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In a previous article, I wrote about the value of an Azure Enterprise Agreement (EA).  An EA offers discounts and makes it easier to manage multiple Azure subscriptions.  If you don’t have an Azure EA, you should read this article.  If you have an EA or other Azure subscription, then hopefully you’re taking advantage of the services Azure provides.

We have seen time and again that companies aren’t taking full advantage of the various Azure subscription services.  For those of you facing this unfortunate situation, I present to you:

5 easy ways to take advantage of your Azure subscription

1) Create your DevTest environment in the cloud

You are likely using virtual machines (VM’s) in support of your current DevTest requirements.  VM’s are easy to spin up and spin down.  Or are they?  Many enterprises must go through a process of requesting VM’s, which can sometimes taking upwards of 3+ weeks.   Requesting VM’s through another party is an expensive proposition.  When you spend time filling out request forms and then waiting for a new environment, you aren’t focusing on efforts that provide ultimate value to your organization.

You can take ownership of some of your environment needs by building out your DevTest environments in Azure.  Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provides you with an agile solution for your infrastructure requirements, empowering you to build out your own DevTest environments.  Deploying your software to Azure is simple: use PowerShell scripts to create your standardized environments, and then publish your websites to Azure.

These two simple steps may sound complex, but there are fabulous articles on the subject which can help.  Check out Microsoft’s article on publishing to Dev and Test environments using PowerShell, and Bryon Root’s articles on PowerShell and DSC authoring on our Northwest Cadence blog. If you still have questions, please call me directly! Just ask for Rennie at 425.455.1155.

2) Take advantage of the Azure Marketplace

Building a server is pretty straightforward.  Configuring a server with the right software is a breeze.  You’ve likely done it so many times you’ve lost count.  BUT why waste an hour of your time doing it when there are already pre-configured virtual machines (VM’s) just awaiting your order to be spun up?  Azure Marketplace has hundreds of pre-configured VM’s.  There are Windows & Linux servers (yes, Linux) with a broad range of software already installed for you, including SQL Server, SharePoint, BizTalk, TFS, and Visual Studio. There are also other fantastic technologies such as Oracle, Hortonworks, Puppet Enterprise, Jenkins, Java, Barracuda Firewall, Kasperksy Mail Gateway, WordPress, Ruby. There are even a couple of Minecraft server options!  There are so many more pre-configured servers that you’ll be blown away.

Pricing for the various Azure Marketplace images varies based on which operating system it’s on. For some products you can bring your own license; for others, you can pay for usage by the hour or month.  Each offering has its own specific pricing details – be sure to take a look before you deploy.  You don’t want to be caught with a $6,250 bill because you mistakenly spun up a BizTalk server to check out how it performed on a D14 standard virtual machine.

Virtual machines are just the start of the Marketplace.  Avoid the hassle of VM and server management and spin up websites without having to create the infrastructure to support them.  Azure Marketplace has many web technology options ready to go.  Need a bare bones website that supports SQL or MySQL?  It’s there.  Want a WordPress site?  You got it.  Whether you need an empty HTML5 site to start with, you want to setup a blog or CMS using Joomla!, or you need an eCommerce site setup, an option is there.

Once you’ve sorted out your web platform, it’s time to take advantage of some of the supporting technologies available.  Why recreate the wheel when someone has already invented it?  Auth0 provides a ‘sophisticated identity infrastructure’ so you don’t need to build it yourself.  Want to give your users the ability to process the images they upload?  Don’t create one; incorporate Blitline.  And if you have lots of customer addresses, why build a parser?  Use Loqate’s Verify instead.  These and many more API’s, SDK’s, and services allow you to focus on your core technology.

If you’re an Azure developer, the Azure Marketplace is a cornucopia of timesaving options.  If you haven’t looked at the Marketplace yet, take 15 minutes out of your day to do so today!

3) Build websites that can auto-scale

I’ve already described how you can use the Marketplace to quickly get you started with an Azure website.  What I didn’t describe is WHY you should use Azure for websites.  I could list out at least 4 reasons, but I will address that in an upcoming article.  Today you get the single biggest reason: Azure websites offer scalability in a manner that your own infrastructure can’t.  It’s easy to implement, simple to configure, and manages itself of its own accord.

Configuring your website requires a little intervention on your part.  You need to log into the management portal, access your website, and select Scale.  From there you can set up the scalability rules.  Set up your scale settings and define the target CPU usage you’d like to keep the website operating within.  Then, setup the minimum and maximum number of CPU instances you wish to have spun up when necessary.   If website performance goes above or below that threshold, it will spin up a new instance to keep your performance within the defined range.  If CPU performance drops, then it spins down the instance. Voila.

Auto-scaling contributes to cost savings.  You only pay for what you use.  Why throw lots of resources at an on-site box for those peak instances? Let Azure do the management instead.

4) Use Visual Studio Online for load testing

Visual Studio Online (VSO) used to be known as Team Foundation Service.  VSO is simply Team Foundation Server (TFS) in the cloud. There are many reasons you should be using it, and load testing is just one of them.

Load Testing in VSO allows you to simulate hundreds, if not thousands, of users accessing your website at a given time, using various load and work scenarios to simulate predicated user behavior.  When setting up load testing on premise, you need to setup a load test machines for every 1,000 users (approximately).  That means, if you wish to simulate 25,000 people hitting your website you will need to set up 25 load test machines.   VSO load testing does the configuration on the back end, reducing your workload.  You define how many users should be simulated and Azure sets up the backup infrastructure.  You pay for the virtual user minutes used.  As of the release of this article, Visual Studio Online users receive 15,000 virtual user minutes free per month.  This means if you had a load test consisting of 500 concurrent virtual users, you could run this test for a total of 30 minutes per month.

5) Start using Azure Active Directory single sign-on

Azure Active Directory (AD) enables your organization to simplify access to cloud-based applications by enabling single sign-on for your Azure AD tenant.  The users in your organization can gain access to your various cloud-based applications in two steps: 1) add the specific application to your Azure AD tenant, and 2) associate the user name to the original account name used to log onto the cloud-based application.

For example: Let’s say you use MailChimp to manage your email lists, and you share a single account amongst several people.  You can add MailChimp to your Azure AD tenant and associate each users’ Azure AD ID with the MailChimp account.  Once completed, the users can log onto MailChimp using their own Azure AD ID and you can more easily secure the account!  This can come in handy when someone leaves the organization. You can simply remove their account from the application association, rather than needing to reset the password.

In addition to what we’ve covered here, there are many additional ways you can take advantage of Azure.  Be sure to check out these great Azure technologies: Blob Storage, CDN, Machine Learning, and HDInsight (to name just a few).  Use Azure to bring new life into your day-to-day IT routine!

If you find that you are not taking full advantage of your Azure subscription, please reach out to us.  We’d love to talk to you about ways you can make better use of the fabulous technologies available in Azure.

Contact for more information.

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