Category Archives: Azure Management

Azure Management services: what's new in January 2021

The new year began with several announcements from Microsoft regarding news related to Azure management services. The Cloud Community releases this summary monthly, allowing you to have a general overview of the main new features of the month, in order to stay up to date on these topics and have the necessary references to conduct further exploration.

The following diagram shows the different areas related to management, which are covered in this series of articles, in order to stay up to date on these topics and to better deploy and maintain applications and resources.

Figure 1 – Management services in Azure overview

Monitor

Azure Monitor

Cross query between Azure Monitor and Azure Data Explorer (preview)

The ability to query between Azure Monitor and Azure Data Explorer allows you to query data exported to Azure Data Explorer or Azure blob storage and merge them with any Azure Monitor Log Analytics workspace.

Among the various features recently released we find the ability to perform queries:

  • Between Azure Data Explorer and Azure Monitor services (Log Analytics / Application Insights) and vice versa
  • On Azure Monitor logs exported from an Azure blob storage account using Azure Data Explorer

In Azure Monitor Log Analytics, the maximum data retention time frame is limited to 2 years. This aspect can be limiting in some areas, to the point that certain compliance criteria are not met. To overcome this limitation, you can export logs to an Azure blob storage. This new feature allows you to cross-query by including data exported to Azure blob storage in an integrated way.

Monitoring Azure Data Explorer Cluster with Azure Monitor (preview)

Azure Monitor expands its capabilities with Azure Monitor for Azure Data Explorer, which allows you to perform a complete monitor of Azure Data Explorer clusters, providing a single view of performance, of operations, and actual use.

Integration between Azure Monitor workbooks and Application Change Analysis (preview)

The recently released integration between Azure Monitor and Application Change workbooks allows you to create different types of charts, using as a data source the information regarding the changes that are made in the Azure environment. For example,, you can create charts to see when important changes have occurred in the last few 24 hours, or use the ability to merge to see what changed before a spike in memory that occurred on a VM.

ITSM Connector for ServiceNow ITOM with Secure Export (preview)

Secure Export is the new version (in preview) of the’IT Service Management Connector (ITSM) of Azure Monitor, which allows you to automatically create work items in an ITSM tool, when an Azure Monitor alert is activated. As part of the preview, a new integration with ServiceNow IT Operations Management was introduced (ITOM) using Secure Export.

Azure Monitor Network Insights

Azure Monitor Network Insights is now available and allows , through a centralized console, to monitor your Azure network infrastructure. The main features of Network Insights are as follows:

  • Unique console for the network monitor.
  • Agent configuration is not required.
  • Centralized access to traffic and connectivity monitor tools, that allow you to check health state, metrics, alerts, and data.
  • Viewing the network topology, with the ability to view functional dependencies. This will make it easier to solve any problems.
  • Access resource metrics to debug when needed, without having to write queries or create specific workbooks.

Availability in new regions

Azure Monitor Log Analytics is now available in the following Azure regions: “Germany West Central”, “UAE North”, and “Switzerland West”. Furthermore, Azure Log Analytics is available in preview in two new regions: “UAE Central” and “Japan West”. To check the availability of the service in all the Azure regions you can consult this document.

Configure

Azure Automation

Availability in new regions

Azure Automation is now available in the “UAE North” and in the region of “Switzerland West”. To check the availability of the service in all the Azure regions you can consult this document.

Govern

Azure Policy

Support for NSG Flow Logs

TheNSG flow logs in the Azure platform, they allow you to maintain the visibility of network traffic entering and leaving the Network Security Groups. To simplify the deployment experience, NSG flow logs Integrated support has been introduced in the Azure Policy, which allows you to check the enabled status and to force the collection of NSG flow logs when disabled, specifically by using the following policies:

  • Audit policy: NSGs flag without Flow logs enabled
  • DeployIfNotExists policy: Enable Flow logs on NSGs where it is disabled   

Azure Cost Management

Updates related to Azure Cost Management and Billing

Microsoft is constantly looking for new ways to improve Azure Cost Management and Billing, the solution to provide greater visibility into where costs are accumulating in the cloud, identify and prevent erroneous spending patterns and optimize costs . In this article some of the latest improvements and updates regarding this solution are reported, including:

  • New cost view for resource groups
  • Saving the last scope used
  • What's New in Cost Management Labs
  • Definition of roles and responsibilities
  • Cost-saving methodologies by running .NET apps on Azure
  • New ways to save money
  • New videos to deepen these issues
  • Documentation updates

Secure

Azure Security Center

Vulnerability assessment for on-premises and multi-cloud systems

The Azure Security Center solution has recently been enriched with the ability to carry out an integrated Vulnerability Assessment, not just virtual machines in Azure, but also systems located on-premises or in multi-cloud environments, as long as Azure Arc has been enabled.

The vulnerability scanning included in Azure Defender for servers is done through the solutionQualys, which is recognized as a leading tool for real-time identification of potential vulnerabilities in the systems.

Thanks to this update, it is possible to harness the power of Azure Defender for server to consolidate the vulnerability management program on all resources in your environment (Azure and not). Among the main features we find:

  • Monitoring the VA scan (vulnerability assessment) on Azure Arc machines
  • Provisioning the VA agent on Azure Arc Windows and Linux machines (manually and on a large scale)
  • Receiving and analyzing vulnerabilities detected by distributed agents (manually and on a large scale)
  • Unified experience for Azure VMs and Azure Arc machines

What's new in Azure Security Center

Azure Security Center development is constantly evolving and improvements are being made on an ongoing basis. To stay up to date on the latest developments, Microsoft updates this page, this provides information about new features, bug fixes and deprecated features. In particular, this month the main news concern:

  • Azure Security Benchmark becomes the default initiative
  • Secure score for management groups (preview)
  • Secure score API
  • DNS sangling security added to Azure Defender for App Service
  • Multi-cloud connectors
  • Exemption, for subscriptions and management groups, for recommendations from the secure score
  • Users can request visibility “tenant-wide”
  • 35 recommendations in previews added
  • CSV export of filtered lists of recommendations
  • Resources “Not applicable” are reported as “Compliant” in Azure Policy assessments
  • Weekly export of secure score and regulatory compliance data through continuous export (preview)

Azure Defender for SQL updates and enhancements

In Azure Security Center, the following updates and improvements have been made to Azure Defender for SQL:

Protect

Azure Backup

Azure Managed Disk backups (limited preview)

Azure Backup offers the ability, at the moment by accessing a limited preview, to protect managed disks. All this takes place through the periodic creation of snapshots that are kept for a duration established by backup policy. The solution does not require the presence of specific agents and supports backup and recovery of both operating system and data disks (including shared disks), regardless of whether or not they are connected to a virtual machine running in Azure.

Encryption at rest with keys “customer-managed”

Azure Backup introduces encryption at rest support using customer-managed keys. This feature encrypts backup data in recovery services vaults using your keys in the Azure Key Vault. Data is protected using a data encryption key (DEK) AES-based 256, which in turn is protected using the keys stored in the Key Vault. Compared to encryption that uses keys managed by the Azure platform (available by default), this support gives you more control over encryption key management, enabling you to best meet your compliance needs.

Azure Site Recovery

New Update Rollup

For Azure Site Recovery was released theUpdate Rollup 53 that solves several issues and introduces some improvements. The details and the procedure to follow for the installation can be found in the specific KB.

Evaluation of Azure

To test for free and evaluate the services provided by Azure you can access this page.

Azure Management services: what's new in December 2020

In December several news regarding Azure management services were announced by Microsoft. Our community releases this monthly summary that gives you a comprehensive overview of the main news of the month, in order to stay up to date on these news and have the necessary references to conduct further study.

The following diagram shows the different areas related to management, which are covered in this series of articles, in order to stay up to date on these topics and to better deploy and maintain applications and resources.

Figure 1 – Management services in Azure overview

Monitor

Azure Monitor

New Azure Monitor agent and new Data Collection Rules features(preview)

Azure Monitor introduces (in preview) a new unified agent (Azure Monitor Agent – AMA) and a new concept to make data collection more efficient (Data Collection Rules – DCR).

Among the various key features added in this new agent we find:

  • Support for Azure Arc server(Windows and Linux) 
  • Virtual Machine Scale Set support (VMSS)
  • Installation via ARM template

With regard to the Data Collection, these innovations have been made:

  • Better control in defining the scope of data collection (e.g.. ability to collect from a subset of VMs for a single workspace)
  • Single collection and sending to both Log Analytics and Azure Monitor Metrics
  • Send to multiple workspaces (multi-homing for Linux)
  • Ability to better filter Windows events
  • Better extension management

Azure Monitor for Windows Virtual Desktop (preview)

Azure Monitor now allows you to perform the following operations related to Windows Virtual Desktop environments:

  • View a summary of the status and health of host pools
  • Find and resolve any deployment issues
  • Evaluate resource usage and make decisions about scalability and cost management
  • Understanding and addressing user feedback

Azure Monitor for containers: tab reports and deployment logs

In Azure Monitor for containers a new tab has been made available Reports that gives customers complete access to all advanced monitoring workbooks for Kubernetes, for example: Node-disk, Node-network, workloads and Persistent Volume monitoring.

Furthermore, you can now view real-time logs of Azure Kubernetes Service deployments (AKS), accessing the live logs of the pods directly. Log Analytics will allow you to search by applying filters to view historical pod deployment logs, useful for diagnosing any issues.

Azure Monitor for containers: support for Private Cluster live logs (preview)

In Azure Monitor for containers support for private cluster live logs has been introduced, this allows you to view in real time container logs, pod events and metrics. For more details please visit the Microsoft-specific documentation.

Infrastructure Encryption for Azure Monitor data 

Starting from 1 November 2020 data that flows into Azure Monitor is encrypted twice: at the service level and now also at the infrastructure level, thanks to the double encryption available for Azure storage.

Configure

Azure Automation

Support for Azure Private Link available

Microsoft has introduced support forAzure Private Link, necessary to securely connect virtual networks to Azure Automation through the use of private endpoints. This feature is useful for:

  • Establish a private connection with Azure Automation, without opening access from the public network.
  • Ensure that Azure Automation data is accessible only through authorized private networks.
  • Protect yourself from data extraction by allowing granular access to specific resources.
  • Keep all traffic within the Microsoft Azure backbone network.

Availability in new regions

Azure Automation is now available in the “Norway East” and “Germany West Central”. To check the availability of the service in all the Azure regions you can consult this document.

Support for Python3 runbooks (preview)

In Azure Automation, you can now import, create and run runbooks Python 3 in Azure or in a Hybrid Runbook Worker.

Evaluation of Azure

To test for free and evaluate the services provided by Azure you can access this page.

Azure Management services: what's new in November 2020

In November, Microsoft unveiled several news regarding Azure management services. Our community, through these articles that are released on a monthly basis, want to provide an overview of the main news of the month, in order to stay up to date on these arguments and have the necessary references for further information.

The following diagram shows the different areas related to management, which are covered in this series of articles, in order to stay up to date on these topics and to better deploy and maintain applications and resources.

Figure 1 – Management services in Azure overview

Monitor

Azure Monitor

New version of the agent for Linux systems

This month, a new version of the Log Analytics agent was released forLinux systems, which includes several improvements and ensures greater stability. Among the main changes is support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8, CentOS 8, Ubuntu 20.04 and SLES 15 SP1+, as well as an extension of features for Azure Arc VMs. It also includes a new troubleshooting tool.

Availability in new regions

Azure Log Analytics is now available in the "Brazil Southeast" and "Norway East" regions. It is also available in preview in three new regions: “Germany West Central”, “UAE North”, and “Switzerland West”. To check the availability of the service in all the Azure regions you can consultthis document.

Virtual Machines Guest Health (preview)

The functionality Virtual Machines Guest Health allows you to monitor the health status of the CPU, disk and memory for a virtual machine and allows you to receive alerts for changes. Each monitor measures the health status of a particular component and the three states covered are: Healthy, Warning, and Critical. These states are defined based on the thresholds set by the user for each monitor. The functionality Virtual Machines Guest Health has a hierarchical model “father-son” where the overall integrity of the virtual machine is determined by the integrity of its individual monitors and corresponds to the monitor state “son” having the worst state of integrity.

Configure

Azure Automation

Availability in a new region

Azure Automation is now available in the “Brazil Southeast”. To check the availability of the service in all the Azure regions you can consult this document.

Govern

Azure Policy

Export and management of Azure Policies as code with GitHub

You can now export Azure policies to GitHub directly from the Azure portal, through the “Export definitions”. After exporting, you can use GitHub actions to create custom workflows for deploying policies from GitHub to Azure. For further information you can consult this documentation.

Azure Advisor

New recommendations

Azure Adivisor has added the following recommendations to help improve the reliability and performance of Azure resources.

Reliability:

Performance:

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Azure Backup

Soft Delete for SQL Server and SAP HANA in Azure VMs

Azure Backup officially released thesoft delete also with regard to the SQL Server and SAP HANA protection on board Azure virtual machinesSoft delete is a security feature that allows you to protect your backups even after you delete it. Thanks toSoft delete, in the event that a backup is removed accidentally or for malicious actions, you are guaranteed that the backup data is still maintained for 14 days from the cancellation date. This feature, that doesn't include any additional costs, allows you to recover any backups removed within the retention period.

News in SAP HANA protection

Azure Backup makes it easy to back up and restore SAP HANA databases running on Azure virtual machines and is BackInt certified by SAP. With regard to the protection of SAP HANA, the following innovations have been introduced:

  • Support for SAP HANA incremental database backups (preview).
  • Azure Backup's SAP HANA backup uses a pre-registration script to create a HANA user to perform backup and restore operations, which has suffered significant updates about the permissions required by the user who is used to perform backups.

Long term protection for Azure PostgreSQL

Azure Backup provides the ability to keep Azure Database backups for PostgreSQL up to 10 years. To consult the advanced protection features of Azure PostgreSQL databases you can consult this article.

Azure Resource Manager template support for backing up Azure file shares

Azure Backup introduced the ability to configure backup protection for Azure file shares by using the Azure Resource Manager declarative template (ARM). With this new option, you can enable backup of Azure file shares through a specific JSON file that can be deployed through the Azure portal, Azure Powershell or with azure command-line interface.

Azure Site Recovery

DR for Azure VM: increased the maximum disk size

Azure Site Recovery now enables Disaster Recovery scenarios for virtual machines in Azure with managed disks up to 32 TB, replicated in a secondary region.

Migrate

Azure Migrate

PowerShell support for the Server Migrate tool

In Azure Migrate, thanks to the addition of a new PowerShell-based management interface for the Server Migrate tool, you can configure and manage server replication and migration to Azure using Azure PowerShell cmdlets. This allows you to perform migrations in a repeatable and automated way, being able to obtain greater scalability and speed in the migration processes.

Evaluation of Azure

To test for free and evaluate the services provided by Azure you can access this page.

How to optimize management and costs of Azure virtual machines with SQL Server

For virtual machines in Azure environment on which SQL Server is running, a new management mode has been introduced that makes the maintenance activities necessary to increase security easier, obtain cost benefits and optimize deployments. This article describes how to enable this new feature and explores the benefits that can be achieved.

Azure provides a wide range of fully managed SQL database services, modern and secure that can support different scenarios, like re-hosting, modernizing existing SQL Server workloads and developing new cloud applications.

Figure 1 - SQL Service family

Although the adoption of managed services leads to high benefits in terms of costs, management and scalability, IaaS virtual machines with SQL Server installed are often still required in the Azure environment. This scenario is also common when dealing with "lift and shift" migrations of virtual machines from the on-premises environment.

Figure 2 – Administration effort in Cloud migration scenarios

In order to optimize and automate management and administration tasks, it is possible to activate the new extension SQL Server IaaS Agent (SqlIaasExtension) on Azure virtual machines with SQL Server installed. By registering this extension from the Azure portal it will be possible to access the "SQL virtual machines" group of resources as well as the classic "Virtual machines".

The adoption of this extension is completely free and the data collection carried out is aimed exclusively at offering new features from the Azure portal. Collected data will not be used by Microsoft to perform license checks without the customer's prior consent.

How to activate this new management method?

The first step required to use the extension SQL Server IaaS Agent is to register the resource provider Microsoft.SqlVirtualMachine on the specific subscription. This provider offers to the extension the ability to create resources within that specific subscription.

Figure 3 – Resource provider registration

Once this operation has been completed, it is advisable to choose the management method to be adopted, among the following:

  • Lightweight mode: in this mode, the extension binary files are copied to the virtual machine, but no agent is installed and the SQL Server service running on the VM is not restarted. By adopting this mode, you can only change the type of license and the edition of SQL Server, in addition to having a limited set of management options. This is the default management mode when using the automatic registration feature which can be activated from the Azure portal or through manual registration.

Figure 4 – Auto-enrollment from the Azure portal

Figure 5 – Select the subscription during the automatic registration phase from the Azure portal

The adoption of this mode has no impact on the use of virtual machine resources in terms of memory and CPU and it is recommended to activate this mode before the full management mode (full mode).

  • Full mode: in this mode, it is planned to install the SQL IaaS Agent aboard the virtual machine and a complete management experience is provided. Activating this mode involves restarting the SQL Server service. Full mode specifically installs two Windows services that, from direct experience, can have an impact on memory and CPU usage that is not always negligible.
  • NoAgent Mode: this is the mode dedicated to installations of SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2 on board Windows Server 2008. For this mode there is no impact on the use of memory or CPU and it is not necessary to restart SQL Server.

Virtual machines with SQL Server that have registered the extension in "lightweight" mode can upgrade to "full" mode via the Azure portal, Azure command line or Azure PowerShell. There is no downgrade procedure, but to switch from "full" mode to "lightweight" mode it is necessary to unregister on the VM the extension SQL IaaS Agent.

When you activate a virtual machine with SQL Server by using the images available in the Azure Marketplace, the extension SQL Server IaaS Agent is automatically registered if the specific resource provider is active on the subscription.

For more details on the registration process and the commands that you can use, please refer to this Microsoft's document.

Features offered

The extension SQL Server IaaS Agent allows you to take advantage, direct from the Azure Portal, of the benefits listed below for virtual machines hosting SQL Server:

  • Management from the Azure portal: you can view and manage specific SQL-related features of all virtual machines with SQL Server on board, at a single centralized point in the Azure portal.

Figure 6 – SQL Server management using the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

  • Backup management: it will be possible to schedule backups for databases by selecting various options such as backup encryption, the setting of the retention period, the backup of system databases and the configuration of a manual or automatic schedule. This feature is useful for SQL Server protection when you do not want to adopt a specific backup solution, but it is sufficient to back up the databases on the instance to a storage account.

Figure 7 – Manage SQL Server backups by using the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

  • Patching management: you will be allowed to configure a maintenance window during which can be installed security updates, coming from Windows Update and classified as critical or important, of Windows and SQL Server.

Figure 8 – Patching by using the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

  • Security aspects and Azure Key Vault integration: it will be possible to manage the port to connect to the SQL Server instance. Furthermore, you will be allowed to enable SQL authentication, specifying a particular login. If the SQL Server SKU supports it, it is also possible to install and configure integration with Azure Key Vault, to use data encryption features such as Transparent Database Encryption, Column Level Encryption and Always Encrypted.

Figure 9 – Manage security aspects and integration with Azure Key Vault by using the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

  • Licensing management: it will be possible to easily change the way SQL Server is licensed, thus being able to obtain direct cost savings.

Figure 10 – Manage SQL Server licensing by using the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

  • Flexible management of the version and of the edition: in case there is a need to change the version or edition of SQL Server, you can update the metadata within the Azure portal without having to redeploy the entire SQL Server VM.

Figure 11 – Manage the SQL Server edition by using the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

  • Enabling R Services (Advanced analytics): if the system is used in Machine Learning, the possibility of installing this feature is provided, during SQL Server setup, to allow the execution of R scripts on the SQL Server virtual machine.

Figure 12 – Enable R Services by using the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

  • Configure Always On availability group functionality: directly from the Azure portal it is possible to activate high availability and disaster recovery mechanisms by configuring the Always On availability group.

Figure 13 - Activation of the Always On availability group functionality through the SQL Server IaaS Agent extension

Conclusions

Thanks to the adoption of this recent extension SQL Server IaaS Agent, running SQL Server on board an Azure virtual machine allows you to take advantage of various additional features and to have an optimal management experience, similar to SQL Server managed service. All these features also allow for greater ease of use and important advantages in SQL Server management compared to implementations on on-premise virtual machines.

Azure Management services: what's new in October 2020

In October, Microsoft announced a considerable number of news regarding Azure management services. Our community, through these articles that are released on a monthly basis, want to provide an overview of the main news of the month, in order to stay up to date on these arguments and have the necessary references for further information.

The following diagram shows the different areas related to management, which are covered in this series of articles, in order to stay up to date on these topics and to better deploy and maintain applications and resources.

Figure 1 – Management services in Azure overview

Monitor

Azure Monitor

New version of the agent for Linux systems

This month, a new version of the Log Analytics agent was released for Linux systems, which includes several improvements and ensures greater stability. Among the main changes is support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8, CentOS 8, Ubuntu 20.04 and SLES 15 SP1+, as well as an extension of the features for Azure Arc VMs. Also included is support for Python 3 and a new troubleshooting tool.

Monitor Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes environments

Azure Monitor for Containers now extends support by contemplating alerts related to metrics of azure arc-enabled kubernetes environments. These metric alerts enable an effective monitor of system resources. To see the list of alerts available for Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes clusters, please consult this document.

Azure Monitor for containers: Network Policy Manager support (Preview)
It is now possible to monitor the networking of AKS clusters using Network Policy Manager (NPM). In this way Azure monitor for containers will collect the metrics and report any anomalies in the configuration or in the performance of the network.

Azure Monitor for containers: persistent volume monitoring support (PV)

Azure Monitor for containers is now able to monitor the capacity of the persistent volume (PV) connected to the AKS cluster, collecting capacity metrics for all PVs, except for kubesystemnamespace.

Azure Monitor Log Analytics data export (preview)

This feature allows you to continuously export data that resides in certain tables in a Log Analytics workspace to an Azure storage account (every hour) or to Azure Event Hub (almost in real time). When exporting to a storage account, each table is stored in a separate container. Similarly, when you export to event hub, each table is exported to a new event hub instance. There is currently no method for filtering data and limiting the export of only certain events. By adopting this feature you can take advantage of the following benefits:

  • Low cost data retention
  • Easier compliance when data retention is required for an extended period of time
  • Integration with third-party solutions such as Azure Data Lake and Splunk
  • Low-latency export to Event Hub, enabling near real-time monitoring and alerts

Availability in new regions (preview)

Azure Log Analytics is now available in preview in the region of “Brazil Southeast” and “Norway East”. To check the availability of the service in all the Azure regions you can consult this document.

Configure

Azure Automation

Availability in a new region

Azure Automation is now available in the “Switzerland North”. To check the availability of the service in all the Azure regions you can consult this document.

Govern

Azure Policy

Added support for keys, secrets, and certificates in Azure Policy for Key Vault

Azure Policies for Key Vault allow you to control secrets, keys, and certificates stored in the key vault to ensure that set compliance requirements are met. Any secrets, keys, or certificates that do not meet the requirements will appear as non-compliant in the policy compliance dashboard. Furthermore, you can set deny policies to prevent users from creating or importing objects into the key vault that do not comply with the policies that you set. Compliance results can also be published in Azure Security Center.

Azure Cost Management

Azure Cost Management + Billing updates

During this month, news was announced regarding the following areas of Azure Cost Management and Billing:

Azure Advisor

New recommendations

The following recommendations have been added in Azure Adivisor to improve resource performance:

  • Use the Accelerated Writes feature in your HBase cluster
  • Review Azure Data Explorer table cache-period (policy)
  • Optimize MySQL temporary-table sizing
  • Distribute data in server group to distribute workload among nodes

For further information you can consult this article.

Furthermore, to improve the operation of the Azure environment, the following recommendations have been included:

  • Ensure that at least one host pool is Validation Environment enabled
  • Make sure not too many host pools have Validation Environment enabled
  • Use Traffic Analytics to view insights into traffic patterns across Azure resources

More details are available in this article.

Protect

Azure Site Recovery

New Update Rollup

For Azure Site Recovery was released theUpdate Rollup 51 which solves several issues and introduces support for the following Linux distributions: SUSE 15 SP2, RHEL 7.9 e Cent OS 7.9. The related details and the procedure to follow for installation can be found in specific KB.

Evaluation of Azure

To test for free and evaluate the services provided by Azure you can access this page.

Azure Automanage: the new approach for managing virtual machines in Azure

The adoption of cloud solutions has simplified and reduced operational expenses (Opex) and the management costs in numerous areas of IT. In fact, many systems that previously ran on-premises and were complex to maintain are now simple cloud managed services. However at the same time,, running virtual machines in Microsoft Azure opens the door to a wide range of new services that make operational management articulated. Microsoft to better manage all services and related configuration has released Azure Automanage, a new solution that automates different operations throughout the lifecycle of virtual machines located in Azure. This article lists the characteristics of the solution, showing how Azure Automanage can facilitate the day-to-day tasks of system administrators and ensure optimal compliance with Microsoft best practices.

Azure Automanage allows you to automatically implement best practices in virtual machine management ensuring compliance with regards to security aspects, corporate compliance and business continuity. To learn more about implementation guidelines, Microsoft's proven best practices and tools designed to accelerate the cloud solution adoption journey you can consult the documentation Cloud Adoption Framework.

By adopting this solution, you can detect, integrate and configure different Azure services during the entire life cycle of virtual machines, making a distinction between Production environments and DevTest environments. The Azure services currently covered by Azure Automanage are the following:

Figure 1 – Services managed by Azure Automanage

For more information about services that are automatically managed by Azure Automanage and related specifications can be consulted this Microsoft documentation.

The inclusion of virtual machines in the service can take place on a large scale or individually, with the certainty that if VMs do not meet the best practices imposed, Azure Automanage will be able to detect and correct them automatically.

The service can be activated directly from the Azure portal and requires the following steps:

Figure 2 – Activating the service from the Azure portal

Figure 3 – Selecting the virtual machines to include in the service

At the moment Azure Automanage is only available for Windows Server virtual machines, but in the future there will be the possibility of also contemplating Linux systems.

Azure Automanage uses configuration profiles to determine which Azure services should be enabled on the selected systems. Two configuration profiles are currently available by default, one for the DevTest environment and one for the Production environment.

Figure 4 – Selecting the profile to activate

The two profiles are distinguished by the types of services that are intended to be enabled on the different workloads and can be customized for certain services. In fact, in addition to standard services, a certain subset of preferences can be configured within a range of configuration options that do not violate Microsoft best practices. For example,, in the case of Azure Backup it is possible to define the frequency of the backup and on which day of the week it must be performed, but it is not allowed to completely disable Azure Backup in production environments, because it would not respect the best practices imposed by Microsoft.

Figure 5 – Configuring preferences for profile services

The configuration process also requires the presence of an Automanage account. This is an Azure System Managed Service Identity (MSI) which is used to carry out automated management operations on virtual machines. This identity can be created during the activation process, or you can select an existing identity.

Figure 6 – Selecting the Automanage Account to use

After you enable the service Azure Automanage the process of bringing the machines back to the best practices specified in the configuration profile starts.

The status of the VMs after service activation can be:

  • In-progress: the VM is being configured
  • Configured: the VM has been configured and adheres to best practices
  • Failed: the VM does not adhere to best practices and remediation actions could not be completed

Figure 7 – Applying the configuration profile on the selected VMs

Figure 8 – Result of applying the configuration profile on the selected VMs

The adoption of Azure Automanage entails several advantages for the customer which can be summarized with the following points:

  • Reduce costs by automating virtual machine management
  • Optimize workload uptime by performing tasks in an optimized way
  • Implementing security best practices

Conclusions

Virtual machine lifecycle management, especially in large environments, can be very expensive in terms of time and cost. Furthermore, activities that are repeated frequently can be prone to errors, leading systems to a non-optimal configuration. With this new service, you can simplify and automate all the necessary steps to ensure that your virtual machines meet the desired requirements. The service is currently in preview, therefore not usable in production. There are several aspects on which the service is destined to expand, in particular to provide greater flexibility in the configuration, but it is a very useful solution whose adoption will certainly be recommended in Azure environments.

Azure Management services: what's new in September 2020

Also in September, Microsoft announced news regarding Azure management services. Our community publishes this summary monthly to provide an overview of these new features. In this way you can stay up-to-date on these topics and have the necessary references to conduct further investigations.

The following diagram shows the different areas related to management, which are covered in this series of articles, in order to stay up to date on these topics and to better deploy and maintain applications and resources.

Figure 1 – Management services in Azure overview

Monitor

Azure Monitor

New agent version for Windows Systems

A new version of the Log Analytics agent has been released this month for Windows systems, which introduces several improvements and greater stability.

New unified Agent and data collection rules (preview)

Azure Monitor is introducing a new concept for configuring data collection and a new unified agent for Azure Monitor in public preview. The new agent and data collection rules improve some key areas of data collection from virtual machines in Azure Monitor, including:

  • Send data to both Log Analytics and Azure Monitor metrics.
  • Data collection scoping for a subset of virtual machines for a single workspace.
  • Sending data to multiple workspaces for Linux VMs (multi-homing).
  • Improvements in Windows event filters.

New agent for containers

The new version of the Azure Monitor agent for containers introduces these changes:

  • Allows you to monitor the status of your deployments and Horizontal Pod Autoscaler (HPA) via workbook.
  • Accessing the tab Health (limited preview)
  • Bug fixes such as displaying node status “not ready”.

Azure Resource Health

Azure Cloud Services support

In Azure Resource Health real-time health status and status history are now reported for Azure Cloud Services, in particular:

  • Help diagnose and get support for Azure Cloud Service.
  • Reports the current and past status of resources at the level of Deployment, Role & Role Instance.
  • Provides detailed reasons for health status changes.
  • Sets alerts when health status changes.

Govern

Azure Cost Management

Cost Management for Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Adopting a multi-cloud strategy usually results in high complexity in cost control, often given by the different management of different cost models and different billing cycles. Keeping the costs of workloads residing on different cloud providers under control can be difficult to understand as they require the use of different dashboards and views.

Azure Cost Management introduced the ability to centrally manage AWS costs in addition to Azure. This feature allows you to avoid budget surpluses, to maintain control and better manage cloud cost responsibility.

Secure

Azure Security Center

Introduction to Azure Defender

Threat protection services in the Azure Security Center have been renamed to Azure Defender. Furthermore, thanks to the new dashboards, a better experience is offered for detecting security threats and their responses.

Securing SQL databases and virtual machines at any location

With Azure Arc support, Azure Defender can now protect SQL servers located on-premises and in multicloud environments, as well as virtual machines hosted in other public clouds.

Advanced protection for containers

The growing popularity of the adoption of containers and Kubernetes has led to an evolution in Azure Defender for Kubernetes. In fact, to ensure adequate workload protection in the Kubernetes environment, Azure Defender has included Kubernetes policy management, hardening and application of admission controls.

Furthermore, thanks to the introduction of a mechanism that allows continuous scanning of container images, the possibility of maliciously exploiting the running containers is reduced to a minimum.

IoT protection

Azure Defender for IoT, thanks to the recent acquisition of CyberX, can provide security for IoT devices in agentless mode. The solution provides continuous detection of IoT assets / OT, vulnerability management and threat monitoring for both greenfield and brownfield devices.

Protect

Azure Backup

Backup Center

The new Backup Center solution, currently available in public preview, provides a unique experience designed for centralized backup management at scale. With Backup Center, you can dynamically explore large backup inventories between vaults, subscriptions, locations and even different tenants. The Backup Center can also govern any actions related to backups.

Backup Center supports the following types of workloads:

  • Azure Virtual Machines
  • SQL in Azure Virtual Machines
  • Azure Database for PostgreSQL servers
  • Azure Files

Cross Region Restore

Recovery between different Azure regions, available for virtual machines, has also been extended to support SQL and SAP HANA. Cross Region Restore allows customers to restore their data to secondary regions at any time, essential in the event of the unavailability of the primary region.

Long-term protection of Azure Database for PostgreSQL

Azure Backup and Azure Database Services have merged to provide an enterprise-class backup solution for Azure Database for PostgreSQL (preview). Through managed backup policies you can enable backup retention for up to ten years.

Azure Site Recovery

New Update Rollup

For Azure Site Recovery was released theUpdate Rollup 50 that solves several issues and introduces some improvements. The details and the procedure to follow for the installation can be found in the specific KB.

Migrate

Azure Migrate

Introduced support for Availability Zones

In the tool Azure Migrate: Server Migration the support for Availability Zones was introduced when migrating server systems to Azure. The Azure Availability Zones are a mechanism for achieving high availability, protecting applications and data from failure that might occur in Azure datacenters. With this new opportunity, you can achieve better resiliency for application workloads that migrate to your Azure environment.

Support for Windows Virtual Desktop and ASP.NET web applications included

Azure Migrate has recently expanded support to include in migration scenarios:

  • Windows Virtual Desktop. This migration process helped companies provide a secure and reliable remote desktop experience, simplifying the path to the adoption of cloud solutions.
  • ASP.NET Web Applications. By migrating on-premises .NET-based web applications to managed services provided by the Azure platform, such as App Service and Azure SQL, customers are able to reduce costs and simplify application management.

Evaluation of Azure

To test for free and evaluate the services provided by Azure you can access this page.

Azure Management services: what's new in August 2020

Microsoft constantly releases news about Azure management services. Our community publishes this monthly summary to provide an overview of the top news released in the last month. This allows you to stay up-to-date on these topics and have the necessary references to conduct further investigations.

The following diagram shows the different areas related to management, which are covered in this series of articles, in order to stay up to date on these topics and to better deploy and maintain applications and resources.

Figure 1 – Management services in Azure overview

Monitor

Azure Monitor

New version of the agent for Linux systems

A new version of the Log Analytics agent has been released this month for Linux systems. In addition to solving several issues, some new features are introduced, among the main ones we find:

  • Support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8
  • Support for Azure Arc for servers
  • FIPS compliance
  • Limiting ingestion to prevent service degradation in the event of extremely high data volume

Azure Monitor for containers: support for viewing Kubernetes environment resources (preview)

With the Kubernetes resource monitor from the Azure portal, you can now use the kubernetes “point and click” to get real-time details of workloads hosted in the AKS environment. The public preview of this feature includes support for different resources (deployments, pods, and replica sets) and supports the following features:

  • Viewing Workloads Running on the Cluster, including the ability to filter resources by namespaces
  • Find the node on which an application is running and its IP address of the pod
  • View pods in set replica, the status of each pod and the images associated with each pod
  • Drill down for individual deployments to view their real-time status and details
  • Perform on-the-fly changes on YAML to validate devtest scenarios

Audit Logs for Azure Monitor queries (preview)

The Azure Monitor team has announced in public preview one of the most requested features: the ability to check Azure Monitor query logs. When enabled, through the Azure diagnostic mechanism, you can collect telemetry data about who ran a query, when it was performed, which tool was used to run it, text and performance statistics related to the performance of the same. This telemetry, like any other Azure Diagnostic-based telemetry, can be sent to an Azure storage blob, Event Hub or Azure Monitor.

New dedicated blade for System Center

System Center now has its own dedicated blade in Log Analytics. To display the new System Center panel, you need to access the Log Analytics workspace and select “System Center” from the left navigation bar, in the group “Workspace Data Sources”. The new System Center blade lets you view and manage SCOM instances connected to your Log Analytics workspace.

New limits for data ingestion in Log Analytics

Azure Monitor is a large-scale service designed to serve thousands of customers who send high volumes of data every month at an increasing rate. As with any multi-tenancy platform, Microsoft has realized that limits must be placed to protect customers from sudden spikes in ingestion that can affect customers who share the environment and resources. Until now, there was only one import volume speed limit for Azure resource data from Diagnostic Settings. Now you've added the limit to other Log Analytics data sources, including: Diagnostic Settings, agents and data collection APIs. The limit is applied to compressed data approximated 6 GB / Min, where this limit may vary depending on the types of data and its compression ratio. This limit for import volume speed in Log Analytics can be increased by opening a support request.

Log Analytics REST APIs: released a new version

The new version (2020-08-01) of the Log Analytics REST API for the resource provider OperationalInsights was released. This version supports new features such as customer-managed keys(CMK), Bring Your Own Storage (BYOS) and consolidates the functionality of all previous versions.

Govern

Azure Policy

Azure Policy Compliance Scan Action for Workflows GitHub (preview)

In preview, the following were released Azure Policy Compliance Scan Action for Workflows GitHub. The new GitHub actions will make it easier to activate compliance analysis than the subscription-based Azure Policy, resource groups or other resources and will automate the next steps in the GitHub workflow based on resource compliance status.

Protect

Azure Backup

Selective disk backup for virtual machines in Azure (preview)

Azure Backup introduced the ability to selectively back up virtual machine disks. This feature primarily introduces the following benefits:

  • Cost Optimization
  • Faster backup and restore operations

Configuring Azure file shares

Azure Backup has simplified the backup configuration experience for Azure file shares, providing the ability to enable backup directly from the file share management panel.

Configuring Azure file shares backup now consists of only the following two steps:

  • Creating or choosing the recovery services vault
  • Create or choose the backup policy

Improvements in virtual machine protection

Azure Backup introduces the following improvements in the protection of VMs:

  • Introduces the ability to restore unmanaged disks of a VM by turning them into managed disks during the restore phase.
  • Supports the backup and restore of Virtual Machine Scale Sets in the orchestration mode described in this document.
  • Allows disk replacement as an option for VMs that have assigned Managed Service Identities (MSI).

Encryption of backups using customer managed keys (preview)

Azure Backup introduces the possibility, when you back up Azure Virtual Machines, to encrypt data using proprietary and managed keys. Azure Backup allows you to use RSA keys stored in Azure Key Vaults to encrypt backups. The data will then be protected using a data encryption key (DEK) AES-based 256, which in turn is protected using keys stored in Key Vaults. This gives you full control over the data protection and keys that are used for encryption.

SAP HANA backup for Red Hat Enterprise Linux VM

Azure Backup has released the ability to protect SAP HANA databases on Red Hat Enterprise Linux virtual machines (RHEL). This feature allows to have in an integrated way and without having to provide a specific backup infrastructure, the protection of SAP HANA databases on RHEL, one of the most commonly used operating systems in these scenarios.

Azure Site Recovery

New Update Rollup

For Azure Site Recovery was released theUpdate Rollup 49 that solves several issues and introduces some improvements. The details and the procedure to follow for the installation can be found in the specific KB.

Migrate

Azure Migrate

Assessment of physical servers and servers in AWS and GCP

Azure Migrate introduces support for assessment of physical servers and systems residing in Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP) or at any cloud. Thanks to this evolution in the solution it is possible to evaluate any machine in the cloud or on-premises even when you can not access the hypervisor. The assessment is able to provide the following information:

  • Analyze suitability in Azure environment
  • Planning for migration costs
  • Performance-based scaling
  • Support for application dependency analysis (agent-based)

Evaluation of Azure

To test for free and evaluate the services provided by Azure you can access this page.

Azure Management services: What's new in July 2020

Microsoft continuously announces news about Azure management services and as usual our community releases this monthly summary. The aim is to provide an overview of the main news of the month, in order to stay up to date on these topics and have the necessary references to conduct further exploration.

The following diagram shows the different areas related to management, which are covered in this series of articles, in order to stay up to date on these topics and to better deploy and maintain applications and resources.

Figure 1 – Management services in Azure overview

Monitor

Azure Monitor

Azure Monitor Logs connector

The Azure Monitor Logs connector component has been released and allows you to create automated workflows using hundreds of actions for a variety of services with Azure Logic Apps and Power Automate.

Azure Monitor for SAP Solutions (preview)

Azure Monitor for SAP is a new solution that allows you to natively monitor your SAP environment in Azure. This solution allows you to collect and consolidate telemetry from your Azure infrastructure and SAP databases. This data is used to achieve a correlation between the different components that allows for faster troubleshooting. This feature is currently present in public preview in the following regions: US East, US East 2, US West 2, West Europe.

Azure Monitor Community Repository

The Azure Monitor Community GitHub repository has been made available and provides a collaborative space for community members to share and explore Azure Monitor artifacts as queries [KQL], workbooks and alerts. This repository is public and accepts contributions from any user, for the benefit of the entire Azure Monitor community.

Azure Log Analytics saved searches are moving to Query Explorer

Azure Log Analytics Saved Searches are now available in Query Explorer, which allows you to use and manage different queries. To manage them, access to the section Logs in the Azure Monitor Log Analytics workspace or from Application Insights and select Query explorer from the main menu.

Configure

Azure Automation

Introduced support for Azure Private Link (preview)

Microsoft has introduced support for Azure Private Link, necessary to securely connect virtual networks to Azure Automation through the use of private endpoints. This feature is useful for:

  • Establish a private connection with Azure Automation, without opening access to the public network.
  • Ensure that Azure Automation data is accessible only through authorized private networks.
  • Protect yourself from data extraction by allowing granular access to specific resources.
  • Protect resources from access from the public network.

Govern

Azure Policy

Azure Policy for Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) pods (preview)

To improve the security of Azure Kubernetes Service clusters (AKS) you can now protect pods by using Azure Policies. This integration allows you to control pod requests and detect requests that violate policies set. At the moment, you can choose from a list of 16 integrated policies and two initiatives (that match the standards set in the Kubernetes pod security policy) .

Azure Cost Management

Azure Cost Management + Billing updates

During the month of July, news was announced regarding the following areas of Azure Cost Management and Billing:

Secure

Azure Security Center

Advanced threat protection for Azure Storage

Advanced threat protection preview for Azure Storage supports Azure Files and Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 API, helping customers protect data stored in file shares and data stores designed for corporate big data analytics. This protection provides an additional layer of security information by providing alerts when unusual and potentially malicious attempts to access or exploit storage accounts are detected. These security alerts are integrated with the Security Center and are also emailed to subscription administrators, with details about suspicious activity and advice on how to investigate and resolve threats.

Protect

Azure Site Recovery

New Update Rollup

For Azure Site Recovery was released theUpdate Rollup 48 that solves several issues and introduces some improvements. The details and the procedure to follow for the installation can be found in the specific KB.

Support for replication via Private Link

Azure Site Recovery introduced support for private links, These can be used to replicate Azure virtual machines, VMware and Hyper-V systems and physical machines. Using Private Links provides secure connectivity to Azure Site Recovery service URLs. A private endpoint on the network will be required for access to the recovery services vault and a second endpoint for data replication to the cache storage account. This feature will be available in almost all public regions by August 2020.

Evaluation of Azure

To test for free and evaluate the services provided by Azure you can access this page.

Azure Governance: how to manage and optimize cloud costs

One of the main features of the cloud is the ability to create and deploy resources in an extremely agile and fast manner. Using optimized solutions to minimize costs and always control the costs to be incurred for resources created in the cloud environment is a key aspect. This article summarizes the principles and tools you should consider to manage and optimize cloud costs.

The cloud cost optimization process is definitely a theme that is very popular with different customers, to the point that for the fourth year in a row, turns out to be the main cloud initiative based on the report of Flexera:

Figure 1 – Top cloud initiatives for the year 2020

Principles to better manage costs

To achieve a successful position in cloud cost management, consider the principles below.

Design

Only thanks to a structured design process, which includes a careful analysis of business requirements, you are able to customize the use of solutions in the cloud environment. It is therefore important to determine the infrastructure to be implemented and how it is used, all through a design process to maximize the efficiency of resources located in the Azure environment.

Visibility

Having tools that allow you to have global visibility and allow you to receive notifications about Azure costs is an important aspect to consider.

Responsibility

It's a good practice to attribute cloud resource costs within your business organization, to ensure that the people responsible are aware of the costs attributable to their working group. This allows you to fully understand the organization's Azure expenses. To do this, you should organize your Azure resources to maximize your understanding of cost allocation.

Optimization

Periodic review processes should act on Azure resources with the goal of reducing spending where possible. Thanks to the set of information available, it is possible to easily identify underutilized resources, remove waste and maximize cost savings opportunities.

Iteration

IT staff should be continuously involved in the iterative cost optimization processes of Azure resources, as it is a key principle for a responsible cloud environment governance process.

What solutions to use?

During the design phase it is useful to have an estimate as precise as possible relating to the costs that must be incurred in adopting a solution in the Azure area. You can use the following tools to make these estimates::

The solution Azure Cost Management + Billing provides a comprehensive set of cloud cost management capabilities and is especially useful for:

  • Monitor and analyze your Azure invoice.
  • Set up budgets and expense alerts.
  • Assign costs to teams and projects.

Figure 2 – Azure Cost Management + Billing: cost analysis

Once you understand current and future cloud expenses, you can work to optimize the costs of your workloads in Azure. In this area, the Microsoft tools that you can use are:

  • Azure Advisor: It's a completely free solution that's included in Azure that makes it easy to optimize resources in your deployments, offering recommendations specific to different categories, among them Costs. Azure Advisor provides guidance for maximizing the economic return of investments in Azure. This solution can be useful, for example, to identify unused resources or to identify opportunities for better sizing services.

Figure 3 – Azure Advisor: Example of a recommendation

Policies to optimize costs

Regardless of the tools used, to optimize Azure costs you can adopt the following policies:

  • Turn off unused resources as the cost of various Azure services is calculated based on resource usage. For resources that do not need continuous execution and that allow, without loss of configurations or data, shutdown or suspension, you can use automation that, based on a default scheduling, optimizes the use and consequently the costs of the same.
  • Appropriately scale resources by consolidating workloads and intervening on underutilized resources.
  • For resources in the Azure environment that are being used continuously, you can evaluate the activation ofAzure Reservations. The Azure Reservation allow you to achieve cost savings up to 72% compared to the pay-as-you-go price , simply committing to payment, for one or three years, for the use of Azure resources. The purchase of these reservations can be made directly from the Azure portal and is contemplated for customers who have the following types of subscriptions: Enterprise agreement, Pay-As-You-Go and Cloud Solution Provider (CSP).
  • To reduce Azure costs it is also possible to adopt the’Azure Hybrid Benefit, that saves up to 40% on the cost of Windows Server virtual machines that are deployed on Azure. The savings is given from the fact that Microsoft allows you to pay only the cost of Azure infrastructure, while the licensing for Windows Server is covered by Software Assurance. This benefit is applicable both to the Standard and Datacenter version and is available for Windows Server 200 R2 or later.

Figure 4 – Cost structure for a Windows VM

The Azure Hybrid Benefit can also be used for Azure SQL Database and SQL Server installed on Azure virtual machines. These advantages facilitate the migration to cloud solutions and help to maximize the investments already made in terms of SQL Server licenses. For more information on how you can use the Azure Hybrid Benefit for SQL Server you can view FAQ in this document.

The Azure Hybrid Benefit can be used in conjunction with the Azure Reserved VM Instance, allowing overall savings that can reach 80% (in the case of purchase of Azure Reserved Instance for 3 years).

Figure 5 – Percentages of savings by adopting RIs and Azure Hybrid Benefit

  • For test and development environments it is possible to use DevTest subscriptions, which allow you to get considerable discounts on Azure rates. These subscriptions can be activated as part of an Enterprise Agreement.
  • Evaluate the adoption of new serverless technologies and apply improvements to existing architectures.

Conclusions

Using a methodical approach to cost management and adopting the right tools, are key to addressing cloud cost challenges. The various elements discussed in this article help you reduce expenses and maximize your investment in the cloud.