Deploying an Exchange 2013 Hybrid Lab Environment in Windows Azure (Part 1)

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

Back on February, 1st 2010, Microsoft announced the general availability of the Windows Azure Platform in 21 countries. Since then the Windows Azure cloud journey has continued at a rapid pace. As those of you following the official Windows Azure team blog already know, Microsoft is constantly improving the service by introducing new features, flexibility and support while at the same time reducing the prices for compute power making the service even more attractive compared to the competitors in this space.

Windows Azure delivers a 99.95 % monthly SLA and can be used for many different purposes and scenarios. From the “What is Windows Azure?” site:

“Windows Azure is an open and flexible cloud platform that enables you to quickly build, deploy and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed datacenters. You can build applications using any language, tool or framework. And you can integrate your public cloud applications with your existing IT environment.”

While the Windows Azure platform is truly production ready for most servers, applications and products (see this KB article for Microsoft servers and roles that currently are supported), there are certain products that are still not supported on Windows Azure based virtual machines. One of them is Exchange. So while Exchange supports virtualization this does not apply to virtual machines running in Windows Azure. This is important. Do not use this articles series for deploying a production Exchange hybrid environment in Windows Azure. It is not supported period.

Note:
Although Exchange servers are not supported in Windows Azure, all the other server roles we are deploying as part of the hybrid lab environment are supported (Active Directory Directory Servers (AD DS), Domain Name System (DNS), Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) and DirSync (via FIM support). 

The intention with this article series is to help you deploy an Exchange hybrid environment that you can use for lab purposes. That is you can test the different hybrid configuration features, migration scenarios etc. prior to executing them in a production environment.

Alright, we have a lot to cover so let’s get started.

On-Premises Lab environment Server versus Windows Azure

So why should I set up an Exchange hybrid lab environment when I already have this super cool and awesomely fast server at my disposal? Well, you know what? I had my share of lab servers and still got one pretty decent one that a buddy of mine is hosting in his datacenter (thanks Danny/T26 :)) and if you are fine with your current lab environment, you can just ignore this article series. However, although you can build a decent lab server for a relatively good price, you still need to account for power, hardware upgrades, maintenance and patching of the host etc.

In addition, if you or your company already have an MSDN subscription, you also have a Windows Azure subscription at your disposal. Personally, I have the “Visual Studio Ultimate with MSDN” subscription, which provides me with $150 monthly credit as well as allows me to use up to a total of 20 cores. If I reach my spending limit of $150, I can choose to remove the spending limit for the current billing period or for the subscription. This way I can pay for some more compute power minutes if needed even though I have a spending limit by default.

Note:
Although I use Windows Azure quite heavily for the miscellaneous lab environments I need, I still use my physical lab server for more complex and advanced scenarios that requires lots of servers (i.e. multi-forest scenarios, multi-site Exchange deployments etc.).

The following figure compares the different MSDN subscriptions and the monthly Windows Azure credit you get for each.

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Figure 1: Matrix of the different MSDN subscriptions and the Windows Azure credit you get with each

If you do not have an MSDN subscription, this pricing calculator can be used to calculate the expected monthly price for the different Windows virtual machines building blocks. And remember this price is for servers running 24/7, which shouldn’t be necessary when dealing with servers in a lab environment. As you can see the current price per hour for an XS (extra small) building block is $0.16 per hour.

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Figure 2: Pricing calculator example for virtual machines in Windows Azure

Finally, if you use the Windows Azure platform for or as part of your lab environment, you will get some dirt under your nails in the form of useful experience, which could become useful when your organization starts to look more into using Windows Azure for production purposes. No matter what, Windows Azure experience is definitely not bad to have on your CV.

Enough talk and numbers, you got me excited so please move ahead to the fun stuff. I will promise you, we will do that right away…

Signing Up for a Windows Azure Subscription

We have come to the moment where we will create a Windows Azure subscription. In this article, I will assume you the reader do not have any form of MSDN subscription and take you through the process of creating a 1-month free trial Windows Azure subscription with $150 credits available.

To sign-up for a Windows Azure trial, open your browser and go to this page. Click “Try it now”.

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Figure 3: Windows Azure Trial sign-up page

Enter the Microsoft account (formerly Live ID), you wish to associate with the subscription and click “Sign in

Note:
It’s also possible to associate an organization account with the subscription if required. However, you can change this later.

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Figure 4:
Logging in with your Microsoft Account (formerly known as Live ID)

Now enter the required information in the mandatory text fields and finish the mobile verification. You will then be able to enter the required payment information.

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Figure 5:
Windows Azure Trial Sign-up page

When finished, click “Sign up”. You will be taken to the page shown in Figure 6, which lists your subscription. You can click on this and see details and usage over time.

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Figure 6: Windows Azure trial subscription created

There is not much usage information yet, but we can see the number of days left before the subscription expires and the remaining credits. Here mine are shown in Danish kroner.

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Figure 7: Summary for Windows Azure Trial subscription

Now click on the “Portal” link in the upper right corner. First time you try to access the portal, it will take you through a little tour in order to give you an idea of how you access and manage the different parts of the Windows Azure Portal.

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Figure 8: Windows Azure Portal Tour

When you have been taken through the tour, you will land at a rather empty portal as can be seen in Figure 9.

Basically, you will just have a Windows Azure Active Directory (or in short WAAD) at your disposal. WAAD should not be confused with an on-premises enterprise Active Directory. It is merely an identity platform that is utilized by cloud services such as Windows Intune, Office 365 and third part cloud services like Salesforce.com. So for now just forget about the WAAD in your Windows Azure subscription.

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Figure 9:
Windows Azure Portal

This concludes part 1 of this multi-part article in which I provide you with an explanation of what Windows Azure is and how you configure an Exchange 2013 hybrid lab environment in Windows Azure.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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