Having Fun with Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine

Azure VM + Windows Server 2012 R2 + IIS 8 + Filezilla

Last year April, I received a newsletter from Windows Azure Team saying that Windows Azure Virtual Machines were generally available. Finally, full control and management of virtual machines on Azure is now possible! The release undoubtedly successfully brought Microsoft Azure closer to Amazon who is also focusing on IaaS.

The reason that I’m so happy with the announcement is because I have already an ASP .NET Web Application running on my server running on Windows Server 2008 in a data centre. I would like to find out how to host it on cloud. Since I have already tried out Amazon last time with friends, so now I am interested to see how fun it will be to host my application on Azure and what benefits it will provide.

Beginning of Journey: When Affinity Group Brings Your Services Together

Before creating a new virtual machine in Azure, I create a new Affinity Group. Affinity Groups will be able to group Microsoft Azure services by locating them in the same data centre to optimize performance.

Create a new affinity group.
Create a new affinity group.

Create Virtual Machine

Same as Amazon, I am allowed to create my virtual machine in Microsoft Azure with an image that is already offered in the Microsoft Azure Management Portal. So, there is no need for me to upload any Windows Server image created on-premise. Thus, the first step is to choose an image. Surprisingly, they provide also things like Ubuntu Servers, Oracle servers, openSUSE, and so on.

I need to choose operating system running on the vm from the Gallery.
I need to choose operating system running on the VM from the Gallery.

There are sometimes multiple versions available for one image. So after choosing an image, for example the Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter, I get to choose the version of the OS that I want. As a best practice, it’s recommended to always choose the one with latest release date.

Size of the new virtual machine is the next thing that I can configure. Virtual machines on Azure are categorized into two tiers, i.e. Basic and Standard. What are the differences between the two tiers? Standard Tier is what we have been using before. Basic Compute Tier is just recently announced. It is having similar spec as the Standard tier but with lower price. In additional, Basic Compute Tier doesn’t come with load balancer and auto-scailing.

After choosing the tier, I will be able to pick one of the available sizes for the virtual machine from the Size dropdown list. There are many size codes, from A0 to A7. As David Aiken, Azure Group Technical Manager, said in Windows Azure for IT Pros Jump Start, the letter “A” and the number behind the “A” don’t mean anything. Seriously, it’s just a code. Also, the code has nothing to do with the paper size that we are familiar with. By the way, I think David did predict it correctly. There is really a A5 size introduced recently. Wow.

David Aiken explaining the naming of sizes for virtual machine.
“It was fun naming them”. David Aiken explaining the naming of sizes for virtual machine.

Of course, the smaller the instance, the lower the price we need to pay. The following is a screenshot of the virtual machine pricing details for Asia Pacific Southeast (i.e. Singapore) which I am interested at. You can read more about the details on pricing and available VM disk sizes on Microsoft websites as well.

Asia Pacific Southeast (Singapore) VM Pricing (screenshot taken on 18 April 2014)
Asia Pacific Southeast (Singapore) VM Pricing (screenshot taken on 18 April 2014)

After the size for the new virtual machine is decided, the next thing that I need to do is create a user account to access the VM later. There is a nice feature in the management console is that it does not allow us to use “admin” or “administrator” as the user name for security purpose.

Configure Virtual Machine: Cloud Service, Affinity Group, and Availability Set

Up to this point, the virtual machine earlier is not yet created. There is other configuration needed. First of all, we need to decide which Cloud Service to use. Cloud Service is basically a boundary of management, configuration, networking, security, etc that hosts the virtual machines in it. So, virtual machine must be stored in a cloud service. By doing so, we do not need to worry about hardware failure and network issues because Cloud Service will be there to help making our applications on the virtual machines are continuously available when those issues happen. Thus. it’s a way to make your application highly-available.

In addition, all virtual machines created in Azure can automatically communicate with other virtual machines in the same Cloud Service. So, we can then easily configure Azure Load Balancer to distribute traffic among multiple virtual machines in the same Cloud Service.

Secondly, in the “Region/Affinity Group/Virtual Network” dropdown, since I have created an Affinity Group in advance, so I get to choose not just the usual region but also Affinity Groups that I have created.

Thirdly, since I don’t have a Storage Account yet, so by default, it will choose the only option “Use an automatically generated storage account”.

Finally, I will create an Availability Set for this virtual machine. Availability Set tells the Fabric Controller (which functions as the kernel of Azure OS) to place virtual machines across fault domains (groups of resources anticipated to fail together, i.e. same rack / same server) and update domains (groups of resources that will be updated together). An availability set makes sure that your application is not affected by single points of failure, like the network switch or the power unit of a rack of servers. It is okay not to create Availability Set before the virtual machine is created but specifying Availability Set after the virtual machine has been provisioned will cause reboot.

Virtual Machine Configuration Page
Virtual Machine Configuration Page

The Endpoints

To allow communication with the virtual machine from external resources, endpoints need to be added in order to have them to handle the inbound network traffic to the virtual machine. In addition, when an endpoint is created, there is a need to create an inbound rule in the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security in the virtual machine to allow the traffic route through the endpoint.

So, in order to enable public to view the ASP .NET web applications that I host on the virtual machine, I will first need to create an endpoint for HTTP on the Azure management portal for the virtual machine. After that, I just need to install the IIS windows feature on the virtual machine together with Application Development feature added to allow HTTP traffic.

Finally, I also add endpoints for the FTP (such as port 21) because I need FTP access to this server. There was an interesting error when I try to upload file to the FTP Server using Filezilla. The error said, “The supplied message is incomplete. The signature was not verified.” Luckily, there are already people discussing online going on with some solutions to the problem. One of them is applying a hotfix from Microsoft which I have the link to it in the list below. It turns out that this error will only occur on Windows Server 2012 (R2) and Windows 8(.1).

There are some online articles which help me to better configure the endpoints and have both the web server and FTP setup on the virtual machine.

Conclusion

Basically, this covers the basic stuff of setting up Azure virtual machine as both a web server and FTP server. It is quite straightforward and about the same as what I did on Amazon EC2. If you would like to learn more, I’d suggest you to attend the online courses about Microsoft Azure on Microsoft Virtual Academy.

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