable and configure the service and explores the main features of the solution.

Features of the solution

The main features of the solution Azure Lab Services are the following:

  • Users who receive the invitation have immediate access to virtual lab machines. All this is possible without having to provide access permissions on the Azure subscription. Access to the lab is done using a simple user experience, through a dedicated web portal.
  • You have the ability to create customized templates for VMs, from which generates virtual machines for different lab.
  • In order to achieve efficient use of resources, is given the option to schedule the automatic startup shutdown of the VMs and the option to limit the hours of use, using quotas. The end result is an optimization of operating costs.
  • Provides the ability to quickly and easily do the provisioning of systems and to scale in a flexibly way, without having to worry about the infrastructure required.

Possible usage scenarios

The use of theAzure Lab Service is recommended for the following scenarios:

  • Professional training or school classes: to configure the lab VMs in a custom way, according to the requirements of the course, to provide an environment where each participant connect and make practical activities and exercises.
  • Hackathons and hands-on labs: to provide an interactive experience during conferences and events, with the ability to easily scale based on the number of participants.
  • Environments for trial and personalized demo: to provide access at the invitation in a private lab where you can make the demo, before the official release of a software solution.
  • Machines for development and test environments: to provide an environment where you have preconfigured systems, used for purposes of development and application tests.

Configuring the environment

The first configuration needed is the creation of a Lab Account, that it is possible to carry out according to what reported:

Figure 1 – Creating a Lab Account

To create a lab you must have one user who belongs to role Lab Creator of the Lab Account. The user used to create the Lab Account has by default this capability as it belongs to the role Owner, but you can add additional users to the role Lab Creator, as below:

Figure 2 — Add a user to the role Lab Creator

In the Lab Account configuration you can specify whether the resources created in the lab are connected to a specific virtual network, having thus access to resources accessible from it:

Figure 3 – Configuration of access to VNet

As owner of the lab account you can specify which of the Azure Marketplace images you can make available to the Lab Creator for the creation of the lab:

Figure 4 – Selection of usable images from Marketplace

These are images that provide the creation of a single virtual machine, using the deployment Azure Resource Manager (ARM) and do not require additional software licenses.

Completed these configurations you can access the portal dedicated to Azure Lab Services to proceed with the configuration of the lab environment.

Figure 5 – Portal dedicated to Azure Lab Services

Doing with an enabled account (Role Owner, Lab Creator, or Contributor) you can create a new lab, setting its name and the maximum number of VMs:

Figure 6 – Creation of the Lab

Then you are prompted to set the specifications (size, region and image) to create the template, from which the environment of the lab will be generated:

Figure 7 – Specifications for creating the template

In the next step you need to specify the credentials to access the virtual machines:

Figure 8 - Configuring credentials

By selecting the button Create starts the template creation process, based on the selected image and attributes, which can take up to 20 minutes. During the creation process you may see the following screen:

Figure 9 – Template being created

At the end of this creation process you can make changes to the virtual machine template, by directly connecting via Remote Desktop, such as the installation and configuration of additional software.

Figure 10 -Customization of the template

When you feel ready, you can proceed with the template publication:

Figure 11 – Publication of the template

Management and use of the environment

When publishing is complete, by accessing the dashboard, you can manage various aspects of the laboratory:

  • Virtual machines: view the list of virtual machines and their allocation status. For each virtual machine you can manage the start, the shutdown, the cancellation, access via RDP and display how many hours the user has used it.
  • Scheduling: set up a mechanism that allows you to turn on and off automatically the VMs in the lab according to a specific or recurrent scheduling. For full details about schedule management consult this document.
  • Users: manage lab enabled users and obtain its registration link. At the moment Azure Lab Services supports organizational account and Microsoft account. In addition, you have the option to set a quota on the maximum working hours of the laboratory by the individual user. For further details please visit the Microsoft documentation.
  • Template: make changes to the template to make a new publication.

Figure 12 – Laboratory Management Dashboard

After completing the registration process, the user can access to the Azure Lab Services site and use the lab environment virtual machine assigned to him.

Figure 13 – Access to the lab virtual machines assigned

Who manages the lab environment can check the status of assignment of individual VMs and govern the entire lab environment.

Figure 14 – Allocation status of virtual machines

Conclusions

Thanks to this service you can turn on cloud systems quickly and easily, for lab environments for specific scenarios. All this happens by using the power of the cloud with obvious benefits in terms of flexibility, dynamism and without neglecting the aspects of governance of their environment. The service is certainly destined to get rich quickly with new features to further expand the possible scenarios of use and also to meet the needs of more articulated lab environments.