Comparing Cloud Server Creation in Windows Azure and Tier 3 Cloud Platform

Just because I work for Tier 3 now doesn’t mean that I’ll stop playing around with all sorts of technology and do nothing but write about my company’s products. Far from it. Microsoft has made a lot of recent updates to their stack, and I closely followed the just-concluded US TechEd conference which covered all the new Windows Azure stuff and also left time to breathe new life into BizTalk Server. I figured that it would be fun to end my first week at Tier 3 by looking at how to build a cloud-based machine in both the new Windows Azure Virtual Machines service and, in the Tier 3 Enterprise Cloud Platform.

Creating a Windows Server using Windows Azure Virtual Machines

First up, I went to the new http://manage.windowsazure.com portal where I could finally leave behind that old Silverlight portal experience. Because I already signed up for the preview of the new services, I could see the option to create a new virtual machine.

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When I first selected the option, I got the option to quickly provision an instance without walking through a wizard. However, from here I only have the option of using one of three (Windows-based) templates.

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I clicked the From Gallery option in the image above and was presented with a wizard for provisioning my VM. The first choice was which OS to select, and you can see the newfound love for Linux.

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I chose the Windows Server 2008 R2 instance and on the next wizard page, gave the machine a name, password, and server size.

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On the next wizard, the VM Mode page, I selected the standalone VM  option (vs. linked VM for clustering scenarios), gave the server a DNS name, picked a location for my machine (US, Europe, Asia) and my Windows Azure subscription.

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On the final wizard page, I chose to not set up an Availability Set. Those are used for splitting the servers across racks in the data center.

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Once I clicked the checkmark in the wizard, the machine started getting provisioned. I was a bit surprised I didn’t get a “summary” page and that it just jumped into the provisioning, but that’s cool. After a few minute, my machine appeared to be available.

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Clicking on the arrow next to the VM name brought me to a page that showed statistics and details about this machine. From here I could open ports, scale up the machine to a different size, and observe its usage information.

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At the bottom of each of these pages is a little navigation menu, and there’s an option here to Connect.

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Clicking this button caused an RDP connection file to get downloaded, and upon opening it up and providing my credentials, I quickly got into my new server.

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That was pretty straightforward. As simple as you might hope it would be.

Creating a Windows Server using the Tier 3 Enterprise Cloud Platform

I spent a lot of time in this environment this week just familiarizing myself with how everything works. The Tier 3 Control Panel is well laid out and I was able to find most everything to be where I expected it.

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First up, I chose to create a new server from the Servers menu at the top. This kicks off a simple wizard that keeps track of the estimated hourly charges of my configuration. From this page, I choose which data center to put my machine in, as well the server name and credentials. Also see that I choose a Group which is a super useful way to organize servers via (nestable) collections. On this page I also chose whether to use a Standard or Enterprise server. If I don’t need all the horsepower, durability and SLA of an enterprise-class machine, then I can go with the cheaper Standard option.

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On Step #2 of this process, I chose the network segment this machine would be part of, IP address, CPU, memory, OS and (optional) additional storage. We have a wide range of OS choices including multiple Linux distributions and Windows Server versions.

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Step #3 (Scripts and Software) is where things get wild. From here, I can define a sequence of steps that will be applied to the server after its built. The available Tasks include adding a public IP, rebooting the server and snapshotting the server. The existing pool of Software (and you can add your own) includes the .NET Framework, MS SQL Server, Cloud Foundry agents, and more. As for Scripts, you can install IIS 7.5, join a domain, or even install Active Directory. I love the fact that I don’t have to just end up with a VM, but one that gets fully loaded through a set of re-arrangable tasks. Below is an example sequence that I put together.

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I finally clicked Create Server and was taken to a screen where I could see my machine’s build progress.

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Once that was done, I could go check out my management group and see my new server.

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After selecting my new server, I have all sorts of options like creating monitoring thresholds, viewing usage reports, setting permissions, scheduling maintenance, increasing RAM/CPU/storage, creating a template from this server, and much more.

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To log into the machine, Tier 3 recommends a VPN instead of using public-facing RDP, for security reasons. So, I used OpenVPN to tunnel into my new server. Within moments, I was connected to the VPN with my cloud environment and could RDP into the machine.

Summary

It’s fun to see so much innovation in this space, particularly around usability. Both Microsoft and Tier 3 put a high premium of straightforward user interfaces, and I think that’s evident when you take a look at their cloud platform. The Windows Azure Virtual Machines provisioning process was very clean and required no real prep work. The Tier 3 process was also very simple and I like the fact that we show the pricing throughout the process, allow you to group servers for manageability purposes (more on that in a later post), and let you run a rich set of post-processing activities on the new server.

If you have questions about the Tier 3 platform, never hesitate to ask! In the meantime, I’ll continue looking at everyone’s cloud offerings and seeing how to mix and match them.



Categories: Cloud, Tier 3 Enterprise Cloud Platform, Windows Azure

4 replies

  1. Nice post Richard, I too like the ‘Scripts and Software’ bit you describe in Tier 3, MSFT does have a script offering via Powershell e.g. Domain Join on Boot for new machines etc… Really like the software piece, be nice to see a check-box for Azure e.g .NET 3.5/4, IIS etc… would be an ideal add-on…

  2. Hi,
    Just wondering if the software you install on the server is persisted. Ie lets say you RDP into the server and install some software, for instance sql + biztalk, will the server state be maintained or do you loose this installation if the instance is brought down and up. (I know that this is how it worked before (azure) so I’m just wondering if they have changed anything here so that you get a ‘real’ virtual server)?

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