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.

Read More

Azure Cost Management (Cloudyn)

IT financial management (ITFM) is an important part of IT operations as business dependency on IT continues to grow in the age of digital transformation. ITFM is a part of ITIL as a Service Strategy element in the framework. ITFM is a key part of CloudOps as well because spending in the cloud is based on an OPEX model and every single cost is tracked. ITFM and cost management in the cloud should be used to effectively and concisely connect the dollars spent on IT to the value delivered to the business. We can do this with Azure Cost Management. In this post, I am going to give an overview of Azure cost management highlighting many of the things you can do with it. Let’s dive into the solution now.

Overview

In June of 2017, Microsoft acquired Cloudyn a startup that had tooling for cloud monitoring and analytics tools focused on cloud financial management. Cloudyn’s solution is multi-cloud covering Azure, Azure Stack, AWS, and GCP. Through the acquisition of Cloudyn Microsoft was able to bring the tooling into the Azure ecosystem giving Azure customers an enhanced way to track and control cloud spend improving the improving the Azure cloud governance story.  As of right now, there is a free level and a paid level for Azure cost management. The following table lists what features are available with each level.

FREE capabilities:
Reporting Report on cost and usage
Data enrichment Categorize by resource tags
Budgets Create and manage cost and usage budgets
Alerting Create alerts on cost and usage budgets
Recommendations Eliminate idle cloud resources

Right-size cloud resources

PAID capabilities:
Chargeback features including cost markup, redistribution, and custom charges
Import external budgets
Customize recommendation thresholds
Categorize costs with custom meta-tags

Since the acquisition, Microsoft has added a link to the Cloudyn portal directly in Azure and integration with your Azure subscriptions giving you the ability to launch a new Cloudyn account that is tied to your subscription. Microsoft added Cost Management in Azure and this is where you will find Cloudyn and sign up. As shown in the following screenshot you can see the “Go to Cost Management” button. After clicking on that you will go the Cloudyn portal and will be able to add your various cloud accounts.  The thing that I really like about Azure cost management is that there is a ton of data and dashboards that are available right out of the box after adding a cloud account. There is not a bunch of configuration that you need to do to get the default dashboards and optimization tools.

After you are all signed up and have your cloud accounts added your dashboards will start to show data. The next two screenshots show a couple of the default dashboards.

The management dashboard gives a good summary of your cloud financials on one pane of glass.

 

The cost controller dashboard shows cost trends, some forecasting info, a breakdown of costs and more.

As you can see from the previous screenshots there are several other dashboards with other content. You can modify any of these dashboards adding or removing widgets. You also can create your own dashboard adding whatever widgets you want to it.

In Azure cost management, you can add cost centers known as Cost Entities. Entities are intended to mirror your organization’s hierarchical structure such as business units, divisions, departments, or teams within your organization some examples are engineering, R&D, development, marketing etc. The goal of the entities is to give you a way to track cloud spend by the entities. Keep in mind the cost entities can be anything that fits the way you want to structure and track cloud costs. You also can leverage tags, add budgets, and then associate costs and or budgets to the cost entities into cost models. Cost models give you a way to distribute and allocate costs. You can track costs back to these cost entities and you can track costs against budgets for showback or chargeback scenarios. Below is a screenshot of the cost entities screen. Keep an eye out for a detailed blog from me walking through how to structure and set up this part of Azure cost management. This area of Azure cost management warrants its own dedicated blog.

Here is an example of a budget set on a cost entity.

Read More

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:

Read More

Azure Management Groups

If your company is like most organizations that are using the cloud, then you have many subscriptions floating around. This is often due to “shadow IT”. However, sometimes organizations simply use many subscriptions as a way to put boundaries around cloud services for departments, teams or other reasons.

Microsoft has built a new service in Azure to help with the governance of your cloud. This new service is called Management Groups. Management Groups is still in preview but it is something I highly recommend you start trying out or using now as it is going to be as big for cloud as group policy was for on-premises AD based environments.

Management Groups sit above subscriptions. This allows Management Groups to be at the highest level in the chain so they can be used to effectively manage access, policies, and compliance for any subscriptions that belong to your organization. Within Management Groups you can set access controls (RBAC) and Azure policy to be applied to subscriptions. Subscriptions are organized in logical containers and the containers are the “management groups”. Your governance conditions are then applied to the management groups. This is the much-needed enterprise level type of management that has been needed in Azure for a while.

Management Groups will eventually become the starting point of governance when organizations embark on the cloud. Management Groups also can be used for organizations that are already in the cloud. I am going to dive into Management Groups giving you a high-level tour but first I need to give some more background on the components of Management Groups.

Each directory has a “root management group”. This root management group is at the top level of the management group hierarchy. All other management groups and subscriptions fold up to the root management group. Access and policies can be applied at the directory level via this root management group.

A couple of other things to note about management groups are that you can only have up to 10,000 management groups in a single directory, a management group tree can go six levels deep not including the root management group, and each management group can have multiple children management groups but only one parent management group.

Now let’s explore how I have structured my management groups to give some examples of how this works. Note that all the examples I show in this blog post are for my Azure environments but yours will be different based on many factors such as your organizational structure of departments, teams, etc.

You can find management groups under All Services>>Management Groups.

When you first access Management Groups you will need to create a root MG. Note that the root MG cant deleted or moved. You can rename the root MG. In the following screenshot, I am showing the creation of a sub MG in my root MG. Also, notice on the left-hand side you can set Access controls (RBAC) on this MG.

In order to configure Azure Policies and apply it to a management group, you do that within the Azure Policy itself. You can see in the following screenshot that I have an Azure policy and I am scoping it to the Prod01 MG. Whatever subscription/s and resources in those subscriptions will inherit the policy unless an exclusion is set in the policy or I am breaking inheritance at the resource group level.

In the following screenshot, I am showing the addition of an existing resource. The resources you can add are other MG’s or subscriptions.

In the following screenshot, you can see that I am going to add one of my subscriptions to my Dev01 management group. After doing this I can configure development related access and development related policies to this subscription. I also can do the same thing with my production environments/subscriptions.

Here is what my Management Groups hierarchy looks like:

In my hierarchy I have 3 subscriptions I split into two for production and 1 for development. I have created a root management group and placed all other management groups in it. I created a parent management group for my prod subscriptions and 1 for my development subscriptions in case I add more in the future. I then created a prod01 and prod02 pulling a subscription into each one. Doing this allows me to have separate access and policies per subscription. One thing you could do is pull multiple subscriptions into a single management group.

Note that I also could apply access and policies at the root level or at one of my environment management groups i.e. Prod_Env/Dev_Env and the sub-management groups would inherit the access and policies that are set at the environment management group level.

Also if you need to you can move management groups to a new parent management groups.

Thanks for reading this post. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post Azure Management Groups are currently in preview but they are worth checking out and potentially using now as these are going to become a critical part of the Azure governance story.

Read More