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Overview of Azure Virtual Machines

Updated: December 5, 2013

Starting with the Microsoft Azure 2012 Preview release, the new Virtual Machine and Virtual Network capabilities have been added to the Microsoft Azure. As part of this enhancement, Microsoft Azure has released a new version of the Microsoft Azure Management Portal and expanded its existing offerings and capabilities.

This topic provides an overview on this new infrastructure as a service offering in Microsoft Azure.

Authors: Selcin Turkarslan
Reviewers: Corey Sanders, Drew McDaniel, Jason Chen, Ganesh Srinivasan, Lindsey Allen, Steve Howard, David Murray, Cherly McGuire

Azure Virtual Machines

You can create a virtual machine in Microsoft Azure by using one of the following three methods:

  • Use a platform image: You can create your own virtual machine directly in the cloud by using an image that is provided in the Image Gallery of the Microsoft Azure Management Portal, without uploading any Windows Server or Linux image created on-premises. To do this, you can use the Management Portal, PowerShell, the programmable API interface (REST); or the command-line tools provided for Mac and Linux desktops. After you create the virtual machine, you can log on to the machine to manage it. For a virtual machine that is running the Windows Server operating system, you use the Connect button in the Management Portal to start a Remote Desktop Connection. For a virtual machine that is running the Linux operating system, you use a Secure Shell (SSH) client to logon. For detailed information on how to create, deploy, and manage virtual machines from Windows, Mac, and Linux desktops, see the Downloads at WindowsAzure.com site.

    See the topic Oracle Virtual Machine Images for Azure for information on Oracle images.

  • Use your own image: You can use the Add-AzureVHD cmdlet to upload your own VHD file as an image to Microsoft Azure. Simply upload your image to your Blob storage account and use that image to instantiate a new virtual machine. For more information, see Creating and Uploading a Virtual Hard Disk that Contains the Windows Server Operating System.

  • Use your own disk: An operating system image is a virtual hard drive file that you can use as a template to create a new virtual machine. An image is a template because it doesn’t have specific settings like a configured virtual machine, such as the computer name and user account settings. You might not be able to use an image because of specific application settings that need to persist. In this case, you can use the Add-AzureVHD cmdlet to upload the VHD file as a disk and then you can create a virtual machine from the disk. For example, your disk may already have SQL Server installed. If you create your own virtual machines and install SQL Server on them, you are responsible for making sure that the appropriate licenses are in place.

    For more information see Manage Disks and Images.

Once you instantiate a virtual machine image, you are responsible for patching, configuring and maintaining the operating system and other software within your virtual machine. Microsoft Azure refreshes the Microsoft Azure platform supplied base images periodically. But Microsoft Azure does not force updates to the operating system disks already deployed by customers. Similarly, Linux partners will refresh the Linux base images periodically.

Note that you can find the definitions of images and disks in the List of important concepts section below.

For information on pricing details and service level agreements, see Azure Legal Information at WindowsAzure.com site.

The following is a list of applications that are supported in the virtual machines running on Microsoft Azure:

 

Applications Details

Microsoft SQL Server

For SQL Server versions supported on the Microsoft Azure portal, see Getting Ready to Migrate to SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines. For detailed information on SQL Server configuration, see Getting Started with SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines topic in the library.

Windows Server Active Directory

Supported Versions: Windows Server 2008 R2

Microsoft SharePoint

Supported Versions: SharePoint 2010 All versions

Linux Support

You can upload a Linux virtual hard drive (VHD) file to run in Microsoft Azure. For the most up-to-date information on the supported versions, see the Microsoft Azure Management Portal.

For the most up-to-date information on the supported Microsoft applications running in Microsoft Azure Virtual machines, see Microsoft server software support for Azure Virtual Machines.

For fundamental information on Virtual Machines, see Virtual Machines topic in the MSDN library.

For information on Virtual Machine sizes see Virtual Machine Sizes for Azure.

For detailed information on how to manage the virtual machines in Microsoft Azure, see the Manage Center and also the Downloads at WindowsAzure.com site. This site includes links to how-to guides, PowerShell cmdlets, and command-line tools that you can use for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. You can also manage your applications and virtual machines by using the REST API and PowerShell cmdlets. For more information, see Azure Service Management API Reference and Azure Management Cmdlets in the MSDN library.

List of important concepts

  • An operating system image is a virtual hard drive file that you can use as a template to create a new virtual machine. An image is a template because it doesn’t have specific settings like a configured virtual machine, such as the computer name and user account settings.

  • A virtual machine disk is a virtual hard drive that can be booted and mounted as a running version of an operating system instance. A disk can also be attached to a running instance as a data drive separate from the operating system drive. When you create a virtual machine in the Microsoft Azure Management Portal, the platform will create an operating system disk for default. We recommend that you create attach additional disks for your data and log files. For more information, see How to Attach a Data Disk to a Virtual Machine and How to Detach a Data Disk from a Virtual Machine.

  • You can capture a running virtual machine as an image. But this operation does not capture the attached disks. The captured virtual machine can be used to create multiple virtual machines. The end result is a new image file in the same storage account as the operating system disk of the virtual machine that was captured. For more information on capturing an image of a virtual machine, see How to Capture an Image of a Virtual Machine Running Windows Server 2008 R2 and How to Capture an Image of a Virtual Machine Running Linux.

  • A Microsoft Azure application can have multiple virtual machines. All virtual machines that you create in Microsoft Azure can automatically communicate using a private network channel with other virtual machines in the same cloud service or virtual network. Microsoft Azure allows you to load-balance traffic between them. The Introduction to Azure Virtual Machines Hands-on-Lab in the Azure Training Kit demonstrates how to connect multiple virtual machines in Microsoft Azure. In addition, take a look at the following tutorials:

Azure Virtual Network

Microsoft Azure provides a new set of network virtualization and site-to-site VPN-based cross-premises connectivity capabilities as part of Microsoft Azure . You can provision and manage Virtual Networks by using the Microsoft Azure Management Portal or by using a network configuration file. Microsoft Azure Virtual Network provides the following capabilities:

  • Branch office or dedicated private virtual network in the cloud: You can extend your corporate network into the Microsoft Azure platform using Virtual Network. By configuring your VPN device to work with a Microsoft Azure VPN gateway, you can set up a secure site-to-site connection between your corporate network and Window Azure. Your virtual machines running in Microsoft Azure can to be joined to your corporate domains running on-premises. For more information about setting up a secure cross-premises solution, see Azure Virtual Network and About VPN Devices for Virtual Network.

  • Stable IPv4 addresses for virtual machines: You can now specify IPv4 address space for virtual machines that you want to host in Microsoft Azure. When you create your virtual network, you can specify the IPv4 address space from which you want your virtual machines to receive. The IP addresses that the virtual machines receive are stable and do not change when the virtual machine is restarted. The IP address can then be recorded by DNS and you can connect to the virtual machine by host name. For more information about creating a virtual network, see Azure Virtual Network.

  • Name resolution (DNS) for Virtual Network: There are now multiple ways to provide host name resolution for your virtual network. You can use the name resolution that is provided by Microsoft Azure, or you can choose to use your own DNS server. For more information name resolution and Microsoft Azure, see Azure Virtual Network and Azure Name Resolution Overview.

  • Active Directory on Azure Virtual Machines: You can leverage on-premises Active Directory or DNS servers in the cloud. Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine feature enables your virtual machines running in Microsoft Azure to be joined to your corporate domains running on-premises by using your on-premise Active Directory services. For more information, see Guidelines for Deploying Active Directory on Azure Virtual Machines.


The following diagram demonstrates that Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines can easily enable customers to extend their enterprise networks into Microsoft Azure. This brings a great advantage for migrating existing applications to Microsoft Azure. You can easily support hybrid applications that span cloud and on-premises. You can manage your own virtual networks within Microsoft Azure and leverage the hosted VPN gateway to establish connectivity between on-premises and cloud. You can enable virtual machines running in Microsoft Azure to be joined to your corporate domains running on-premises.

As seen in the diagram, within a Microsoft Azure Virtual Network, you can run an Active Directory Domain enabled DNS server in one virtual machine while a SQL Server database can reside in another virtual machine; and your application code can execute via a web role in another virtual machine instance managed by Microsoft Azure.

Migration with infrastructure as a service

For a list of detailed virtual networking tutorials and how-to guides, see Networking at WindowsAzure.com site.

Migration Considerations when using Azure Virtual Machines

Using Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines (Virtual Machines) unblocks development or migration of applications that have dependencies on resources that require virtual machines. You can quickly take advantage of Microsoft Azure by migrating an existing application as-is using Virtual Machines. In addition, you can connect different application models such as Web Sites or Cloud Services web and worker roles with Virtual Machines.

The following application patterns are some examples that can leverage the advantages of the Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines:

  • Existing non-mission critical database applications

  • New database applications to be deployed to SQL Server in Virtual Machines when Microsoft Azure SQL Database does not provide all the necessary features

  • A quick and easy development and test environment for new database applications

  • A backup solution for on-premises database applications

  • A solution that can scale on-demand easily and rapidly at peak times

  • A solution that can overcome virtualization platform inefficiencies on-premises

  • A solution that have dependencies on resources that require virtual machines such as SQL Server, Active Directory, MongoDB, MySQL, or SharePoint.

When you consider migrating on-premises applications to the cloud platform, we recommend that you carefully plan each migration phase. A typical migration project includes Analysis Phase, Application Migration Phase, Data Migration Phase, Testing and Optimization Phase, and Operation and Management Phase. For more information on each phase, see Overview of the Migration Life Cycle in Azure.

We recommend that move your SQL Server database and data to a virtual machine in Microsoft Azure by using one of the methods described in the Migrating to SQL Server in an Azure Virtual Machine topic in the MSDN library. Then, upload and attach a data disk that already contains data to the virtual machine, or attach an empty disk to the machine. You can use the data disks to store the SQL Server logs and data files. As an example, see Connecting a PAAS application to an IAAS Application with a Virtual Network Hands-on-Lab in the Azure Training Kit. This hands-on-lab demonstrates how to attach an empty disk and how to locate the database default locations to update the default values to point to the disks attached previously. In addition, see the following tutorials at WindowsAzure.com site:

The performance of a relational database in Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine depends on many factors, including the VM size, the number and configuration of disks, the network, the configuration of the database software and the application workload. We recommend that developers benchmark their application on several VM sizes and storage configurations to select the most appropriate one. For more information on performance considerations when using SQL Server in a Virtual Machine, see Performance Considerations for SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines. For introductory information on SQL Server in Virtual Machines, see Getting started with SQL Server on a Azure Virtual Machine.

High Availability and Disaster Recovery when using Azure Virtual Machines

To provide disaster recovery of data and disks, Microsoft Azure utilizes the recently announced Geo-Replication capability of Microsoft Azure Storage. All changes made by the application or by the customer to the customer-owned operating system disks or data disks are preserved, even in case of a hardware failure, by using Microsoft Azure Blob Storage. As described at Introducing Geo-replication for Azure Storage blog post, Microsoft Azure Blobs and Tables are geo-replicated between two data centers apart from each other on the same continent, to provide additional data durability in the case of a major disaster, at no additional cost. When you launch a Virtual Machine, Microsoft Azure Storage geo-replication replicates your operating system and data disks to a second geographical region by default.

In addition, make sure that your virtual machines are members of the same availability set. Multiple virtual machines in the same availability set help ensure that your application is available during network failures, local disk hardware failures, and any planned downtime.

For information on high availability and disaster recovery techniques when using SQL Server in a Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine, see High Availability and Disaster Recovery for SQL Server in Azure Virtual Machines.

See Also

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