Video – Pricing Solutions With Azure Virtual Machines

One of the biggest blockers, in my personal opinion, to Azure IaaS adoption in the SME space is understanding how to price solutions. I don’t get questions about technology, features, cost, trust or any of that; instead, I get questions such as “how much will this cost me?”. Microsoft does not help themselves with a very complex pricing model – please don’t try to bring up AWS – Microsoft doesn’t sell AWS so I don’t get why they are relevant!

So I’ve started producing some videos for my employers. This one focuses on pricing solutions based on Azure virtual machines.

The Price Of Azure Online Backup is … I Don’t Know!

Microsoft sent out emails last night to inform Azure customers that the pricing of Azure Online Backup is changing.

Currently, you get 5 GB free and then pay €0.149/month (rounded to €0.15) in North Europe for each additional 1 GB.

On April 1st, the pricing structure changes:

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So, 5 GB free. Then for each machine you backup, you pay at least €7.447, with an additional charge of €7.447 for each additional 500 GB protected on that machine. And that DOES NOT COVER the cost of storage consumed in Azure. You have to pay for that too (GB/month and transactions).

So how much will that be? I have no frickin’ idea. There is no indication what kind of storage or what resiliency is required.

It might be Block Blobs running at €0.0179/GB (LRS) or €0.0358/GB (GRS). But who knows because Microsoft didn’t bother documenting it!

That leads me to an issue. The biggest blocker I’ve seen in the adoption of Azure in the SME space is not cost, technical complexity, or trust. The biggest issue is that few people understand how to price a solution in Azure. If you’re deploying a VM you need the VM/hour cost, storage space, storage transactions, egress data, and probably a gateway. Is there a single place that says all that on the Azure portal? No. What Microsoft has is isolated islands of incomplete information on the Azure website, and a blizzard of pricing in their Excel-based pricing “tools”.

If Microsoft is serious about Azure adoption, then they need to get real about helping customers understand how to price tools. Azure Online Backup was the tool I was starting to get traction with in the SME/partner space. I can see this new announcement introducing uncertainty. This change needs to be changed … fast … and not go through the Sinofskian feedback model.

Grade: F. Must try harder.

Video: Microsoft Azure For Small-Medium Businesses

Earlier today I produced a video for my employers to discuss the role of Microsoft Azure infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) in the SME/SMB market. In the video I talk a little about what Azure is, the economic sense of a service like Azure for these businesses, how the Open licensing scheme works, and then I talk about 3 of the core services and some of the scenarios that apply.

Why I’m Diving Into Azure

Two years ago, if you’d asked me which direction I would expand into from Hyper-V, it wouldn’t have been into Azure. But, things change. Back in 2007, I believe that I blogged that I wouldn’t work with Hyper-V and would be sticking with VMware. Then a year later I’m working with Hyper-V, blogging about it, and eventually evangelizing about it too!

But what got me to change my mind about switching to Hyper-V? It was System Center. I was a fan of System Center and I saw the potential of Microsoft big picture thinking for the data centre. How times have changed. In recent years, I have moved more and more away from using System Center. While I still love the potential power of the suite, it has become less and less relevant for me and my customers. Microsoft saw to that back in 2012 when they changed the licensing of System Center. Other things, such as increased complexity of installation and maintenance (hiding necessary upgrade steps while pushing automated upgrades via Windows Update) makes owning System Center more of a complexity than it should be. And meanwhile, the Windows Server group has made the automation of System Center less necessary by giving us PowerShell. The market of System Center has shrunk to a relatively small number of very large sales. And that doesn’t include my market here in Ireland.

Unlike many of my fellow MVPs, who are gravitating to the small amount of but large profit System Center work that is out there, I’m moving in my own direction. The writing is on the wall. The cloud is here, real, and relevant to businesses of ALL sizes. I’ve been adding Microsoft Azure IaaS to my arsenal of Hyper-V, clustering, and Windows Server storage/networking skills over the past year or so. Once again, it appears that I’m swimming in a small pool but I’ve been there before; I swam in the Hyper-V puddle that became an ocean.

There’s so much to Azure and it’s growing and evolving at an incredible pace. It’s not an alien technology. There is the fact that Azure is based on Hyper-V (WS2012 to be exact). But Azure compliments on-premises deployments too. Need off-site backup? Want an affordable DR site? Need burst compute/storage capacity? Azure does all that … and much more … with or without System Center, for SMEs, large enterprises, and hosting companies.

I’ve been running a lot of Microsoft partner training locally since last August. I’ve been doing quite a bit of Azure writing for Petri.com. Expect to see some of that appear here too. Oh!, before you ask, yes, I will still centre on Hyper-V and I’ll continue to talk about the new stuff when the time is right Smile

Mark Twain’s Advice on Microsoft Azure

I’ve been doing Azure events since August and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are 3 types of people in the audience:

  • Want to learn now – a small percentage of the audience
  • Have a small measure of interest but never try anything out – maybe over half of the room
  • Are only attending to learn how to compete with Azure or their boss forced them – everyone else in the room

I’m guessing the breakdown is similar at most cloud IaaS events. And I’ve not forgotten the those who are hoping that the US government kills off the cloud and wouldn’t attend a cloud event if it was the only place to be inoculated against the zombie apocalypse. And let’s not forget those clock punchers who make up the sad majority of IT pros and haven’t tried to learn anything since 2004.

O365 gives us a great track record that we can use to predict the future of Azure. We are in early days of Azure and uptake looks slow. But it was like this with BPOS/Office 365 before O365 became the norm for email here in Ireland. A few disruptors decided to skill up on Office 365 and those Microsoft partners shook up the market. They became the industry experts and they took business from their competitors:

  • By being the only resellers around that implemented a solution that customers wanted
  • By having developed skills over time that allowed them to take customers away from competitors that were doing a bad job

The time to learn Azure is now. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t be the moron that thinks “the cloud will never work for my customers” or “my customers are too small for Azure”. Take some advice from Mark Twain:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

So you’re serious about Azure but the scale of it scares you? That’s fair. That’s why Microsoft has taken a very targeted approach with Azure-based solutions via Open Licensing. And it’s why I’ve been delivering Azure technical training on a monthly chunk-by-chunk basis. The Mark Twain quote actually covers this too:

The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.

If you’re starting with Azure, find an on-ramp solution like online backup or DR, and use this to supplement your existing skills. Learn the basics of storage and virtual networking.

You Do Not Need To Run SCVMM To Replicate Hyper-V To Azure

If you follow Microsoft then you are used to December being a dead month. So I checked my Twitter feed last night and was stunned by some big Azure announcements.

The most important of the announcements to me was the change that is being made to Azure Site Recovery (ASR), AKA DR in the cloud. Previous to last night, you need to run SCVMM on premises to replicate Hyper-V to Azure. This baffled me:

  • You had to install the protection agent on each host/cluster node anyway
  • SMBs, the companies that are most likely to use ASR, cannot afford System Center
  • There is a low adoption rate of SCVMM with System Center/Hyper-V customers

The feedback on this was given – and Microsoft made a change. Last night they announced the general availability of Disaster Recovery (DR) to Azure for Branch offices and SMB feature in our Azure Site Recovery (ASR) service … AKA ASR without SCVMM. This will allow you to replicate Hyper-V VMs into Azure without using System Center on premises.

The hosts must be running WS2012 R2 Hyper-V. Replication is done using Hyper-V Replica. You get centralized replication monitoring and orchestration as a part of the service. And you get the one-click test, planned and unplanned failover types.

THIS IS FRAKKING GREAT NEWS!

Why am I so excited? The original releases of ASR were targeted at customers with System Center licensing. Those are mid-large customers and are likely the ones that already have DR sites. Adoption rates were going to be low. The customer base that needs ASR are the SMBs that run Hyper-V hosts on-premises. That is a huge breadth market. Microsoft partners can enable those customers via Azure in Open licensing – buy some credits ($100 value each), try out ASR with no long term CAPEX or contractual commitments, and see what it can do for your business. And then give your insurance company a call to see what having a remote DR site will do for the company’s insurance premium.

Azure Backup & SCDPM Public Feedback Opportunity

Microsoft is giving you the chance to provide feedback and vote on existing ideas for Azure Online Backup and System Center Data Protection Manager. This is a great idea. Personally speaking, it’s validating a number of things that I have fed back to Microsoft already, and a number of things that customers have fed back to me.

I’ve been working with Azure IaaS since January of this year. Before that, Azure was meaningless to me; it was a direct sell by Microsoft to developers – yes, even with IaaS there. But then I found out that Azure was coming to Open licensing so partners could resell it, and I started learning. And we at MicroWarehouse started to promote Azure to our customers (the Microsoft partners that resell licensing and implement solutions for their customers) and that’s when I started to get a better feel for what worked in the real world.

Azure Online Backup was the thing that grabbed people’s attention. Who can argue with €0.15/GB/month? That’s less than half of the cheapest discount rate that we found for online backup that is typically sold in Ireland by resellers. However, there were issues.

The biggest one is that there is no centralized portal. Partners use this to manage backups and get reports. That all has to be done on-premises with Azure Online Backup and that increases the cost of operations significantly.

The other hot issue for me is the lack of a backup mechanism for VMs running in Azure. The only offered solution is to install an agent in the guest OS and then we’re back to the bad old days of backup. VM backup should be “select a VM and backup magically happens”, grabbing the files and state that make up the VM. We don’t have that in any way in Azure.

So that’s why I went onto the site to provide feedback and to vote this morning. You should do the same if you have any interest in Azure. Here’s the top vote getters as they are right now:

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You Cannot Switch To Azure Open Licensing – Yet

There are a number of ways that you can purchase Azure. You can get it as a part of an enterprise agreement (high cost of entry, but highest value). You can get it via one of these means:

  • Pay direct (credit card)
  • Trial
  • MSDN benefit

We in the licensing biz bundle those options up as MOSP (Microsoft online subscription program). And then there is Open volume licensing (low cost of entry with control over spending and no long/big commitment).

I was told that at WPC (I was not there) attendees were briefed that customers who were subscribing to Azure via MOSP (see above) could switch to Open licensing.

That is not true; at this point, if you have been consuming Azure via direct payment (credit card), trial, or MSDN benefit, then you cannot switch to Open licensing – yet.

Microsoft is addressing this issue, and we believe a change of some kind is coming this calendar year (no promises because I do not work for Microsoft). That will allow:

  • Customers paying by credit card to centralize and take control of their Azure spending
  • Use a free trial to evaluate and price an Azure deployment, and switch to their desired Open licensing

So right now, not possible, despite what we were allegedly told at WPC, but a change is coming to enable switching to Azure on Open.

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Could Not Upload Certificate To Azure – AKA Lessons in Swearing

I’m doing to test work in the lab with Microsoft Azure at the moment, trying to tell which part of Microsoft is telling the truth about certain aspects of pricing. A necessary step in my tests was to upload an administrative certificate. I used MAKECERT to create the cert. The private cert is in Personal on the server that I’m working with. The public cert was on my PC. I opened the Azure portal and attempted to Manage Certificate to upload the .CER file but this failed after about 5 seconds. Recreate the cert, try again, fail again. No joy.

Then after I taught some of my Eastern European colleagues some new ways to swear in English, I had a realization that some dev in Microsoft probably did something dumb.

I bet they expect the private cert to be installed on the machine that you’re uploading the cert from … because we all browse from our servers, right? (WRONG, I hope).

So I exported the PFX to my PC, imported the cert, and attempted the upload again. And it finally worked.

Dumb. I can imagine “private” certs flying all around the network, and admins browsing from servers if this isn’t fixed by Microsoft.

On the bright side, my colleagues now are equipped with the verbiage to accompany flipping off your PC with the double bird.

How My Site Went Offline On Friday, July 25th 2014

My site is hosted on Azure in the Dublin (Europe North) region. On Friday morning, I was checking something when I saw my site was not loading correctly – it was either offline or VERY slow. So I check the Azure status and saw it was offline. I restarted the application pool and the problem remained. I rebooted. MySQL took an age to load, but the site was still not loading … from home.

I have endpoint monitoring configured. Notice that Amsterdam was showing an issue and Chicago was not. Strange, eh? I’ve worked in hosting and I know how localised these problems can be. So it was time to start digging.

I asked online and people in Denmark were OK. Folks in Belfast and Netherlands had connection problems. Later, Denmark went offline and Amsterdam came back!

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From Home (Vodafone Ireland – very slow/no access) I ran a tracert:

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From the lab at work (Magnet ISP – access OK) I had different results:

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From a VM with an ISP (Blacknight – access OK) I had different results again:

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It was very odd. Nothing was red on the Azure status site. I’m guessing there was a localized issue within Azure that affected just a subset of us, or there was an external routing issue that affected some ISPs.

It’s still like this as I post … in other words, the site is fine for some and offline for others.

EDIT (30/7/2014):

I came home today to find that my site was once again available via my ISP.

 

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