Windows Azure + Virtualization = A Lab (in the Clouds) for Every IT Pro



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"The Cloud" is here to stay.

Businesses continue asking questions to their IT departments and wondering out loud:

"Are we 'Cloud-ready' and if not, when will we be?"

"What apps can we port to The Cloud right now? Next 6-12 months?"

"How will we use The Cloud to reduce costs or improve service levels – or both?"

Like all the technology we work with, The Cloud is always evolving and improving. Windows Server 2012 is Microsoft's first cloud-focused Operating System and has many features to integrate with, leverage and blur the line between Cloud-based resources, local resources and those in between.

As an IT Pro, I wasn't sure what to make of The Cloud at first. To be honest, I was more than a bit worried about the future of the IT Pro career if everyone was going to move IT to The Cloud.

Not being one to just 'wait and see,' I decided to find out for myself and I began to research The Cloud.

Lately, I've been learning more about Microsoft's Windows Azure Cloud platform. One of the more interesting factoids I learned is that Windows Azure uses more server compute capacity than was used on the planet in 1999.

Service Overview

Windows Azure has numerous services such as SQL, Active Directory, a rich development platform, VPN connectivity, etc.

The most exciting Azure feature to me – and the focus of this post – is the Windows Azure Virtual Machines (VMs) service.

This is something you can use today – this afternoon.

With Windows Azure and the addition of the Virtual Machines offering, there are tools, features and functions that enable you as an IT Pro, to have a readily-available lab without shelling out a lot of (or any) money for enterprise-class software and hardware. Of course there are other ways this functionality can be used but this post covers the idea of a simple lab.

Some of the great features I've discovered in working with Azure VMs:

  • Quickly create VMs from 'canned' OS images
  • Upload your own VM images
  • Customize a VM image and deploy it like a template
  • Attach additional virtual disks for data
  • Azure has PowerShell providers
  • There are a lot more…

Let's get started … I urge you to follow along

Step 1: Sign up for a free trial…

  • You are required to enter credit card information in order to verify your identity
  • You are NOT charged unless you explicitly enable/change your subscription to a fee-based option
  • Curious about the costs beyond the free trial? Use the Pricing Calculator


    VM Size reference table (courtesy of Keith Mayer – a link to his excellent blog is at the bottom of this post):

VM Size

CPU Cores



# Data Disks

Extra Small


768 MB

5 (Mbps)




1.75 GB

100 (Mbps)




3.5 GB

200 (Mbps)




7 GB

400 (Mbps)


Extra Large


14 GB

800 (Mbps)



Step 2: Sign-in to then connect to the "Portal"

  • Be sure to explore some of the resources from the main Portal page


Step 3: Let's create a new Virtual Machine


Click VIRTUAL MACHINES and then click the circled arrow. A web frame opens and you can perform a 'Quick Create' VM:

Click 'CREATE VIRTUAL MACHINE' and you're off and running. Your new VM bakes for about 10 minutes.


Here is a screen-shot displaying the details of the VM I just created:


A few comments about the above screen-shot:

  • The graph displays performance metrics over time (CPU, disk, memory, network in/out, etc)
  • I did a bit of image-editing magic here to show what the graph would look like over time (the VM had just been created so there wasn't any data in the "real" graph)
  • The 'quick glance' area shows key information for your VM
    • STATUS – the VM will be stopped or running
      • You can start a VM via the START arrow/button in the bottom row of buttons
    • HOST NAME – your VM name
    • INTERNAL IP ADDRESS – the private IP for your VM
  • The VM(s) continues to count against your free trial 'capacity' even if powered off
    • Delete the VM(s), disk(s) and other associated resources if you want to avoid any hit on your trial capacity level
  • To connect to the VM, click 'CONNECT' to open an RDP file/connection to it


Here we are logged into the VM:


Yes folks, it is REALLY just that easy.

The VM you created will be isolated for the moment and that's ok if you just want to check something out in a single-instance of the OS.

You can also change the size of the VM via the CONFIGURE option:


Step 4: The Gallery Option

What if we want to build out an Active Directory with multiple DCs and member servers all networked together to really 'build out' a lab?

That's when we choose the option "FROM GALLERY" which opens a different set of forms with more options:

Again, you choose from a variety of OS instances/patch levels

  • NOTE – the Microsoft products are activated/licensed – BONUS!!


Give the VM OS a hostname, give the Administrator account a password and select the VM "size"




  • This is where you get the option to connect to other VMs you've created
  • Select the lower "CONNECT TO AN EXISTING VIRTUAL MACHINE" if you want to enable network communications between other VMs
    • The option here is to connect the new VM to an existing Cloud Service
    • In my screen-shots, the name of the Cloud Service is the same as my first VM


If you've setup an Availability Set, you can add this VM to that Set, if desired

Click the checkmark to begin provisioning the VM


The bottom of the Portal UI has real-time feedback and status messages:

Now we need to chat a bit more about what Azure calls a "Cloud Service."

This is basically a unit of service in Azure. If we create ANYTHING in Azure, there has to be somewhere to host it – and this is called a Cloud Service. For this demo, I conceptualize the Cloud Service as "my VM Host" – it's where my VMs live.

  • In this case, the Cloud Service was automatically created when I created my first VM
  • It is given the same name as my first VM
  • The Cloud Service can be seen in the UI


  • At this point, we have two VMs created in the same Cloud Service

Since the two VMs are in the same Cloud Service, they can "see" each other.

The next step is to enable the VMs to communicate. This is similar to setting up to any other servers (physical or virtual) to communicate with each other:

  • Configure IP networking on the VMs
    • Azure assigns the VMs an IP address which lasts until the VM is deleted
      • Don't set the VMs with static IPs, even if you use the IP assigned by Azure
      • I read that setting the VMs statically with their dynamic IP can cause communication issues with the VMs 
    • Define the DNS server entry on the NICs on both VMs to point to the first VM's IP address
      • The first VM will be DCPROMO'd first, establishing the AD forest
  • Next, I DCPROMO'd the first VM and created the AD forest
  • I joined the second VM to the new domain I created, then I DCPROMO'd that second VM
  • There are screen shots from each system below
    • One WS 2012 VM and the AD Administrative Center
    • One WS 2008 R2 VM and the Server Manager UI





A Cloud Inside of a Cloud

Here's a high level diagram of how the Azure environment, my Cloud Service, the two VMs in that Cloud Service and remote access to the VMs all interact.

That, my friends, is how you can create a two-DC domain, for free, which is accessible from nearly anywhere.

  • "Anywhere" includes your in-laws house over the holidays as well as via your shiny new Microsoft Surface device you got for Christmas J

Hopefully, this demo will get you thinking about possibilities with Windows Azure and The Cloud.

Check out these links for some more good info:

So to all you IT Pros out there …. Go for a walk in the Windows Azure Cloud.


Your Personalized Go-Do List (just for you)

  • Research how you can connect your on-prem infrastructure to Azure via VPN tunnels/end-points.
  • Research how you can tie in your on-prem AD to a private Azure AD instance.
  • Be the Hero who avoids the cost to her company for expensive lab equipment.
  • Be the first one on your team to get certified on WS 2012 and use Azure VMs to help you study.
  • Be the decorated engineer who reduces his company's costs and time to recover from outages by utilizing DR VMs hosted in an Azure Cloud Service connected via VPN to his corporate intranet.
  • Check out Keith Mayer's excellent blog which covers Azure and many other great topics for IT Pros –
    • Special thanks to Keith for the VM sizing table details listed in Step 1 of this post

Until next time…take care!