Native Cloud Management in Azure

For those that know me know that I have been a System Center expert for some time focused on helping organizations manage their IT along with their ITSM needs. I have been working with Azure since it was released off and on but started to get serious about Azure after Microsoft’s move to resource manager. And even more recently I have re-focused completely to Azure and DevOps along with ITSM in the context of the cloud. I consider this combination CloudOps.

CloudOps is important when it comes to cloud and supporting DevOps. A part of CloudOps is cloud management. More specifically the tooling name for cloud management is often referred to as Cloud Management Platform (CMP).  CMP’s can be a CloudOps architect and engineers best friend or worst nightmare. There are many CMP solutions out there in the market that can be used to manage Azure and other clouds as well. Microsoft has done a nice job building and bringing in native solutions that can be used to manage Azure. The following image depicts the areas of cloud management that are in focus for Microsoft.

I am sure the plan for native cloud management will change and expand over time as Azure and its management needs continue to grow. The native set of cloud management tools in Azure can be viewed as a CMP. I am going to put together a group of blogs that at a high level cover the native solutions that exist for managing and securing Azure. There are so many areas in this topic that it has to be broken out into a blog series. This is the first time I am doing a blog series. It will cover the following:

Check back on this post soon. As I create more blog posts in this series they will be linked on the list above.

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Azure Policy

A key component of cloud governance in Azure is being able to apply policies across cloud resources. In Azure, there is a  service called Azure Policy that can be used to define policies and enforce them across your cloud resources. Azure Policy can be used to create, assign and, manage, and apply policy definitions. Azure Policy can be set to just evaluate when resources are out of compliance or remediate when resources are out of compliance. These two modes are known as audit effect and deny effect.

Azure policies can be applied to Management Groups, subscriptions, or resources.

Azure Policy has been around for a while but recently it has revamped to make it enterprise ready. Azure Policy is in preview but it won’t be long before it will go GA and can be used to help manage your Azure. There is no pricing yet while Policy is in preview.

Azure Policy is not RBAC. RBAC deals with user access and user actions such as what users can access what resources and what they can do with them. Azure Policy deals with existing resources and resource properties during the deployment of them.

In Azure Policy you have something known as definitions. Definitions are essentially compliance rules that can be assigned to Azure resources. These definitions can just check to see if items are compliant or not and can enforce compliance. Definitions can be used to set conventions for resources, for example, all resources in a subscription should have a certain tag when created. Definitions are also used to evaluate something and take an action based on the result of the evaluation. A good example of this is that you could use a policy definition to evaluate if virtual machines are using managed disks or not. Azure Policies are used to help control costs and manage resources across your Azure subscriptions.

There are two types of definitions called Policy and Initiative. A Policy definition is a single definition. An Initiative definition is a group of Policy definitions. Initiative definitions are used to help achieve larger compliance need. To gain a better understanding of Initiative definitions you can look at Security Center as it leverages Initiative definitions. Security Center has a built-in Initiative definition named [Preview]: Enable Monitoring in Azure Security Center. This built-in Initiative definition for Security Center contains 13 Policy definitions related to security as shown in the following screenshot.

In Azure policy there are built-in and custom definitions. The built-in definitions have been created by Microsoft and are ready to be used to help with common needs in cloud. There are 36 built-in policy definitions today. Custom definitions are built by you. All Azure policies are JSON so writing custom polices is similar to writing ARM templates. Templates for Azure policies can be found in the Repository for Azure Resource Policy samples here: https://github.com/Azure/azure-policy. You can use these samples as a starting point when building your own. Here is an example of an Azure policies JSON:

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