What is Azure Virtual Machine?

Azure Virtual Machines (VMs) are one of the on-demand, scalable computing resources provided by Microsoft through the Azure cloud computing platform. They provide infrastructure as a service (IaaS) by allowing users to launch and manage virtual machines as needed.

What is Azure Virtual Machine?

 

Overview

A virtual machine is an emulation of a physical computer system. VMs include a virtual processor, memory, storage, and networking resources. Azure virtual machines allow creating and using virtual environments quickly without having to procure and maintain physical hardware.

Some key features of Azure VMs include:

  • Scalable compute power – Ability to scale up or down to meet application demands. Users only pay for the VM time and resources used.
  • Choice of VM sizes – Various configurations available to suit compute, memory, storage needs.
  • OS and application flexibility – VMs can run Windows, Linux, customized images to match requirements.
  • High availability – Build resilient environments with redundancy, scaling, load balancing features.
  • Integrated security – Azure hypervisor security, firewalls, encryption help secure VMs.
  • Backups – Automatic or manual backup capabilities to prevent data loss.
  • Support and SLA – Technical support plans and 99.9% monthly SLA guarantee on virtual machine connectivity.

Creating an Azure VM

Provisioning a virtual machine on Azure involves a few key steps:

  1. Choose a VM image or custom image with the desired OS and configurations. Azure offers Windows and Linux variants.
  2. Select the appropriate VM size as per compute power and RAM needed. Resize possible later.
  3. Configure network settings – private, public IP address, ports, network security groups.
  4. Select storage type and size as per performance needs – standard HDD, premium SSD.
  5. Review and create the VM. Azure starts VM deployment and installs OS and software.
  6. Connect and manage VM via Remote Desktop (Windows) or SSH (Linux) once ready.

Azure portal, CLI tools, templates, and SDKs allow automating VM deployments. Multiple VMs can auto-scale via virtual machine scale sets as per load.

Use Cases

Some common scenarios where Azure VMs provide ideal scalable computing solutions:

Application hosting

  • Setting up managed web and app servers for public or internal apps
  • Spiking capacity to manage fluctuating traffic levels

Development and testing

  • Providing self-service sandbox infrastructure for developers
  • Testing application upgrades and patches dynamically

Batch processing

  • Running hourly/daily jobs and processes in parallel
  • Adding compute power to run simulations, encode video

Gaming servers

  • Deploying gaming servers across regions closer to users
  • Meeting spike gaming traffic during launches and updates

Analytics and databases

  • Providing self-service big data infrastructure
  • Running memory-optimized database servers

Advantages

Key advantages of running applications, tools, and platforms on Azure Virtual Machines:

Faster time-to-market

  • Spin up VMs on demand in minutes instead of weeks procuring hardware
  • Dev teams can self-provision development environments leading to faster product iterations

Enterprise-grade security

  • Latest data security protections applied automatically
  • Built-in Azure firewalls, encryption and security management

High availability and redundancy

  • Build resilient and highly-available systems leveraging Azure scale, redundancy, and self-healing capabilities

Flexibility

  • Choose VM sizes, OS images as per application needs
  • Independent scaling of compute, storage and other resources

Cost savings

  • Pay-as-you-go pricing, without upfront hardware costs
  • More efficient than on-premises infrastructure leading to reduced TCO

Compliance

  • Wide range of global security and regulatory standards assured by Azure like SOC, PCI DSS, HIPAA

Backups and recovery

  • Automatic VM backups for Windows and Linux VMs
  • Snapshot-based recovery options reduce backup storage costs

Limitations

While Azure virtual machines provide significant benefits, some limitations to note include:

Additional management overhead – Securing, monitoring, patching OS and apps on each VM remains user responsibility

Multi-tenant environment – Resources shared across other cloud users, noisy neighbor issues possible

Cloud migration complexity – Migrating current on-perm apps to cloud involves effort based on application architecture

Internet dependence – Reliable high-speed connectivity required to access and manage VMs

Pricing

Azure VMs are priced on monthly or per second basis depending on usage. The main factors affecting cost are:

  • Compute power – Number of VM cores and memory
  • Operating System
  • Managed Disks size and performance
  • Network traffic usage
  • IP addresses
  • Additional data services attached to VM

Combining Azure Hybrid Benefit licensing, reserved instances, spot/low priority VMs and auto-shutdown of unused VMs provides ways to optimize VM spend.

The Azure Pricing Calculator helps estimate costs based on usage parameters.

Key Takeaways

  • Azure Virtual Machines provide scalable on-demand computing capabilities for various workloads.
  • VMs offer choice in terms of computing power, memory, storage, OS and networking configurations.
  • Automation and infrastructure-as-code helps simplify provisioning and managing multiple VMs.
  • Inbuilt security, redundancy and availability capabilities leads to resilient application infrastructure.
  • Pay-as-you-go and auto-scale capabilities allow optimizing costs for dynamic workloads.

Conclusion

Azure virtual machines help organizations achieve business continuity by providing flexible and automated compute capabilities. The ability to deploy applications faster and scale dynamically makes them ideal for a variety of workloads. While certain management overheads exist, the benefits of moving infrastructure to the cloud outweigh limitations for most usage scenarios. Techniques like automation, infrastructure-as-code and platform-based services can further help optimize application deployments on Azure VMs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I install any software or application on Azure VMs?
A: Yes, Azure VMs allow installing custom applications and software just like regular servers. You have full administrator access to configure VMs as needed.

Q: How does Azure charge for virtual machine usage?
A: Azure VMs are billed on per-second basis when they are running. You are only charged for the time the VM is active based on the machine size, OS and attached resources.

Q: Are Azure virtual machines secure?
A: Yes, Azure provides multilayered security like network security groups, firewalls, antimalware to isolate and protect VM resources while encryption and role-based access safeguards data security.

Q: Can I migrate my on-premises servers to Azure VMs?
A: Yes, both Windows and Linux on-premises servers can be migrated to Azure VMs using various migration tools and techniques. Assessment helps determine changes needed before migration.

Q: How can I manage costs for my Azure virtual machines?
A: Cost management techniques like reservations, low priority VMs, auto shutdown of unused VMs, Azure Hybrid Benefit, use of automation help gain cost efficiencies for applications running on Azure virtual machines.

Q: Can I create a virtual machine from my own image?
A: Yes, Azure allows creating custom VM images which can reuse installation and configuration settings to speed up new deployments by booting up an image instead of OS installation.

Q: Is there a limit on how many VM cores I can use?
A: Azure supports up to 128 virtual CPUs on select VM instance sizes. Limits vary by region and VM size. Special requests can be made for more cores through Azure support.

Q: How does Azure provide high availability for VMs?
A: Platform capabilities like availability sets/ zones, managed disks, load balancers along with VM replication, backup and recovery help ensure maximum uptime and redundancy for applications.

Q: What types of agreements cover Azure reliability and uptime?
A: An SLA of 99.9% virtual machine connectivity uptime guarantees that VMs will be available externally >99.9% of the time. Advanced support plans also available.

Q: Can I move my Azure VM resources to a different region?
A: Yes, entire VM instances and associated resources like disks can be moved between regions using Azure Site Recovery service for compliance, optimization or disaster recovery needs.

Q: Do I need an Azure account to use Azure VMs?
A: Yes, you need an Azure subscription and account to use all infrastructure services including virtual machines. There are free trial and pay-as-you-go options.

Q: Can I create Linux VMs on Azure?
A: Yes, Azure provides optimized Linux images and drivers to deploy popular distributions like RHEL, CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu and use technologies like LAMP stack, Ansible, Docker.

Q: Where is the data for my Azure VM stored?
A: The VM system disks and data disks are stored in Azure Storage as page blobs with triple replication for resiliency while durability and encryption safeguards data security.

Q: How can I estimate my monthly costs for Azure VM usage?
A: The Azure pricing calculator helps estimate costs by inputting parameters like region, VM size, OS, disks, network usage, IP addresses, data services attached. Reservations also cut costs.

Q: Is customer data on Azure VMs accessed by Microsoft?
A: No, Microsoft does not access customer data on Azure VMs. Data security and encryption policies safeguard sensitive data from unauthorized access. Customers have complete ownership of their data.

Q: What skills do I need to work with Azure VMs?
A: Fundamentals of server administration on target OS, networking concepts for cloud, scripting\automation tools, and Azure architecture\service skills are useful for provisioning and managing Azure VMs.

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