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Managing VM Images and Snapshots in Microsoft Azure
System Administrators have had an interesting journey over the past couple of years, from racks of servers, to consolidation through virtualization, and now to the cloud. Through this change, some new management functions have emerged that offer administrators more flexibility in server management through VM images and the ability to snapshot them.
In this post, I will talk about these two functions and how they are managed in Microsoft Azure. I will also explain the potential of these changes for new partner opportunities.
One of the regular functions performed during operations in a traditional datacenter is for snapshots of VMs to be created. This can happen for a variety of different reasons including before the installation of new software, prior to updates, or before a change is going to be made. When customers are evaluating the cloud, it is natural for them to want to continue to perform this function when they move their services to the cloud.
While this function seems trivial, hosting VMs on Azure IaaS removes control of the Hypervisor from the user so performing a snapshot can be more complex. The action can be performed but not in the way most administrators find natural. A snapshot of the VM is actually a snapshot of the virtual hard drive (VHD). This is how it must be approached in Azure as well. It is not something that can be done from the portal, but must be done through Azure PowerShell. A thorough and useful recap of how to do it is in this post on the Hey, Scripting Guy! blog.
In some cases, a snapshot may not meet an administrator’s needs. A VM image may instead be the solution. There are many different uses for VM images, but their portability is their greatest advantage. Images can be created and then used as templates for the creation of new virtual machines based on their likeness.
The VM Image entity is a feature introduced earlier this year that allows for the creation of both a generalized VM Image as well as the creation of specialized VM images. This specialized image is similar to the check pointing that admins often perform. A primer about VM Image, with step-by-step directions for creating one, was written by Christine Avanessians, and can be found on the Azure blog here.
Traditional VM management is often seen as an administrative function and not a partner opportunity. But the functions built into the Microsoft Azure platform lend themselves to efficient automation. A partner may use these functions as part of the automation that drives their managed services or project-based services engagements. VM images can be templated to provide the basis for an application or service that may deployed for customers. If you are working with Virtual Machines in Azure, I encourage you to look for ways to incorporate these functions into your processes for repeatable engagements.