What are Azure Blueprints?

What are Azure Blueprints?

Blueprints, in the traditional sense, are used by architects and engineers to design and build new things.  They are used to ensure that the final products are built to specifications and in compliance with certain standards and requirements.

Azure Blueprints are used in much the same way as traditional blueprints are.  In much the same manner that an engineer or architect uses a traditional blueprint to design and build to spec, IT engineers can use Azure Blueprints to design and deploy a repeatable collection of Azure resources that adhere to certain requirements and standards.  By leveraging Azure Blueprints, engineers can quickly build and deploy new environments that are always compliant with organizational standards – and they can do so far more quickly than building new each time.

Azure Blueprints allow the IT professional to orchestrate the deployment of resource templates and other Azure artifacts, including role assignments, policy assignments, resource groups, and resource manager templates.  The service is back-ended by Azure Cosmos DB, which is globally distributed. Objects are replicated to multiple Azure regions to provide both highly available and low-latency access to those objects, regardless of where the Azure Blueprints objects are deployed.

Watch this short video to learn what CosmosDB can do.

The Lifecycle of an Azure Blueprint

Most resources in Azure have a natural lifecycle.  Blueprints in Azure Blueprints are no different as they are created and then deployed. When they are no longer needed, they are deleted.  As such, Azure Blueprints supports typical lifecycle operations and even builds upon them. Azure Blueprints provides support for typical continuous integration and for continuous deployment pipelines for companies that manage infrastructure as code.

The typical Azure Blueprint lifecycle consists of:

  • Creation of a blueprint
  • Publishing of the blueprint
  • Creating or editing a new version of the blueprint
  • Publishing a new version of the blueprint
  • Deletion of a specific version of the blueprint
  • Deleting the blueprint altogether

Azure Blueprints vs Resource Manager Templates

You may be asking yourself, “why not just use Resource Manager templates instead of blueprints?”  It’s a fair question, given the fact that Azure Blueprints do indeed appear to overlap the functionality of Resource Manager templates.

Understanding the differences between Azure Blueprints and Resource manager templates is key to understanding which to use and when.

Azure Blueprints is intended to assist with environment setup. Such environments often include Azure resource groups, role assignments, different policies, and  Resource Manager template deployments. Blueprints are essentially packages that pull these types of resources and artifacts together. These packages can then be composed, versioned, and assigned to a subscription. Such blueprint packages can also be audited and tracked.

Now, with all of that being said, almost everything that you’d want to do with Blueprints can also be done with Resource manager templates.  So what’s the difference?

Resource Manager templates are documents that don’t natively exist in Azure.  Such templates are typically stored locally or in source control. Once a Resource Manager template has been used to deploy Azure resources, there are no longer any active connections or relationships between the template and the resources deployed from it.  

Azure Blueprints differ from templates because even after deployment of resources from a blueprint, the relationship between the blueprint definition and blueprint assignment (i.e., what was deployed from the blueprint) remains intact.  Preserving this connection allows for tracking and auditing of deployments. Another benefit of blueprints is that a single blueprint can be used to upgrade multiple subscriptions at once.

Because blueprints can consist of Resource Manager template artifacts, previously developed Resource Manager templates are reusable with Azure Blueprints.

Azure Blueprints vs Azure Policy

So, we’ve compared Azure Blueprints to Resource Manager templates. What about Azure Policy?  What is the overlap, if any?

An Azure policy is essentially an access system that provides default allow and explicit deny on new and existing resource properties to which the policy is applied.  An Azure Blueprint is a package for creating specific sets of standards and requirements that govern the implementation of Azure services, security, and design. Such packages are reusable so that consistency and compliance among resources can be maintained.

A policy included in a blueprint offers the ability to create the correct pattern or design when the blueprint is assigned.  Additionally, a policy inclusion ensures that only approved changes can be made to the resources or environment to which the blueprint was assigned.  This ensures ongoing compliance with the blueprint.

Blueprint Resources

As mentioned previously, Azure Blueprints are made up of artifacts. Resources supported as artifacts include resource groups, resource manager templates, policy assignments, and role assignments.

Resource Groups allow an administrator to organize resources and to structure them as needed.  They also serve as scope limiters for policy assignment artifacts, role assignment artifacts, and Azure Resource Manager templates.

Azure Resource Group Templates are useful when designing complex environments, such as those managed with Azure Automation State Configuration.  Leveraging templates makes standardization of such environments far easier than building them individually.

Policy Assignments provide a means for applying policy to a subscription to which a blueprint is assigned.  That said, the policy must be within the scope of the blueprint containing the policy. Parameters defined with a policy are assigned during blueprint creation or during blueprint assignment.

Role Assignments provide a means for adding existing users or groups to a built-in role.  This is done to ensure the correct people have the proper access to Azure resources. Role assignments are often defined for an entire subscription, but they can also be scoped to a specific resource group that’s included in the blueprint.

Blueprint Parameters

Azure Blueprints can pass parameters to policies, initiatives, or Resource Manager templates.  When the blueprint author adds an artifact to a blueprint, they must decide on a value to define for each blueprint assignment or they must allow the blueprint assignment to provide a value at assignment time.  With this flexibility, the author has the option to either define a pre-set value for all uses of the blueprint or to allow that decision to occur at assignment time.

Although a blueprint can have its own parameters, such parameters can only be created when the blueprint is generated from the REST API.  They cannot be created when generating the blueprint via the Portal.

Publishing and Assigning an Azure Blueprint

A new blueprint, when created, is in “draft mode”.  Before assigning the blueprint, it first needs to be published.  The publishing process requires a version string to be defined, along with change notes that must be provided.  The version, which consists of a maximum of 20 characters (letters, numbers, and hyphens), differentiates the blueprint from future changes to the blueprint – and allows each different version to be assigned separately.

As changes are made to a blueprint, the published version, along with unpublished changes, continue to coexist.  After all changes to the blueprint are completed, the updated blueprint is published with a new version. Each separate (published) version of a blueprint can then be assigned to a subscription. When assigning blueprints via the portal, the blueprint defaults to the version most recently published.  If there are any parameters, those are defined during the assignment process.

Summary

Azure Blueprints are essentially no different from architectural blueprints that building architects use to design and build large buildings.  They are actually used in much the same way. While architects use traditional blueprints to design and construct building to certain standards and specifications, Azure architects and admins use Azure Blueprints to design and architect Azure solutions to specific standards and specifications.

The lifecycle of an Azure Blueprint begins with the creation of the blueprint and then the publishing of the blueprint. New versions of the blueprint are then created and published as needed.  The lifecycle of an Azure Blueprint ends with deletion of specific versions of the blueprint, and then of the blueprint itself.

While Azure Blueprints are like Resource Manager Templates and Azure Policies, the blueprints differ because they are “living and breathing”, so to speak. As such, they retain their relationships to the resources they have been assigned to and can be tracked and audited.  This is not possible with templates and policies.

With its versioning capabilities, Azure Blueprints offers the ability to create newer “versions” of specific blueprints, and to leverage those versions independently from the original blueprint from which the new versions were created.  This further streamlines the configuration and architecting process of Azure environments since it doesn’t require the reinvention of the wheel each time a new change is needed.

When all is said and done, Azure Blueprints is a service that affords cloud architects the ability to define an easily repeatable set of Azure resources that conforms to the organization’s standards and requirements.  With blueprints, it is possible to quickly build and deploy new environments with a set of built-in components. As such, it is possible to not only deploy consistent environments, but it’s also possible to do so in a much more streamlined fashion, allowing organizations to speed up development and delivery of such solutions.

Avatar

Written by

Thomas Mitchell

Tom is not only a Cloud Platform & Infrastructure MCSE but also an IT industry veteran with 20+ years of experience in multiple technologies. An Active Directory specialist, Tom has never met an AD problem that he couldn't solve. He also speaks Microsoft Exchange fluently.


Related Posts

Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— January 6, 2020

New on Cloud Academy: Red Hat, Agile, OWASP Labs, Amazon SageMaker Lab, Linux Command Line Lab, SQL, Git Labs, Scrum Master, Azure Architects Lab, and Much More

Happy New Year! We hope you're ready to kick your training in overdrive in 2020 because we have a ton of new content for you. Not only do we have a bunch of new courses, hands-on labs, and lab challenges on AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, but we also have three new courses on Red Hat, th...

Read more
  • agile
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Linux
  • OWASP
  • programming
  • red hat
  • scrum
Orion Withrow
Orion Withrow
— December 17, 2019

Azure Security: Best Practices You Need to Know

When it comes to Azure Security best practices, where do you begin? In a lot of ways, Azure is very similar to any other data center. But with that said, Azure can also be very different. Securing Azure can pose many unique challenges. The security of resources hosted in Azure is of the...

Read more
  • Azure
  • azure best practices
  • azure security center
  • Security
Avatar
Guy Hummel
— December 12, 2019

Google Cloud Platform Certification: Preparation and Prerequisites

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has evolved from being a niche player to a serious competitor to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In 2019, research firm Gartner placed Google in the Leaders quadrant in its Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service for the second consecuti...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— December 10, 2019

New Lab Challenges: Push Your Skills to the Next Level

Build hands-on experience using real accounts on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and more Meaningful cloud skills require more than book knowledge. Hands-on experience is required to translate knowledge into real-world results. We see this time and time again in studies about how pe...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • hands-on
  • labs
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— December 5, 2019

New on Cloud Academy: AWS Solution Architect Lab Challenge, Azure Hands-on Labs, Foundation Certificate in Cyber Security, and Much More

Now that Thanksgiving is over and the craziness of Black Friday has died down, it's now time for the busiest season of the year. Whether you're a last-minute shopper or you already have your shopping done, the holidays bring so much more excitement than any other time of year. Since our...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS solution architect
  • AZ-203
  • Azure
  • cyber security
  • FCCS
  • Foundation Certificate in Cyber Security
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Kubernetes
Avatar
Cloud Academy Team
— December 4, 2019

Understanding Enterprise Cloud Migration

What is enterprise cloud migration? Cloud migration is about moving your data, applications, and even infrastructure from your on-premises computers or infrastructure to a virtual pool of on-demand, shared resources that offer compute, storage, and network services at scale. Why d...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Data Migration
Nisar Ahmad
Nisar Ahmad
— November 12, 2019

Kubernetes Services: AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud

Kubernetes is a popular open-source container orchestration platform that allows us to deploy and manage multi-container applications at scale. Businesses are rapidly adopting this revolutionary technology to modernize their applications. Cloud service providers — such as Amazon Web Ser...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • Kubernetes
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— November 6, 2019

New on Cloud Academy: AZ-900 Exam Update; MS-100 Exam Prep; PRINCE2 Foundation; Azure, Kubernetes, and Google Hands-on Labs; and Much More

This month, our Content Team really kicked it into overdrive with tons of new content. If you're Team Azure, then you'll be amazed at the number of Azure Courses and Hands-on Labs we published this month alone!  At any time, you can find all of our new releases by going to our Training ...

Read more
  • AZ-900
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Kubernetes
  • MS-100
  • New content
  • PRINCE2
  • Product Feature
Joe Nemer
Joe Nemer
— October 30, 2019

How to Get Hands-on Experience on AWS, Azure, and GCP: Lab Challenges

Meaningful cloud skills require more than book knowledge. Hands-on experience is required to translate knowledge into real-world results. We see this time and time again in studies about how kids and adults best learn — doing the actual learning task is key. Hands-on Labs and Lab Challe...

Read more
  • AWS Labs
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Hands-on Labs
Avatar
Cloud Academy Team
— October 23, 2019

Which Certifications Should I Get?

As we mentioned in an earlier post, the old AWS slogan, “Cloud is the new normal” is indeed a reality today. Really, cloud has been the new normal for a while now and getting credentials has become an increasingly effective way to quickly showcase your abilities to recruiters and compan...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Certifications
  • Cloud Computing
  • Google Cloud Platform
Alisha Reyes
Alisha Reyes
— October 1, 2019

New on Cloud Academy: ITIL® 4, Microsoft 365 Tenant, Jenkins, TOGAF® 9.1, and more

At Cloud Academy, we're always striving to make improvements to our training platform. Based on your feedback, we released some new features to help make it easier for you to continue studying. These new features allow you to: Remove content from “Continue Studying” section Disc...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • ITIL® 4
  • Jenkins
  • Microsoft 365 Tenant
  • New content
  • Product Feature
  • Python programming
  • TOGAF® 9.1
Avatar
Jeremy Cook
— September 17, 2019

Cloud Migration Risks & Benefits

If you’re like most businesses, you already have at least one workload running in the cloud. However, that doesn’t mean that cloud migration is right for everyone. While cloud environments are generally scalable, reliable, and highly available, those won’t be the only considerations dri...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Cloud Migration