Azure

Azure Mask Browser Extension

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I often find myself having to do a lot of editing of both video and screenshots when using the Azure Portal and I wanted to write a short blog post about this very handy extension I’ve been using recently. The Azure Mask Extension is an open source tool written by Brian Clark, it works by masking sensitive data as you navigate the Azure Portal which is helpful for presentations, screen sharing, and content creation. Take a look below at how to install and use it.

First, browse the extension settings in your chromium-based browser. Due to naming issues, the extension had to be renamed and has been “pending review” for over a year now (3/16/21) as noted by the Github repo. In light of this, the extension can’t currently be installed from the store, and must be manually loaded. Once you’re on this screen, you’ll need to toggle “Developer Mode” once you download the extension from the Github repo use the “Load Unpacked” button to upload the extension file.

Browser Extension Settings

 

Once the extension is installed, you will see it show up on the extensions setting screen. You will then click the Azure Mask extension button in the task bar and move the slider to “Toggle All Masks”.

Extension installed and toggled

 

Next, head over to the Azure Portal and check out the masking features of this extension!

Masked Azure Portal

 

Short and sweet blog post, but this extension has saved me a lot of time when sharing my screen, presenting at conferences, recording video, and taking screenshots for blogs. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future blog posts please feel free to comment blow, or reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter. I hope I’ve made your day a little bit easier!

Azure App Service Private Link Integration with Azure Front Door Premium

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Last week , Azure Front Door Premium went into Public Preview. While this did bring about some other cool features and integrations, the one I’m most excited about today is the integration with Azure Private Link.  This now allows Azure Front Door to make use of Private Link Services (not endpoints, which is what most people think about when they hear Private Link). Private Link Services allow for resource communication between two tenants, some of the most common use cases are software providers allowing private access to a solution running in their environment. Today I’m going to walk through how to connect Azure Front Door, through Private Link, to an App Service, without an ASE, the need to work with Private Link, DNS or anything of the sort. I believe this will become the new standard for hosting App Services.

With that, let’s get started! First, we need to create an Azure App Services Web App.

New Azure Web App

 

*Note* At the time of writing this post (03/01/2021) Private Link Service integration requires the App Service to be a Pv2.

 

Once the Web App is deployed, you’ll need the URL of the website and want to test it in a web browser. In this instance I’m not hosting anything in particular, simply hosting the sample page to show that it’s working.

Default App Service Page

 

At this point the web app is created, and you would expect to have to create a Private Link Endpoint now but since Azure Front Door Premium uses the Private Link Service functionality we can let Front Door do the work for us. With that said, let’s now go create the Azure Front Door Premium Service.

Azure Front Door Premium Creation

 

We need to make sure that the Tier is selected properly as the “Premium” SKU. After that radio button is selected, a section will populate below with different configuration options compared to the Standard Tier. The one we need to make sure to check is “Enable private link service”. After that’s selected, you will select the web app with which you want to establish Private Link connectivity from Front Door. If you would like, here you can also add a custom message. This will be what is displayed as a connection request in the Private Link Center in the next step.

Azure Front Door Creation

Azure Front Door Premium Creation

 

On the review page, we can see that the endpoint created is a URL for Azure Front Door and this will be the public endpoint. The “Origin” is the web app to which Front Door will be establishing private connectivity.

Final Configuration for Azure Front Door

 

Once Azure Front Door is done deploying, you will need to open up the Private Link Center. From there you will navigate to the “pending connections”, which is where you will see the connection request from Azure Front Door with the message you may or may not have customized. Remember that Azure Front Door uses Azure Private Link Service to connect it’s own managed Private Link Service to your Web App. You will need to “Authorize” the connection request in order for the connection to be created and allow Front Door to privately communicate with your Web App.

Private Link Setup

Private Link Center

Private Link Setup

 

After the connection is approved you will notice that the “pending connection” is removed, and has been moved to “active connections”. At this point, you will also notice that access to the Web App through a browser will return an error message the same way it would if you were to have added firewall rules on the Web App. This is because it’s being configured to only allow inbound connections from Azure Front Door.

Private Link Setup

No Public Access

 

If you want to modify any of the configuration settings, you will go to the “Endpoint Manager” section of Azure Front Door, where you get the familiar interface used by both Azure Front Door and App Gateway.

Front Door Configuration

 

In my testing, the time between clicking “Approve” in Private Link Center to the Web App being available through the Azure Front Door endpoint is anywhere between 15-30 minutes. I’m not quite sure why this is the case, though it is likely due to the service only being in preview. If you get an error message in the web browser using the Front Door URL, just grab a cup of coffee and give it some time to do its thing.

Once it’s all done though, you can use the Front Door URL in the web browser and see that it routes you to the App Service!

Azure Front Door Endpoint

 

There we go, all set! This is really a dream configuration, and something a lot of us have been looking forward to for some time. In the past we’ve done something similar with App Gateways, and Private Link Endpoints. The beauty of the solution with Front Door Premium, is that there is no messing around with DNS or infrastructure whatsoever – you can deploy this entire solution in PaaS while taking advantage of Azure Front Door’s global presence!

Click here to get started with Azure Front Door Premium.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future blog posts please feel free to comment blow, or reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter. I hope I’ve made your day a little bit easier!

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 5 – Conclusion

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Part 5, the end of the series! This has been a fun series to write, and I hope it was helpful to some of you. The impetus for this whole thing was the number of times I’ve been asked how to setup shared storage between systems (primarily VMs) in Azure. As we’ve covered, you can see there are a handful of different strategies with pros and cons to each. I’m going to close this series with a final Pros and Cons list and a few general design pattern directions.

 

Pros and Cons:

 

Azure Shared Disks:

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 1 – Azure Shared Disks « The Tech L33T

Pros:

  • Azure Shared disks allows for the use of what is considered “legacy clustering technology” in Azure.
  • Can be leveraged by familiar tools such as Windows Failover Cluster Manager, Scale-out File Server, and Linux Pacemaker/Corosync.
  • Premium and Ultra Disks are supported so performance shouldn’t be an issue in most cases.
  • Supports SCSI Persistent Reservations
  • Fairly simple to setup

Cons:

  • Does not scale well, similar to what would be expected with a SAN mapping.
  • Only certain disk types are supported.
  • Read-Only host caching is not available for Premium SSDs with maxShares >1.
  • When using Availability Sets and Virtual Machine Scale sets, storage fault domain alignment with the VMs are not enforced on the shared data disk.
  • Azure Backup is not yet supported.
  • Azure Site Recovery is not yet supported.

 

Azure IaaS Storage:

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 2 – IaaS Storage Server « The Tech L33T

Pros:

  • More control, greater flexibility of protocols and configuration.
  • Ability to migrate many workloads as-is and use existing storage configurations.
  • Ability to use older, or more “traditional” protocols and configurations.
  • Allows for the use of Shared Disks.
  • Integration with Azure Backup.
  • Incredible storage performance if the data can be cached/ephemeral (up to 3.8 million IOPS on L80s_v2).

Cons:

  • Significantly more management overhead as compared to PaaS.
  • More complex configurations, and cost calculations compared to PaaS.
  • Higher potential for operational failure with a higher number of components.
  • Broader attack surface, and more security responsibilities.
  • Maximum of 80,000 uncached IOPS on any VM SKU.

 

Azure Storage Services (Blob and File):

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 3 – Azure Storage Services « The Tech L33T

Pros:

  • Both are PaaS and fully managed which greatly reduces operational overhead.
  • Significantly higher capacity limits as compared to IaaS.
  • Ability to migrate some workloads as-is and use existing storage configurations when using SMB or BlobFuse compared to using native API connections.
  • Ability to use Active Directory Authentication in Azure Files, and Azure AD Authentication in Blob and Files.
  • Both integrate with Azure Backup.
  • Much easier to geo-replicate compared to IaaS.
  • Azure File Sync makes distributed File Share services and DFS a much better experience with Backup, Administration, Synchronization, and Disaster Recovery.

Cons:

  • BlobFuse (by default) stores credentials in a text file.
  • Does not support older access protocols like iSCSI.
  • NFS is not yet Generally Available.
  • Azure Files is limited to 100,000 IOPS (per share).

 

Azure NetApp Files:

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 4 – Azure NetApp Files « The Tech L33T

Pros:

  • Incredibly high performance, depending on configuration (up to ~3.2 million IOPS/volume).
  • SMB and NFS Shares both supported, with Kerberos and AD integration.
  • More performance and capacity than is available on any single IaaS VM.

Cons:

  • While it is deployed in most major regions, it may not yet be available where you need it yet (submit feedback if this is the case).
  • Does not yet support Availability Zones, Cross-Region Replication is in Preview.

 

There we have it, my final list of Pros and Cons between Azure Shared Disks, DIY IaaS Storage, Azure Blob/Files, and Azure NetApp Files. Lastly, I want to end with some notes on general patterns when considering shared storage like the ones discussed in this series.

 

Patterns by Workload Type:

 

Quorum:

  • If the reason you need shared storage is for a quorum vote, look into using a Cloud Witness for Failover Clusters (including SQL AlwaysOn).
  • If the cloud quorum isn’t an option, shared disks is going to be an easy option, and I would go there second.

 

Block Storage:

  • If you need shared block storage (iSCSI) for more than just quorum, chances are you need a lot of it, so I’d first recommend running IaaS storage. Start planning a migration away from this pattern though, Blob block storage on Azure is amazing and if you can port your application to use it – I would highly recommend doing so.

 

General File Share:

  • For most generic file shares, Azure Files is going to be your best bet – with a potential use of Azure File Sync.
  • Azure NetApp Files is also a strong option here since the Standard Tier is cost effective enough for it to be feasible, though ANF requires a bit more configuration than Azure Files.
  • Lastly, you could always run your File Share in custom IaaS storage, but I would first look to a PaaS solution.

 

High-Performance File Storage:

  • If your application doesn’t support the use of Blob storage, like most commercial products, Azure NetApp files is likely going to be your best bet.
  • Once NFS becomes generally available, NFS on Azure Files and Blob store are going to be strong competitors – especially on Blob and ADLS.
  • Depending on what “high-performance” means, and whether or not you use a scale-out software configuration, storage on IaaS could potentially be an option. This is a much more feasible option when the bulk of the data can be cached or ephemeral.

 

We’ve come to the end! I hope that was a useful blog series. As technologies and features advance, I’ll go back and update these, but please feel free to comment if I miss something. Please reach out to me in the comments, on LinkedIn, or Twitter with any questions about this post, the series, or anything else!

 

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 4 – Azure NetApp Files

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Welcome to Part 4 of this 5-part Series on Shared Storage Options in Azure. In this post I’ll be covering Azure NetApp Files. We have talked about other file-based shared storage in Azure already with SMB and NFS on IaaS VMs in Part 2, and again with Azure Files in Part 3. Today, I want to cover the last technology in this series – let’s get into it!

Azure NetApp Files:

Azure NetApp Files (ANF) is an interesting Azure service, unlike many others. ANF is actually first-party NetApp hardware, running in Azure. This allows for customers to use the enterprise-class, high-performance capabilities of NetApp directly integrated with their Azure workloads.  I will note that you can also use NetApp’s appliance called the NetApp ONTAP Cloud Volume, which is a Virtual Machine that sits in front of blob storage which you can also use for shared storage, but I won’t be covering that here as the ONTAP volumes aren’t first-party Azure. There are however, along with ONTAP, a number of great partner products that run in Azure for these type of storage solutions. Check with your preferred storage vendor, they likely have an offering.

Before we jump into it, I’ll note that there are different configurations or operations you can do to tune the performance of your ANF setup, I won’t be going into those here but will be writing another post at later time on performance benchmarking and tuning on ANF.

Initial Configuration:

Azure NetApp Files is a bit different from what you would expect with Azure Files, so I’m going to walk through a basic setup here. First of all, ANF currently requires you to be whitelisted for ANF use, to submit your subscription you’ll need to use this form.

After you’ve been whitelisted, head into the portal and create an Azure NetApp Files Account.

Create Azure Netapp Files Account

After it’s created, the first thing you will need to do is create a capacity pool. This is the storage from which you will create volumes later in the configuration. Note: 4TB is the smallest capacity pool that can be configured.

Azure NetApp Files Storage Hierarchy

Reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/azure-netapp-files/azure-netapp-files-understand-storage-hierarchy

I’m using an automatic QoS type for this capacity pool, but you can read more about how to setup manual QoS. What is important to choose here is your service level, this cannot be changed after creating the capacity pool. I will talk more about the service levels later in this post.

Azure NetApp Files Capacity Pool

 

Later on I’m going to be using both and NFS and an SMB share. To use an SMB share with Kerberos authentication you will need virtual network with which to integrate ANF and your source of authentication. I’m going to create a virtual network with two subnets, one for my compute and one for ANF. The ANF subnet needs to be delegated to the Azure NetApp files service so it can leverage that connection, so I’ll configure that here as well.

Create Azure Virtual Network

Delegate Azure Subnet to Azure Netapp Files

 

Now that I’ve setup the network I’m going to create my compute resources to use in my testing environment. This will be comprised of the following:

  • Domain Controller
  • Windows Client
  • Linux Client
  • Azure Bastion (used for connecting to those VMs)

I’ll use the Windows client to test the SMB share, and will test the NFS share with the Linux Client.

Domain Controller

Create domain controller VM

Azure Bastion

Create Azure Bastion

Windows Client

Create Windows Client

Linux Client

Create Linux Client

 

Now that those compute hosts are all being created, I’m going to go create my NFS volume. I initially created a 4TB capacity pool, so I’ll assign 2TB to this NFS volume for now. I’m going to use NFS 4.1 but won’t be using Kerberos in the lab, my export policy is also set to allow anything within the virtual network to access it – this can be modified at any time.

 

Create NFS Volume

Create NFS Volume part 2

Create NFS Volume part 2

 

Alright, the NFS volume is all setup now and we’ll come back to that later to test on the Linux Client. Now I want to setup and SMB share, which first requires that I create a connection to Active Directory. I built mine manually in my lab, but you can also use this quickstart template to auto-deploy an Active Directory Domain for you . It’s also good to know that this source can either be traditional Active Directory Domain Services or the Azure AD Domain Services.

You will want to follow the instructions in the ANF documentation to make sure you have things setup correctly. I have my domain controller set to use a static IP of 10.0.0.4, named the domain “anf.lcl” and setup a user named “anf”. Now that this is complete, I can create the Active Directory Connection.

Azure NetApp Files Active Directory Join

 

Great! Now that we have that configured, we can use the connection in setting up the SMB share. I’ll use the rest of the 4TB capacity pool here and use the Active Directory connection we just finished to create the SMB share.

 

Create SMB Share

Create SMB Share - Part 2

Create SMB Share - Part 3

 

After this completes, you can jump into Active Directory and see that it creates a computer account in AD. This will be the “host” of the SMB share, and ANF will use this to verify credentials attempting to connect to the share.

Computer Account in Active Directory

 

Fantastic, now we have ANF created, with a 4TB capacity pool, a 2TB NFS share, a connection to Active Directory, and a 2TB SMB share. On the Volumes tab we can now see both of those shares are ready to go.

Azure NetApp Files Volumes

 

Each of the shares has a tab called “Mounting instructions”, I’m going to test the SMB share first so I’ll go grab this information. You can see the UNC path looks like an SMB share hosted by the computer “anf-bdd8.anf.local”, this is how other machines will reference the share to map it. Permission to this share can be controlled similar to how you would control them on any other Windows share, take a look at the docs to read more on how to do this.

SMB Mounting Instructions

With this information we can go use the Azure Bastion connection to jump into our Windows Client and map the network drive.

 

Mount Network drive in Windows

 

Mounted network drive in Windows

 

Voila! The Azure NetApp Files SMB share is mounted on our Windows Client. Now let’s go do the same thing with the NFS share: grab the mounting instructions, use the Azure Bastion Connection to connect to the Linux Client, and mount the NFS share.

 

Mount NFS volumeMount NFS volume - part 2

 

 

Cost, Performance, Availability, and Limitations:

Performance:

As noted earlier, there are three service level tiers in Azure NetApp Files: Ultra, Premium, and Standard.

  • Ultra provides up to 129 MiB/s of throughput per 1TiB of provisioned storage
  • Premium: 64 MiB/s per 1 TiB
  • Standard: 16 MiB/s per 1TiB

 

Remember that earlier I selected the standard (lowest performance tier) for my capacity pool, this tier is more designed for capacity situations than performance and is much more cost effective. With that said though, let’s do a quick performance test.

  • 2TB SMB share on the “Standard” tier
  • D2s_v3 Windows Client
  • IOMeter tool running 4 worker nodes, with a 50% read 4Kb test

IOMeter Test

 

The performance capabilities of ANF are a combination of 3 main things:

  • Performance Tier
  • Volume Capacity
  • Client Network Throughput

As I’ve mentioned in part 2 of this blog series, similar to managed disks, the performance of an ANF volume increases with its provisioned capacity. Also remember that Azure VM SKUs have an expected network throughput and this is important here because the storage in question is over the network. If the VM is only capable of 1,000 Mbps then depending on your I/O size, regardless of the ANF configuration, your tests will only ever perform at up to 1,000 Mbps.

Just to verify that the performance is tied to capacity, I’m going to increase the capacity pool and then double the size of the SMB volume from 2TB to 4TB and run the test again.

 

resize azure netapp files pool

 

Resize SMB Share

 

IOMeter test

 

We can see that the performance roughly doubled, with no change inside the VM (since we’re not yet hitting the Network Bandwidth limitations of that VM SKU).

Now let’s run the same test using the FIO tool on our Linux Client against the NFS share.

FIO on Linux

 

Again we’ll go ahead and increase the capacity pool then double the size of the NFS share and run the test again.

 

Resize NFS volume

FIO Test on Linux

 

Similar to the SMB testing, after doubling the size of the NFS share it also doubled its performance. Increases in capacity on the pool or volume can happen live, while the systems are running, with no impact.

As I mentioned earlier, I will be writing another blog post at a later time on performance benchmarking and tuning on ANF. In the meantime I recommend reading the ANF documentation on performance, for example this one on Linux Performance Benchmarking.

 

Availability:

Similar to what you would expect with a traditional NetApp appliance, ANF does support the use of snapshots. Keep in mind that your snapshots will consume additional storage on your ANF volume.

Azure NetApp Files Snapshot

 

As earlier noted, Azure NetApp Files is a true NetApp appliance running in an Azure Datacenter and is therefore subject to the same appliance-level availability. In addition, there is a 99.99% financially backed SLA on Azure NetApp Files.

Note: Cross-Region replication is currently in Public Preview so I won’t note it as an option yet, but will edit this post once it becomes generally available.

 

Cost:

Pricing for Azure NetApp Files is incredibly straightforward – you pay per GB x hours provisioned.

Currently Pricing ranges from $0.14746/GB to $0.39274/GB based on performance tier. Please see the pricing page for the most up-to-date information.

You can also see this documentation on Cost Modeling for Azure NetApp Files for a deeper dive into modeling costs on ANF.

 

Limitations:

  • While ANF is rolling out to more and more regions, since it is discrete physical hardware it doesn’t exist everywhere (yet) and may impact your deployment considerations.
  • ANF does not (yet) support availability zones.
  • Additional resource limitations can be found here: Resource Limits for Azure NetApp Files.

 

Typical Use Cases:

The most common use case for Azure NetApp Files is simple, if you need more than 80k IOPS. Now, keep in mind that IOPS isn’t always straight forward. IOPS (Input Output Operations Per Second) can vary greatly based on the workload – data size, and access patterns. For example, a machine is likely to have significantly higher IOPS if the data size is 4Kb rather than 64Kb, if all else is constant, x16 times more IOPS. Similarly, throughput (eg. MBps/GBps) will be higher based on data size. With that said, if a workload requires incredibly high performance with an application that isn’t designed to run on cloud-native platforms (eg. Blob Storage APIs, etc.) – ANF is likely the place it will land. Remember that (as of the time of writing this, January 2021) the most uncached IOPS a machine can have in Azure is 80,000 (see Part 2 of this blog series).

This comes into play often with very large database systems such as Oracle.

Another typical use case is SAP HANA workloads.

 

The third most common workload for Azure Netapp Files that I’ve found is in large Windows Virtual Desktop deployments, using ANF for storing user profile data.

 

Pros and Cons:

Okay, here we go with the Pros and Cons for using an Azure NetApp Files for your shared storage configuration on Azure.

Pros:

  • Incredibly high performance.
  • SMB and NFS Shares both supported, with Kerberos and AD integration.
  • More performance and capacity than is available on any single IaaS VM.
  • ANF is a PaaS solution with no appliance maintenance overhead.

Cons:

  • While it is deployed in most major regions, it may not be available where you need it yet (submit feedback if this is the case).
  • Does not yet support Availability Zones, Cross-Region Replication is in Preview.

 

Alright, that’s it for Part 4 of this blog series – Shared Storage on Azure Storage Services. Please reach out to me in the comments, on LinkedIn, or Twitter with any questions about this post, the series, or anything else!

 

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 2 – IaaS Storage Server

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Recently, I posted the “Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 1 – Azure Shared Disks” blog post, the first in the 5-part series. Today I’m posting Part 2 – IaaS Storage Server. While this post will be fairly rudimentary insofar as Azure technical complexity, this is most certainly an option when considering shared storage options in Azure and one that is still fairly common with a number of configuration options. In this scenario, we will be looking at using a dedicated Virtual Machine to provide shared storage through various methods. As I write subsequent posts in this series, I will update this post with the links to each of them.

 

Virtual Machine Configuration Options:

Compute:

While it may not seem vitally important, the VM SKU you choose can impact your ability to provide storage capabilities in areas such as Disk Type, Capacity, IOPS, or Network Throughput. You can view the list of VM SKUs available on Azure at this link. As an example, I’ve clicked into the General Purpose, Dv3/Dvs3 series and you can see there are two tables that show upper limits of the SKUs in that family.

VM SKU Sizes in Azure

VM Performance Metrics in Azure

In the limits for each VM you can see there are differences between Max Cached and Temp Storage Throughput, Max Burst Cached and Temp Storage Throughput, Max uncached Disk Throughput, and Max Burst uncached Disk Throughput. All of these represent very different I/O patterns, so make sure to look carefully at the numbers.

Below are a few links to read more on disk caching and bursting:

 

You’ll notice when you look at VM SKUs that there is an L-Series which is “storage optimized”. This may not always be the best fit for your workload, but it does have some amazing capabilities. The outstanding feature of the L-Series VMs are the locally mapped NVMe drives which as of the time of writing this post on the L80s_v2 SKU can offer 19.2TB of storage at 3.8 Million IOPS / 20,000 MBPS.

Azure LS Series VM Specs

The benefits of these VMs are the extremely low latency, and high throughput local storage, but the caveat to that specific NVMe storage is that it is ephemeral. Data on those disks does not persist a reboot. This means it’s incredibly good at serving from a local cache, tempdb files, etc. though its not storage that you can use for things like a File Server backend (without some fancy start-up scripts, please don’t do this…). You will note that the maximum uncached throughput is 80,000 IOPS / 2,000 MBPS for the VM, which is the same as all of the other high spec VMs. As I am writing this, no Azure VM allows for more than that for uncached throughput – this includes Ultra Disks (more on that later).

For more information on the LSv2 series, you can read more here: Lsv2-series – Azure Virtual Machines | Microsoft Docs

Additional Links on Azure VM Storage Design:

Networking:

Networking capabilities of the Virtual Machine are also important design decisions when considering shared storage, both in total throughput and latency. You’ll notice in the VM SKU charts I posted above when talking about performance there are two sections for networking, Max NICs and Expected network bandwidth Mbps. It’s important to know that these are VM SKU limitations, which may influence your design.

Expected network bandwidth is pretty straight forward, but I want to clarify that the number of Network Interfaces you mount to a VM does not change this number. For example, if your expected network bandwidth is 3200 Mbps and you have an SMB share running on that single NIC, adding a second NIC and using SMB multi-channel WILL NOT increase the total bandwidth for the VM. In that case you could expect each NIC to potentially run at 1,600 Mbps.

The last networking feature to take into consideration is Accelerated Networking.  This feature allows for SR-IOV (Single Root I/O Virtualization), which by bypassing the host CPU and offloading the network traffic directly to the Network Interface can dramatically increase performance by reducing latency, jitter, and CPU utilization.  

Accelerated Networking Comparison in Azure

Image Reference: Create an Azure VM with Accelerated Networking using Azure CLI | Microsoft Docs  

Accelerated Networking is not available on every VM though, which makes it an important design decision. It’s available on most General Purpose VMs now, but make sure to check the list of supported instance types. If you’re running a Linux VM, you’ll also need to make sure it’s a supported distribution for Accelerated Networking.  

Storage:

In an obvious step, the next design decision is the storage that you attach to your VM. There are two major decision types when selecting disks for you VM – disk type, and disk size.

Disk Types:

Azure VM Disk Types

Image Reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/disks-types  

As the table above shows, there are three types of Managed Disks (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/managed-disks-overview ) in Azure. At the time of writing this, Premium/Standard SSD and Standard HDD all have a limit of 32TB per disk. The performance characteristics are very different, but I also want to point out the difference in the pricing model because I see folks make this mistake very often.  

Disk Type: Capacity Cost: Transaction Cost:
Standard HDD Low Low
Standard SSD Medium Medium
Premium SSD High None
Ultra SSD Highest (Capacity/Throughput) None

Transaction costs can be important on a machine whose sole purpose is to function as a storage server. Make sure you look into this before a passing glance shows the price of a Standard SSD lower than a Premium SSD. For example, here is the Azure Calculator output of a 1 TB disk across all four types that averages 10 IOPS * ((10*60*60*24*30)/10,000) = 2,592 transaction units.

Sample Standard Disk Pricing:

Azure Calculator Disk Pricing  

 

Sample Standard SSD Pricing:

Azure Calculator Disk Pricing  

Sample Premium SSD Pricing:

Azure Calculator Disk Pricing

Sample Ultra Disk Pricing:

Azure Calculator Disk Pricing

 

The above example is just an example, but you get the idea. Pricing gets strange around Ultra Disk due to the ability to configure performance (more on that later). Though there is a calculable break-even point for disks that have transaction costs versus those that have a higher provisioned cost.

For example, if you run an E30 (1024 GB) Standard SSD at full throttle (500 IOPS) the monthly cost will be ~$336, compared to ~$135 for a P30 (1024 GB) Premium SSD, with which you get x10 the performance. The second design decision is disk capacity. While this seems like a no-brainer (provision the capacity needed, right?) it’s important to remember that with Managed Disks in Azure, the performance scales with, and is tied to, the capacity of the disk.

Image Reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/disks-types#disk-size-1

You’ll note in the above image the Disk Size scales proportionally with both the Provisioned IOPS and Provisioned Throughput. This is to say that if you need more performance out of your disk, you scale it up and add capacity.

The last note on capacity is this, if you need more than 32TB of storage on a single VM, you simply add another disk and use your mechanism for combining that storage (Storage Spaces, RAID, etc.). This same method can be used to further tweak your total IOPS, but make sure you take into consideration the cost of each disk, capacity, and performance before doing this – most often it’s an insignificant cost to simply scale-up to the next size disk. Last but not least, I want to briefly talk about Ultra Disks – these things are amazing!

Ultra Disk Configuration in Azure

Unlike with the other disk types, this configuration allows you to select your disk size and performance (IOPS AND Throughput) independently! I recently worked on a design where the customer needed 60,000 IOPS, but only needed a few TB of capacity, this is the perfect scenario for Ultra Disks. They were actually able to get more performance, for less cost compared to using Premium SSDs.

To conclude this section, I want to note two design constraints when selecting disks for your VM.

  1. The VM SKU is still limited to a certain number of IOPS, Throughput and Disk Count. Adding together the total performance of your disks, cannot exceed the maximum performance of the VM. If the VM SKU supports 10,000 IOPS and you add 3x 60,000 IOPS Ultra Disks, you will be charged for all three of those Ultra Disks at their provisioned performance tiers but will only be able to get 10,000 IOPS out of the VM.
  2. All of the hardware performance may still be subject to the performance of the access protocol or configuration, more on this in the next section.

Additional Reading on Storage:

 

Software Configuration and Access Protocols:

As we come to the last section of this post, we get to the area that aligns with the purpose of this blog series – shared storage. In this section I’m going to cover some of the most common configurations and access types for shared storage in IaaS. This is by no means an exhaustive list, rather what I find most common.

Scale-Out File Server (SoFS):

First up is Sale-Out File Server, this is a software configuration inside Windows Server that is typically used with SMB shares. SoFS was introduced in Windows 2012, uses Windows Failover Clustering, and is considered a “converged” storage deployment. It’s also worth noting that this can run on S2S (Storage Space Direct), which is the method I recommend using with modern Windows Server Operating Systems. Scale-Out File Server is designed to provide scale-out file shares that are continuously available for file-based server application storage. It provides the ability to share the same folder from multiple nodes of the same cluster. It can be deployed in two configuration options, for Application Data or General Purpose. See the additional reading below for the documentation on setup guidance.

Additional reading:

SMB v3:

Now into the access protocols – SMB has been the go-to file services protocol on Windows for quite some time now. In modern Operating Systems, SMB v3.* is an absolutely phenomenal protocol. It allows for incredible performance using things like SMB Direct (RDMA), Increasing MTU, and SMB Multichannel which can use multiple NICs simultaneously for the same file transfer to increase throughput. It also has a list of security mechanisms such as Pre-Auth Integrity, AES Encryption, Request Signing, etc. There is more information on the SMB v3 protocol below, if you’re interested, or still think of SMB in the way we did 20 years ago – check it out. The Microsoft SQL Server team even supports SQL hosting databases on remote SMB v3 shares.

Additional reading:

NFS:

NFS has been a similar staple as a file server protocol for a long while also, and whether you’re running Windows or Linux can be used in your Azure IaaS VM for shared storage. For organizations that prefer an IaaS route compared to PaaS, I’ve seen many use this as a cornerstone configuration for their Azure Deployments. Additionally, a number of HPC (High Performance Compute) workloads, such as Azure CycleCloud (HPC orchestration) or the popular Genomics Workflow Management System, Cromwell on Azure prefer the use of NFS.

Additional Reading:

iSCSI:

While I would not recommend the use of custom block storage on top of a VM in Azure if you have a choice, some applications do still have this requirement in which case iSCSI is also an option for shared storage in Azure.

Additional Reading:

That’s it! We’ve reached the end of Part 2. Okay, here we go with the Pros and Cons for using an IaaS Virtual Machine for your shared storage configuration on Azure.

Pros and Cons:

 

Pros:

  • More control, greater flexibility of protocols and configuration.
  • Depending on the use case, potentially greater performance at a lower cost (becoming more and more unlikely).
  • Ability to migrate workloads as-is and use existing storage configurations.
  • Ability to use older, or more “traditional” protocols and configurations.
  • Allows for the use of Shared Disks.

Cons:

  • Significantly more management overhead as compared to PaaS.
  • More complex configurations, and cost calculations compared to PaaS.
  • Higher potential for operational failure with the higher number of components.
  • Broader attack surface, and more security responsibilities.

  Alright, that’s it for Part 2 of this blog series – Shared Storage on IaaS Virtual Machines. Please reach out to me in the comments, on LinkedIn, or Twitter with any questions about this post, the series, or anything else!

 

DNS Load Balancing in Azure

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

This post won’t be too long, but I wanted to expand a bit on the recent repo that I published to Github for Azure Load Balanced DNS Servers. I’ve been working in Azure the better part of a decade and the way we’ve typically approached DNS is in one of two ways. Either use (a pair of) IaaS Domain Controllers or use Azure-Provided DNS resolution. In the last year or so there have been an increasing number of architectural patterns that require private DNS resolution where it we may not necessarily care about the servers themselves.

This pattern has become especially popular with the requirements for Azure Private Link in hybrid scenarios where on-premises systems need to communicate with Azure PaaS services over private link.

Reference: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/private-link/private-endpoint-dns#on-premises-workloads-using-a-dns-forwarder

The only thing the DNS forwarder is providing here is very basic DNS forwarding functionality. This is not to say that it can’t be further configured, but the same principles still apply. DNS isn’t something that needs any sort of complex failover during patch windows, but since it has to be referenced by IP we have to be careful about taking DNS servers down if there aren’t alternates configured. With a Web Server we would just put it behind a Load Balancer, but there don’t seem to be configurations published for a similar setup with DNS servers (other than using a Network Virtual Appliance) since UDP isn’t a supported health probe by Azure Load Balancers. How then do we configure a pair of “zero-touch” private DNS functionality in Azure?

When asked “What port does DNS use?”, the overwhelming majority of IT Professionals will say “UDP 53”. While that is correct, it also uses TCP 53. UDP Packets can’t be larger than 512 Bytes, and while this suffices in most cases for DNS there are certain scenarios where it does not. For example, DNS Zone Transfers (AFXR/IFXR), DNSSEC, and EDNS all have response sizes larger than 512 bytes, which is why they use TCP. This is why the DNS Service does (be default) listen on TCP 53, which is what we can use as the health probe in the Azure Load Balancer.

The solution that I’ve published on Github (https://github.com/matthansen0/azure-dnslb), contains the template to deploy this solution which has the following configuration.

  • Azure Virtual Network
  • 2x Windows Core Servers:
    • Availability Set
    • PowerShell Script to Configure Servers with DNS
    • Forwarder set to Azure Multicast DNS Resolver
  • Azure Load Balancer:
    • TCP 53 Health Probe
    • UDP/TCP 53 Listener
Azure DNS Load Balanced Solution

This template does not include patch management, but I would highly recommend using Azure Update Management, this way you can setup auto-patching and an alternate reboot schedule. If this is enabled, this solution would be a zero-touch, highly-available, private DNS solution for ~$55/mo (assuming D1 v2 VM, which can be lower if a cheaper SKU is chosen).

Since I’m talking about DNS here, the last recommendation that I’ll make is to go take a look at Azure Defender for DNS which monitors, and can alert you to suspicious activity in your DNS queries.

Alright, that’s it! I hope this solution will be helpful, and if there are options or configurations you’d like to see available in the Github repository please feel free to submit an issue or a PR! If you want to deploy it right from here, click the button below!

Deploy to Azure

 

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future blog posts please feel free to comment blow, or reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter. I hope I’ve made your day a little bit easier!

Azure Site-to-Site VPN with a Palo Alto Firewall

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

In the past, I’ve written a few blog posts about setting up different types of VPNs with Azure.

Since the market is now full of customers who are running Palo Alto Firewalls, today I want to blog on how to setup a Site-to-Site (S2S) IPSec VPN to Azure from an on-premises Palo Alto Firewall. For the content in this post I’m running PAN-OS 10.0.0.1 on a VM-50 in Hyper-V, but the tunnel configuration will be more or less the same across deployment types (though if it changes in a newer version of PAN-OS let me know in the comments and I’ll update the post).

Alright, let’s jump into it! The first thing we need to do is setup the Azure side of things, which means starting with a virtual network (vnet). A virtual network is a regional networking concept in Azure, which means it cannot span multiple regions. I’m going to use “East US” below, but you can use whichever region makes the most sense to your business since the core networking capabilities shown below are available in all Azure regions.

With this configuration I’m going to use 10.0.0.0/16 as the overall address space in the Virtual Network, I’m also going to configure two subnets. The “hub” subnet is where I will host any resources. In my case, I’ll be hosting a server there to test connectivity across the tunnel. The “GatewaySubnet” is actually a required name for a subnet that will later house our Virtual Network Gateway (PaaS VPN Appliance). This subnet could be created later in the portal interface for the Virtual Network (I used this method in my PFSense VPN blog post), but I’m creating it ahead of time. Note that this subnet is name and case sensitive. The gateway subnet does not need a full /24, (requirements for the subnet here), it will do for my quick demo environment.

Now that we have the Virtual Network deployed, we need to create the Virtual Network Gateway. You’ll notice that once we choose to deploy it in the “vpn-vnet” network that we created, it will automatically recognize the “GatewaySubnet” and will deploy into that subnet. Here we will choose a VPN Gateway type, and since I’ll be using a route-based VPN, select that configuration option. I won’t be using BGP or an active-active configuration in this environment so I’ll leave those disabled. Validate, and create the VPN Gateway which will serve as the VPN appliance in Azure. This deployment typically takes 20-30 minutes so go crab a cup of coffee and check those dreaded emails.

Alright, now that the Virtual Network Gateway is created we want to create “connection” to configure the settings needed on the Azure side for the site-to-site VPN.

Here we’ll name the connection, set the connection type to “Site-to-Site (IPSec)”, set a PSK (please don’t use “SuperSecretPassword123″…) and set the IKE Protocol to IKEv2. You’ll notice that you need to set a Local Network Gateway, we’ll do that next.

Let’s go configure a new Local Network Gateway, the LNG is a resource object that represents the on-premises side of the tunnel. You’ll need the public IP of the Palo Alto firewall (or otherwise NAT device), as well as the local network that you want to advertise across the tunnel to Azure.

Once that’s complete we can finish creating the connection, and see that it now shows up as a site-to-site connection on the Virtual Network Gateway, but since the other side isn’t yet setup the status is unknown. If you go to the “Overview” tab, you’ll notice it has the IP of the LNG you created as well as the public IP of the Virtual Network Gateway – you will want to copy this down as you’ll need it when you setup the IPSec tunnel on the Palo Alto.

Alright, things are just about done now on the Azure side. The last thing I want to do is kick off the deployment of a VM in the “hub” subnet that we can use to test the functionality of the tunnel. I’m going to deploy a cheap B1s Ubuntu VM. It doesn’t need a public IP and a basic Network Security Group (NSG) will do since there is a default rule that allows all from inside the Virtual Network (traffic sourced from the Virtual Network Gateway included).

Now that the test VM is deploying, let’s go deploy the Palo Alto side of the tunnel. The first thing you’ll need to do is create a Tunnel Interface (Network –> Interfaces –> Tunnel –> New). In accordance with best practices, I created a new Security Zone specifically for Azure and assigned that tunnel interface. You’ll note that it will deploy a sub interface that we’ll be referencing later. I’m just using the default virtual router for this lab, but you should use whatever makes sense in your environment.

Next we need to create an IKE Gateway. Since we set the Azure VNG to use IKEv2, we can use that setting here also. You want to select the interface that is publicly-facing to attach the IKE Gateway, in my case it is ethernet 1/2 but your configuration may vary. Typically you’ll have the IP address of the interface as an object and you can select that in the box below, but in my case my WAN interface is using DHCP from my ISP so I leave it as “none”.

It is important to point out though, that if your Palo Alto doesn’t have a public IP and is behind some other sort of device providing NAT, you’ll want to use the uplink interface and select the “local IP address” private IP object of that interface. I suspect this is an unlikely scenario, but I’ll call it out just in case.

The peer address is the public IP address of the Virtual Network Gateway of which we took note a few steps prior, and the PSK is whatever we set on the connection in Azure. Lastly, make sure the Liveness Check is enabled on the Advanced Options Screen.

Next we need an IPSec Crypto Profile. AES-256-CBC is a supported algorithm for Azure Virtual Network Gateways, so we’ll use that along with sha1 auth and set the lifetime to 8400 seconds which is longer than lifetime of the Azure VNG so it will be the one renewing the keys.

Now we put it all together, create a new IPSec Tunnel and use the tunnel interface we created, along with the IKE Gateway and IPSec Crypto Profile.

Now that the tunnel is created, we need to make appropriate configurations to allow for routing across the tunnel. Since I’m not using dynamic routing in this environment, I’ll go in and add a static route to the virtual router I’m using to advertise the address space we created in Azure to send out the tunnel interface.

Great! Now at this point I went ahead and grabbed the IP of the Ubuntu VM I created earlier (which was 10.0.1.4) and did a ping test. Unfortunately they all failed, what’s missing?

Yes yes, I did commit the changes (which always seems to get me) but after looking at the traffic logs I can see the deny action taking place on the default interzone security policy. Yes I could have not mentioned this, but hey, now if it doesn’t work perfectly for the first time for you – you can be assured you’re in good company.

Alright, if you recall we created the tunnel interface in its own Security Zone so I’ll need to create a Security Policy from my Internal Zone to the Azure Zone. You can use whatever profiles you need here, I’m just going to completely open interzone communication between the two for my lab environment. If you want machines in Azure to be able to initiate connections as well remember you’ll need to modify the rule to allow traffic in that direction as well.

Here we go, now I should have everything in order. Let’s go kick off another ping test and check a few things to make sure that the tunnel came up and shows connected on both sides of things. It looks like the new Allow Azure Security Policy is working, and I see my ping application traffic passing!

Before I go pull up the Windows Terminal screen I want to quickly check the tunnel status on both sides.

Success!!! Before I call it, I want to try a two more things so I’ll SSH into the Ubuntu VM, install Apache, edit the default web page and open it in a local browser.

At this point I do want to call out the troubleshooting capabilities for Azure VPN Gateway. There is a “VPN Troubleshoot” functionality that’s a part of Azure Network Watcher that’s built into the view of the VPN Gateway. You can select the gateway on which you’d like to run diagnostics, select a storage account where it will store the sampled data, and let it run. If there are any issues with the connection this will list them out for you. It will also list some specifics of the connection itself so if you want to dig into those you can go look at the files written to the blob storage account after the troubleshooting action is complete to get information like packets, bytes, current bandwidth, peak bandwidth, last connected time, and CPU utilization of the gateway. For further troubleshooting tips you can also visit the documentation on troubleshooting site-to-site VPNs with Azure VPN Gateways.

That’s it, all done! The site-to-site VPN is all setup. The VPN Gateway in Azure makes the process very easy and the Palo Alto side isn’t too bad either once you know what’s needed for the configuration.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future blog posts please feel free to comment blow, or reach out on LinkedIn or Twitter. I hope I’ve made your day a little bit easier!

Shared Storage Options in Azure: Part 1 – Azure Shared Disks

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In an IaaS world, shared storage between virtual machines is a common ask. “What is the best way to configure shared storage?”, “What options do we have for sharing storage between these VMs?”, both are questions I’ve answered several times, so let’s go ahead and blog some of the options! The first part in this blog series titled “Shared Storage Options in Azure”, will cover Azure Shared Disks.

As I write subsequent posts in this series, I will update this post with the links to each of them.

 

When shared disks were announced in July of 2020, there was quite a bit of excitement in the community. There are so many applications that still leverage shared storage for things like Windows Server Failover Clustering, on which many applications are built like SQL Server Failover Cluster Instances. Also, while I highly recommend using a Cloud Witness, many customers migration workloads to Azure still rely on a shared disk for quorum as well. Additionally, many Linux applications leverage shared storage that were previously configured to use a shared virtual disk, or even RAW LUN mappings, for applications such as GFS2 or OCFS2.

Additional sample workloads for Azure Shared Disks can be found here: Shared Disk Sample Workloads.

There are a few limitations of shared disks, the list of which is constantly getting smaller. For now, though, let’s just go ahead and jump into it and see how to deploy them. After which, we’ll do a quick “Pros” and “Cons” list before moving on to the other shared storage options. I deployed Shared Disks in my lab using the portal first (screenshots below), but also created a Github Repository (https://github.com/matthansen0/azure-shared-storage-options) with the Azure PowerShell script and an ARM template to deploy a similar environment – feel free to use those if you’d like!

As a prerequisite (not pictured below) I created the following resources:

  • A Resource Group in the West US region
  • A Virtual Network with a single subnet
  • 2x D2s v3, Windows Server 2016 Virtual Machines (VM001, VM002) each with a single OS disk

Now that those are created, I deployed a Managed Disk (named “sharedDisk001”) just like you would if you were deploying a typical data disk.

On the “advanced” tab you will see the ability to configure the managed disk as a “shared disk”, here is where you set the max shares which specifies the maximum number of VMs that can attach that particular disk type.

After the disk is finished deploying, we head over to the first VM and attach an existing disk. You’ll note that the disk shows up as a “shared disk” and shows the number of shares left available on that disk. Since this is the first time it’s being mounted it shows 0.

After attaching the disk to the first VM, we head over and do the same thing on VM002. You’ll note that the number of shares has increased by 1 since we have now mounted the disk on VM001.

Great, now the disk is attached to both VMs! Heading over to the managed disk itself you’ll notice that the overview page looks a bit different from typical managed disks, showing information like “Managed by” and “Max Shares”.

In the properties of the disk, we can see the VM owners of that specific disk, which is exactly what we wanted to see after mounting it on each of the VMs.

Although I setup this configuration using Windows machines, you’ll notice I didn’t go into the OS. This is to say that the process, from an Azure perspective, is the same with Linux as it is with Windows VMs. Of course, it will be different within the OS, but there is nothing Azure-specific from that aspect.

Okay, here we go the Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • Azure Shared disks allows for the use of what is considered to be “legacy clustering technology” in Azure.
  • Can be leveraged by familiar tools such as Windows Failover Cluster Manager, Scale-out File Server, and Linux Pacemaker/Corosync.
  • Premium and Ultra Disks are supported so performance shouldn’t be an issue in most cases.
  • Supports SCSI Persistent Reservations.
  • Fairly simple to setup.

Cons:

  • Does not scale well, similar to what would be expected with a SAN mapping.
  • Only certain disk types are supported.
  • ReadOnly host caching is not available for Premium SSDs with maxShares >1.
  • When using Availability Sets and Virtual Machine Scale sets, storage fault domain alignment with the VMs are not enforced on the shared data disk.
  • Azure Backup not yet supported.
  • Azure Site Recovery not yet supported.

Alright, that’s it for Azure Shared Disks! Go take a look at my Github Repository and give shared disks a shot!

Please reach out to me in the comments, LinkedIn, or Twitter with any questions or comments about this blog post or this series.  

Delete Azure Recovery Vault Backups Immediately

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If you’re like many others, over the past few months you’ve noticed that if you configure Azure Backup, you can’t delete the vault for 14 days until after you stop backups. This is due to Soft Delete for Azure Backup. It doesn’t cost anything to keep those backups during that time, and it’s honestly a great safeguard to accidentally deleting backups and gives the option to “undelete”. Though, in some cases (mostly in lab environments) you just want to clear it out (or as was affectionately noted by a colleague of mine, “nuke it from orbit”). Let’s walk though how to do that real quickly.

When you go and stop backups and delete the data you’ll get the warning “The restore points for this backup item have been deleted and retained in a soft delete state” and you have to wait 14 days to fully delete those backups, you’ll also get an email alert letting you know.

To remove these backups immediately we need to disable soft delete, which is a configuration setting in the Recovery Services Vault. DO NOT DO THIS UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST. As previously noted, this is a greats safeguard to have in place, and I would also suggest using ARM Resource Locks in production environments in addition to soft delete. If you’re sure though, we can go turn it off.

Alright, now that we’ve disabled Soft Delete for the vault, we have to commit the delete operation again. This means first we’ll need to “undelete” the backup, then delete it again which this time won’t be subject to the soft delete policy.

Now we can go delete it again, after which we can find that there are no backup items in the vault.

Success!!! The backup is fully deleted. So long as there are no other dependencies (policies, infrastructure, etc.) you can now delete the vault.

If you have any questions or suggestions for future blog posts feel free to comment below, or reach out to me via email, twitter, or LinkedIn.

Thanks!