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Azure Management Console comes up short for some cloud admins

While the Azure Management Console is a good tool for basic Azure management tasks, it may not be the best choice for advanced usage.

As Microsoft Azure continues to mature, an increasing number of organizations are moving mission-critical workloads to the Microsoft cloud. Of course, making the decision to use Azure in production also forces organizations to think about how they will manage those workloads.

On the surface, it might seem as though the preferred tool for managing Microsoft Azure is the Azure Management Console, which is sometimes referred to as the Azure Web interface. Depending on how an organization plans to use Azure, however, the management console might not always be the best choice.

One way of putting the Azure Management Console into perspective is to compare it to Hyper-V Manager, the management tool that comes with Microsoft's Hyper-V. Manager is a full-featured management tool that allows administrators to create, manage and migrate Hyper-V VMs.

Virtual Machine Manager provides limited functionality for Azure VMs. Its console displays a list of machines residing on Azure, along with the state of each VM.

Although the Hyper-V Manager provides basic management capabilities, better tools are available. For example, if an organization plans to build a large-scale Hyper-V deployment, create a multi-hypervisor environment or build a private cloud, then admins might be better off using a tool such as Microsoft's System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

Similarly, the Azure Management Console can handle basic, day-to-day management tasks, but isn't the best choice for more advanced Azure usage.

So where does the console fall short? Let's focus on virtual machines. The Azure Management Console works really well for basic VM creation and management. However, the console won't impress when it comes to using Azure in a hybrid environment.

The console allows administrators to import and export VMs through a somewhat nonintuitive process, but lacks the ability to easily move VMs between clouds. In fact, the Azure Management Console does not even display VMs residing within other clouds.

Managing to manage

Organizations that use Azure in conjunction with basic Hyper-V deployments or with other clouds may want to consider the use of a supplemental management tool. At the moment, the choices are somewhat limited, but Microsoft offers two management tools that work with Azure. Also, tools are available from third-party vendors as well as from the open source community.

Among the options directly from Microsoft is System Center 2012 R2 Virtual Machine Manager (VMM). While primarily a tool for managing Hyper-V, VMM can be connected to an Azure subscription.

Virtual Machine Manager provides limited functionality for Azure VMs. Its console displays a list of machines residing on Azure, along with the state of each VM. Furthermore, VMM can change an Azure VM's state and display that machine's console. However, Virtual Machine Manager lacks the ability to create Azure VMs or to perform any meaningful management of Azure machines.

Microsoft also provides the System Center 2012 R2 App Controller. Some of the App Controller functionality overlaps with that of VMM. For instance, App Controller will allow you to view, start, stop and connect to an Azure VM. App Controller, however, also provides functionality that goes significantly beyond that of Virtual Machine Manager.

Administrators, for instance, can use App Controller to copy a VM, virtual hard disk or a virtual machine image from Virtual Machine Manager to Microsoft Azure. Additionally, App Controller can establish connectivity to hosting providers that run Service Provider Foundation. From an end-user perspective, App Controller can be used as a self-service interface that allows authorized users to create VMs.

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