Azure Firewall Basic – For Small/Medium Business & “Branch”

Microsoft has just announced a lower cost SKU of Azure Firewall, Basic, that is aimed at small/medium business but could also play a role in “branch office” deployments in Microsoft Azure.

Standard & Premium

Azure Firewall launched with a Standard SKU several years ago. The Standard SKU offered a lot of features, but some things deemed necessary for security were missing: IDPS and TLS Inspection were top of the list. Microsoft added a Premium SKU that added those features as well as fuller web category inspection and URL filtering (not just FQDN).

However, some customers didn’t adopt Azure Firewall because of the price. A lot of those customers were small-medium businesses (SMBs). Another scenario that might be affected is a “branch office” in an Azure region – a smaller footprint that is closer to clients that isn’t a main deployment.

Launching The Basic SKU

Microsoft has been working on a lower cost SKU for quite a while. The biggest challenge, I think, that they faced was trying to figure out how to balance feature, performance, and availability with price. They know that the target market has a finite budget, but there are necessary feature requirements. Every customer is different, so I guess when face with this conundrum, one needs to satisfy the needs of 80% of customers.

The clues for a new SKU have been publicly visible for quite a while – the ARM reference for Azure Firewall documented that a Basic SKU existed somewhere in Azure (in private preview). Tonight, Microsoft launched the Basic SKU inpublic Preview. A longer blog post adds some details.

Introducing the Azure Firewall

The primary target market for the Basic SKU hasn’t deployed a firewall appliance of any kind in Azure – if they are in Azure then they are most likely only using NSGs for security – which operates only at the transport protocol (TCP, UDP, ICMP) layer in a decentralised way.

The Azure Firewall is a firewall appliance, allowing centralised control. It should be deployed with NSGs and resource firewalls for layered protection, and where there is a zero-trust configuration (deny all by default) in all directions, even inside of a workload.

The Azure Firewall is native to Microsoft Azure – you don’t need a third party license or support contract. It is fully deployable and configured as code (ARM, Bicep, Terraform, Pulumi, etc), making it ideal for DevSecOps. Azure Firewall is much easier to learn than NVAs because the firewall is easily available through an Azure subscription and the training (Microsoft Learn) is publicly available – not hidden behind classic training paywalls. Thanks to the community and a platform model, I expect that more people are learning Azure Firewall than any other kind of firewall today – skills are in short supply so using native tech that is easy to learn and many are learning just makes sense.

Comparing Azure Basic With Standard and Premium

Microsoft helpfully put together a table to compare the 3 SKUs:

Comparing Azure Firewall Basic with Standard and Premium

Another difference with the Basic SKU is that you must deploy the AzureFirewallManagementSubnet in addition to the AzureFirewallSubnet – this additional subnet is often associated with forced tunneling. The result is that the firewall will have a second public IP address that is used only for management tasks.

Pricing

The Basic SKU follows the same price model as the higher SKUs: a base compute cost and a data processing cost. The shared pricing is for the Preview so it is subject to change.

The Basic SKU base compute (deployment) cost is €300.03 per month in West Europe. That’s less than 1/3 of the cost of the Standard SKU at €947.54 per month. The data processing cost for the Basic SKU is higher at €0.068 per GB. However, the amount of data passing through such a firewall deployment will be much lower so it probably will not be a huge add-on.

Preview Deployment Error

At this time, the Basic SKU is in preview. You must enable the preview in your subscription. If you do not do this, your deployment will fail with this error:

“code”: “FirewallPolicyMissingRequiredFeatureAllowBasic”,

“message”: “Subscription ‘someGuid’ is missing required feature ‘Microsoft.Network/AzureFirewallBasic’ for Basic policies.”

Some Interesting Notes

I’ve not had a chance to do much work with the Basic SKU – work is pretty crazy lately. But here are two things to note:

  • A hub & spoke deployment is still recommended, even for SMBs.
  • Availability zones are supported for higher availability.
  • You are forced to use Azure Firewall Manager/Azure Firewall Policy – this is a good thing because newer features are only in the new management plane.

Final Thoughts

The new SKU of Azure Firewall should add new customers to this service. I also expect that larger enterprises will also be interested – not every deployment needs the full blown Standard/Premium deployment but some form of firewall is still required.

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