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Understanding Azure Virtual Machines (VMs)

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Begun in February 2010 after the announcement of its development two years before, MS Azure has quickly grown, adding many services - including the flagship Azure Virtual Machines, an IaaS compute platform.

This Introduction to Microsoft Azure course, created by our Azure expert Ganapathi Subramanian, is an introduction to the whole Microsoft Azure Platform. It will start from the most basic concepts you'll need to get started with the whole Azure family. We'll also give you a quick overview of the most important services in the platform for computing, storage, and database.

Who should follow this course

This is a beginner, introductory course to Azure, so you can enjoy it with no previous knowledge. You might, however, want to take a look at our introductory courses "Introduction to Cloud Computing" and "Introduction to Virtualization Technologies" to learn more about Cloud Computing and Virtualization from a low-level, provider-agnostic point of view.


In this new lecture, we'll learn about how virtual machines work and some basic concepts around them. Virtual machines are infrastructure as a service based compute resources supported in Azure. Virtual machines are similar to any on-premise servers, but running the Microsoft Cloud offering greater flexibility in managing the resources. The users are responsible for patching, updating and upgrading the virtual machine resources. Virtual machines are ideal for running custom, off the shelf solutions, like Microsoft Sharepoint. Virtual machines support both Windows and non-Windows based environments.

Distributions of Windows operating systems, like Windows 2008, Windows 2012 are available in Azure. Linux operating system distributions, such as SUSE and Ubuntu are also supported. A virtual machine can be created using the Azure management portal, REST APIs, or Power Shell scripts. Virtual machines can be created from the gallery, which offers pre-built images, or using custom disks and images created by users. Once the virtual machines are created, they can be accessed using Window remote desktop tools and SSH, secure shell protocols. The inbound ports for the virtual machines should be explicitly open through endpoint configuration for the traffic to flow.

Virtual machines allow additional data disks to be attached, besides the default ones. The additional disks are Azure Storage based and can support storing large amounts of persistent data. Virtual machines also support D series type images, which support solid state drives, SSD, and 60% faster CPU performance.

Virtual machines support two tiers, basic and standard. Basic tier provides an economical option for development or test environments. It does not support advanced features like load balancing, auto scaling, and memory intensive resources.

Standard tier is the recommended environment for deploying production applications. Virtual machines are billed on a per minute basis. They can be stopped when not in use to avoid incurring charges.

How to create an Azure Virtual Machine

Now let's go through a demo on how to create virtual machines in Azure. The first step in creating the virtual machine is to log into the Azure management portal. For this demo, we'll use an existing live account and subscription.

After login to the portal, select the virtual machine's category and click the new option at the bottom of the screen.

Virtual machines can be created from the image gallery, which are pre-built images provided by Azure, or custom images if those images have been uploaded into the storage. Let's create the virtual machine using the image gallery, by selecting Windows 2012 data center. As you can see, it allows creating Linux images, too. The virtual machine create option prompts for many configuration details, but for this demo, we'll focus only on a couple of key configurations. Let's provide a unique name for the virtual machine, select the region for deployment and user credentials that need to be used to access the virtual machines. Let's leave the rest of the configuration details as default. Let's complete the virtual machine create wizard by clicking the complete button. This will kick off the provisioning process, which will take a few minutes to complete. After the virtual machine is provisioned, it can be accessed using remote desktop, using the public internet IP, or private internet IP using VPN.

The user ID and password configured in the previous steps must be provided during log in. After login to the virtual machine, it can be treated as any other on-premise server and configured for application use.

Virtual machines end point shows the default ports that are open to allow access. By default, Power Shell and remote desktop ports are open. The dashboard also shows various details, like the storage account associated with the virtual machine, URL, etc.

About the Author
Trevor Sullivan
Microsoft PowerShell MVP

Trevor Sullivan is a Microsoft MVP for Windows PowerShell, and enjoys working with cloud and automation technologies. As a strong, vocal veteran of the Microsoft-centric IT field since 2004, Trevor has developed open source projects, provided significant amounts of product feedback, authored a large variety of training resources, and presented at IT functions including worldwide user groups and conferences.