Azure Site Recovery (ASR) supports IAAS managed disks region to region

Introduction

When we see enough progress, not perfection, and get to the point that all our minimal needs are covered is when we decide to adopt a technology, feature or solution as the default. We might even move whole sale, either over time or on an expedited time line.

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As more and more companies reach for the cloud we see the offerings mature. That’s when cloud becomes the new normal for a majority. I’m happy to say that with managed disks we are at the point we have not many reasons not to use them. Which means latecomers get a more complete offering “out of the box” and can focus on the next generation of solutions, beyond cloud so to speak, in another wonderfully inadequate term called serverless.

What are IAAS managed disks?

Managed disks provide simpler storage management (no more storage account limits leading to managing and monitoring those accounts) along with better availability, disk level data protection with encryption, RBAC and backups, the ability to create snapshots etc. Clearly, they are the way forward. Read up on them here. I did migrate many virtual machines to them but we could not do this for equally as many despite the clear benefits. Why? Read on!

Azure Site Recovery (ASR) Supports IAAS managed disks region to region

But they had a key piece missing. ASR until last week did not allow to setup Disaster Recovery (DR) for IaaS VMs with managed disks. Those already running everything on managed disks might have found out during a hurricane or flooding scare that they could not quickly set up ASR and move those workloads to another region. I know people who were in that situation.

But as Microsoft announced public availability for the capability to Protect machines using managed disks between Azure regions using Azure Site Recovery. I’m very happy with this because I really like manage disks but this was a real show stopper for the IAAS virtual machines where ASR between regions is a hard requirement. It’s often the case in the quickly evolving cloud environment that features are missing for a while. Those can slow down adoption until they are available.

Now we have a full IAAS solution on par with on-premises VM to Azure IAAS VMs where managed disks are also supported. Which reminds me I need to check if the failback option form Azure to on-premises works already with managed disks (it used to be a one-way street with managed disks). Today, with managed disks I can say we’ve reached the point where we’ll convert the remaining IAAS virtual machines as it covers many needs and we’re confident the remainder of needs will be following.

Progress, not perfection

It’s not perfect yet. We’re still looking forward to encrypted disk support, incremental snapshots etc. But as I said, we decide and work based on progress, not perfection.

Cloud & Datacenter Conference Germany 2018

Cloud & Datacenter Conference Germany 2018

The Cloud & Datacenter Conference Germany 2018 is a shining beacon of light in a sea of marketing driven IT events. It is organized by Carsten Rachfahl via his company Rachfahl IT Solutions. Carsten is a Microsoft MVP and Regional Director whose commitment to excellence has show for many years in his community engagements. I think his integrity and style is a driving force behind this conferences ability to attract the quality of attendees, speakers and sponsors.

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Cloud & Datacenter welcomes top expert speakers from the community and the industry. They deliver high quality sessions and share their combined experience and knowledge with attendees that are truly interested in working with those technologies. That combination delivers high value interactions and knowledge sharing. The sessions in combination with the interaction between everyone there is works very well due to the size of the conference. Its big enough to have the breath of topics needed I todays IT landscape while it is small enough to allow people to dive in deeper and discuss architecture, design, implementation and visions.

Some extra information

The Cloud & Datacenter Conference Germany 2018 is being held on May 15-16 2018 in the Congress Park Hanau, Scholes Plats 1, Hanau, 63450 Germany. That’s close to Frankfurt and as such has good travel accommodations. Topics of interest will be Azure, Azure Stack, Hybrid Cloud, Private Cloud, Software Defined Datacenter, System Center & O365. The conference is a real-life technology event so no one is pretending that the esoteric future is already here. We are working on that future by building it in our daily job and helping organizations move forward in an efficient and effective manner.

This is a great conference by technologists, for technologists. The opportunities to learn, network and exchange information are great. The speakers are approachable and all of them together are there both share and learn themselves. From my past experiences the organization outstanding and the feedback from attendees was outstanding.

I’ll be speaking on RDMA to give a roadmap on this ever more important technology. On top of that I’ll be around to discuss high availability, clustering, data protection both on premises as in (hybrid) cloud scenarios.

Do your self a favor and register for the Cloud & Datacenter Conference Germany in 2018.

All I can say is that you should really consider attending. It’s most definitely worthwhile. The quality of the attendees, the speakers and the absolute top-notch organization of the conference have been proven in the previous years. The Cloud & Datacenter Conference is a testimony to the professionalism, integrity and quality my fellow MVP and friend Carsten Rachfahl delivers with his company Rachfahl IT solution on a daily basis to his customers. So, help yourself out in your career and register right here. I hope to see you there.

Note: The CDC is German spoken conference but as some speakers are from around the globe you’ll have to listen to some of them speaking in English. If you’ve ever heard my German, I’m sure you’ll prefer me speaking English anyway.

In-place upgrade of an Azure virtual machine

Introduction

In the cloud it’s all about economies of scale, automation, wipe and (redeploy). Servers are cattle to be destroyed and rebuild when needed. And “needed” here is not like in the past. It has become the default way. But not every one or every workload can achieve that operational level.

There are use cases where I do use in place upgrades for my own infrastructure or for very well known environments where I know the history and health of the services. An example of this is my blog virtual machine. Currently that is running on Azure IAAS, Windows Server 2016, WordPress 4.9.1, MySQL 5.7.20, PHP. It has never been reinstalled.

I upgraded my WordPress versions many times for both small incremental as major releases. I did the same for my MySQL instance used for my blog. The same goes for PHP etc. The principal here is the same. Avoid risk of tech debt, security risks and major maintenance outages by maintaining a modern platform that is patched and up to date. That’s the basis of a well running and secure environment.

In-place upgrade of an Azure virtual machine

In this approach updating the operating system needs to be done as well so my blog went from Windows Server 2012 R2 to Windows Server 2016. That was also an in place upgrade. The normal way of doing in place upgrades, from inside the virtual machine is actually not supported by Azure and you can shoot yourself in the foot by doing so.

The reason for this is the risk. You do not have console access to an Azure IAAS virtual machine. This means that when things go wrong you cannot fix it. You will have to resort to restoring a backup or other means of disaster recovery. There is also no quick way of applying a checkpoint to the VM to return to a well known situation. Even when all goes well you might lose RDP access (didn’t have it happen yet). But even if all goes well and that normally is the case, you’ll be stuck at the normal OOBE screen where you need to accept the license terms that you get after and upgrade to Windows Server 2016.

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The default upgrade will boot to that screen and you cannot confirm it as you have no console access. If you have boot diagnostics enabled for the VM you can see the screen but you cannot get console access. Bummer. So what can you do?

Supported way of doing an in-place upgrade of an Azure virtual machine

Microsoft gives you two supported options to upgrade an Azure IAAS virtual machine in

An in-place system upgrade is not supported on Windows-based Azure VMs. These approaches mitigate the risk. The first is actually a migration to a new virtual machine. The second one is doing the upgrade locally on the VHD disk you download from Azure and then upload to create a new IAAS virtual machine. All this avoids messing up the original virtual machine and VHD.

Unsupported way of doing an in-place upgrade of an Azure virtual machine

There is one  way to do it, but if it goes wrong you’ll have to consider the VM as lost. I have tested this approach in a restored backup of the real virtual machine to confirm it works. But, it’s not supported and you assume all risks when you try this.

Mount your Windows Server 2016 ISO in the Windows Server 2012 R2 IAAS virtual machine. Open an administrative command prompt and navigate to the drive letter (mine was ESmile of the mounted ISO. From there you launch the upgrade as follows:

E:\setup.exe /auto upgrade /DynamicUpdate enable /pkey CB7KF-BWN84-R7R2Y-793K2-8XDDG /showoobe none

The key is the client KMS key so it can activate and the /showoobe none parameter is where the “magic” is at. This will let you manually navigate through the wizard and the upgrade process will look very familiar (and manual). But the big thing here is that you told the upgrade not to show the OOBE screen where you accept the license terms and as such you won’t get stuck there. So fare I have done this about 5 times and I have never lost RDP access due to the in-place upgrade. So this worked for me. But whatever you do, make sure you have a backup, a  way out, ideally multiple ways out!

Note that you can use  /Quiet to automate things completely. See  Windows Setup Command-Line Options

Nested virtualization can give us console access

Since we now have nested virtualization you have an option to fix a broken in-^lace upgrade but by getting console access to a nested VM using the VHD of the VM which upgrade failed. See:

Conclusion

If Microsoft would give us virtual machine console access or  DRAC or ILO capabilities that would take care of this issue. Having said all that, I known that in place upgrades of applications, services or operating systems isn’t the cloud way. I also realize that dogmatic purism doesn’t help in a lot of scenarios so if I can help people leverage Azure even when they have “pre cloud” needs, I will as long as it doesn’t expose them to unmanaged risk. So while I don’t recommend this, you can try it if that’s the only option you have available for your situation. Make sure you have a way out.

IAAS has progressed a tremendous amount over the last couple of years. It still has to get on par with capabilities we have not only become accustomed to but learned to appreciate over over the years. But it’s moving in the right direction making it a valid choice for more use cases. As always when doing cloud, don’t do copy paste, but seek the best way to handle your needs.