SharePoint and Windows Azure

Microsoft has just announced general availability of “Infrastructure as a Service” for Windows Azure (see  Windows Azure and IaaS), including support for Virtual Machines and Virtual Networking.  With this offering, Microsoft is attempting to provide a compelling alternative to options such as Amazon Web Services, Rackspace Cloud Servers, etc.  As competition heats up, pricing is becoming one of the bases of competition, with Microsoft announcing discounts from previously published costs.
Within the general availability announcement and accompanying blog posts, the ability to deploy a SharePoint Server 2013 farm on Windows Azure is highlighted (see infrastructure as a service – IaaS ).  Anyone considering the use of a cloud-based infrastructure for SharePoint Server farms should review the details of the updated offering as it relates to SharePoint Server.
Some of the highlights include:

  • The Virtual Machines are based upon the VHDs used by Hyper-V.  This means that the VMs are portable across any virtual machine hosting environment based upon Windows Server 2012 including on-premises physical hosting and externally hosted environments.
  • Pre-configured SharePoint Server 2013 images (with trial licensing) are available, as is the ability to create customized, reusable images.
  • A range of server footprints with increasing memory and CPU cores that matches typical SharePoint server requirements are available.  In addition, the server footprints can be changed on-the-fly.
  • The server C: drive contains the Operating System, the D: drive is reserved for temporary storage — additional data disks can be added (the number depends upon server footprint).
  • RDP and Remote Power Shell are both available for server management, with additional Power Shell utilities for Windows Azure provided.
  • The infrastructure including a number of features to support high availability scenarios including availability set, fault domains, and update domains.  This insures that no single point of failure is introduced and that host server maintenance does NOT result in the unavailability of services.
  • Round Robin load balancing for external traffic is provided as an option as part of the infrastructure.  This provides another alternative for SharePoint Web Front End load balancing.

The Deployment Guide (see SharePoint Server Deployment Guide) is useful, as it contains a good overview of the new features of Windows Azure and a recommended process for SharePoint Server 2013 farm planning.  The majority of the farm planning advice is as relevant for on-premises and for cloud-based deployment and provides a useful process outline/overview.

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