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Managing Azure: Top tips so far in 2016

Despite gaining ground in the enterprise, Microsoft Azure can pose a number of management challenges. Here are our top tips, so far in 2016, to sharpen your Azure management skills.

Microsoft Azure continues to challenge Amazon Web Services to be the top public cloud provider. As Azure adoption grows, more enterprises wonder how to better manage their workloads in the cloud. However, one of the biggest challenges enterprises face when managing Azure is choosing the right set of tools.

With numerous Azure management tools available, including those from Microsoft, third-party vendors and the open source community, it can be difficult to determine which meet your enterprise's specific needs.

When choosing Azure management tools, consider how much visibility they offer into your cloud workloads, and how easily they can integrate with other enterprise tools.

For tips on these processes and more, here are SearchCloudComputing's top tips for managing Azure so far in 2016.

Get a grip on Azure Resource Manager and templates 

Azure Resource Manager plays three important parts in an application's lifecycle: description and design; provisioning; and control and administration.

Deploying and managing Azure applications can be tough, but the Azure Resource Manager tool helps simplify service and application management. Azure Resource Manager plays three important parts in an application's lifecycle: description and design; provisioning; and control and administration, according to Azure expert Kurt Marko.

Additionally, Azure Resource Manager allows you to build templates. Developers and operations teams use these templates, which are extendable and written in JSON syntax, to describe application architectures. The templates consist of four key features: parameters, variables, resources and outputs.

Evaluate third-party Azure management tools

Microsoft offers a range of tools for managing Azure, but sometimes, they don't fit all enterprise needs, according to Microsoft MVP Brien Posey. For example, tools from the Azure Management Portal work well for small deployments and daily maintenance tasks, but larger organizations with numerous virtual machines (VMs) or a multicloud environment may need more.

For a more specialized approach, open source and third-party tools are a good option to supplement Microsoft's own Azure management tools. These third-party tools typically focus on a specific task; for example, an open source tool called Azure Storage Explorer provides an interface for admins to search Azure containers.

Consider Azure VM Scale Sets

Big data is only getting bigger, and more management tools are needed to support it. Microsoft Azure VM Scale Sets, the Azure tool similar to AWS Elastic Beanstalk, are groups of VMs that admins can configure and manage as one unit. Admins can organize and manage these VMs to support large-scale and distributed computing tasks.

To configure VMs for a scale set, admins must specify parameters -- such as the number of instances and the user name -- using a JSON configuration file or a template, according to expert Dan Sullivan. Azure VM Scale Sets can be defined in the Azure console or by using the command-line interface and Microsoft PowerShell. Admins can also integrate Azure VM Scale Sets with other Azure management tools to increase performance.

Explore new options for managing Azure licenses

Microsoft customers who want to move systems off premises to Azure don't necessarily need to repurchase their software. Microsoft's License Mobility program allows customers with Volume Licensing agreements to use their existing licensing agreements for applications such as SQL Server and Windows Server when they migrate to Azure. 

Before you move an on-premises VM to Azure, first see if a packaged Azure service can meet your requirements, Marko urged. Some organizations will benefit more from a software as a service offering, which eliminates the need for Azure license management.

Ease hybrid cloud management with Azure Stack

Hybrid cloud is becoming the go-to model for enterprises because it offers the benefits of both public and private cloud. But one of the biggest challenges is that hybrid cloud often uses different technology stacks for public and private infrastructure. Microsoft's Azure Stack seeks to solve this hybrid integration obstacle by creating a cloud platform that can span hybrid environments. With Azure Stack, admins managing Azure private and public clouds can do so through a single portal; the Azure Stack instances just appear as another deployment region to supplement public Azure instances, according to Marko.

So far, Azure Stack, which is in technical preview, offers fundamental features, including compute, storage, networking and management. Some aspects are still missing from the tool, such as services for big data and the internet of things.

Next Steps

Test your Azure cloud knowledge

Azure cloud adoption increases

Check out Azure's top updates in 2015

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Dig Deeper on Managing cloud infrastructure