Use this Azure IAM Checklist When You Add New Users

Use this Azure IAM Checklist When You Add New Users

Microsoft Azure IAM, also known as Access Control (IAM), is the product provided in Azure for RBAC and governance of users and roles. Identity management is a crucial part of cloud operations due to security risks that can come from misapplied permissions. Whenever you have a new identity (a user, group, or service principal) or a new resource (such as a virtual machine, database, or storage blob), you should provide proper access with as limited of a scope as possible. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself to maintain maximum security:

1. Who needs access?

Granting access to an identity includes both human users and programmatic access from applications and scripts. If you are utilizing Azure Active Directory, then you likely want to use those managed identities for role assignments. Consider using an existing group of users or making a new group to apply similar permissions across a set of users, as you can then remove a user from that group in the future to revoke those permissions.

Programmatic access is typically granted through Azure service principals. Since it’s not a user logging in, the application or script will use the App Registration credentials to connect and run any commands. As an example, ParkMyCloud uses a service principal to get a list of managed resources, start them, stop them, and resize them.

2. What role do they need?

Azure IAM uses roles to give specific permissions to identities. Azure has a number of built-in roles based on a few common functions: 

  • Owner – Full management access, including granting access to others
  • Contributor – Management access to perform all actions except granting access to others
  • User Access Administrator – Specific access to grant access to others
  • Reader – View-only access

These built-in roles can be more specific, such as “Virtual Machine Contributor” or “Log Analytics Reader”. However, even with these specific pre-defined roles, the principle of least privilege shows that you’re almost always giving more access than is truly needed.

For even more granular permissions, you can create Azure custom roles and list specific commands that can be run. As an example, ParkMyCloud recommends creating a custom role to list the specific commands that are available as features. This ensures that you start with too few permissions, and slowly build up based on the needs of the user or service account. Not only can this prevent data leaks or data theft, but it can also protect against attacks like malware, former employee revenge, and rogue bitcoin mining.

3. Where do they need access?

The final piece of an Azure IAM permission set is deciding the specific resource that the identity should be able to access. This should be at the most granular level possible to maintain maximum security. For example, a Cloud Operations Manager may need access at the management group or subscription level, while a SQL Server utility may just need access to specific database resources. When creating or assigning the role, this is typically referred to as the “scope” in Azure. 

Our suggestion for the scope of a role is to always think twice before using the subscription or management group as a scope. The scale of your subscription is going to come into consideration, as organizations with many smaller subscriptions that have very focused purposes may be able to use the subscription-level scope more frequently. On the flip side, some companies have broader subscriptions, then use resource groups or tags to limit access, which means the scope is often smaller than a whole subscription.

More Secure, Less Worry

By revisiting these questions for each new resource or new identity that is created, you can quickly develop habits to maintain a high level of security using Azure IAM. For a real-world look at how we suggest setting up a service principal with a custom role to manage the power scheduling and rightsizing of your VMs, scale sets, and AKS clusters, check out the documentation for ParkMyCloud Azure access, and sign up for a free trial today to get it connected securely to your environment.

6 Benefits To Adopting An AWS Multi-Account Strategy

6 Benefits To Adopting An AWS Multi-Account Strategy

Taking your organization into a full multi-cloud deployment can be a daunting task, but focusing on adopting just an AWS multi-account strategy can provide many benefits without a lot of extra effort. AWS makes it quite easy to create new accounts on a whim, and can simplify things with consolidated billing. Let’s take a look at why you might want to split your monolithic AWS account into micro accounts.

1. Logical Separation of Resources

There are a few options for separating your resources within a single AWS account, including tagging, isolated VPCs, or using different regions for different groups. However, these practices can still lead to extensive lists of resources within your account, making it hard to find what you need. By creating a new account for each project, business unit, or development stage, you can enforce a much better logical separation of your resources. You can still use separate VPCs or regions within an account, but you aren’t forced to do so.

2. Security and Governance

In addition to separation for logical purposes, multiple accounts can also help from a security perspective. For example, having a “production” account separate from a “development” account lets you give broader access to your developers and operations teams based on which account they need access to. AWS provides a great “IAM Analyzer” tool that can help you ensure proper security and roles for your users.  And if you have ever had a developer hard-code account access information, separated accounts can help bring that to light (we have not this happen at ParkMyCloud, but we have definitely seen it a couple of times over the years…).

3. Cost Allocation

In addition to tagging your systems for cost reporting, separation into different accounts can help with the chargeback and showback to your business units. Knowing which accounts are spending too much money can help you tweak your processes and find cloud waste. The AWS Cost and Usage Reports show exactly which account is associated with each expense.

4. Cost Savings Automation

You can apply cost savings automation at a granular level – but it’s easier if you don’t have to. For example, you should enforce schedules to automatically turn off resources outside of business hours. Some of our customers are eager to add their development-focused account to ParkMyCloud to allow for scheduling automation, but are a bit leery of adding Production accounts where someone might turn something off by accident. Automated scripts and platforms such as ParkMyCloud can be fully adopted on dev and sandbox accounts to streamline your continuous cost control, while automation around your production environment can be used to make sure everything is up and running.  AWS IAM policies can also allow you to set different policies on different accounts, for example, allowing scheduling and rightsizing automation in dev/test accounts, but only manual rightsizing in production.

5. Reserved Instances and Savings Plans

In an AWS environment where you have multiple accounts all rolling up to an Organization account, Reserved Instances and Savings Plans can be shared across all the associated accounts. Say you buy an RI or Savings plan in one account, but then end up not fully using it in that account.  AWS will automatically allocate that RI to any other account in the Organization that has the right kind of system running at the right time. A couple of our larger customers with really mature cloud management practices take this a step further and carefully manage all RI purchases using a dedicated “cloud management” account within the Organization. This allows them to maintain a portfolio of RIs and Savings Plans (kind of like a stock market portfolio) designed to optimize spend across the entire company, and limiting commitments to RIs that might not be needed due to idle RI’s purchased by some other group on some other account.  This allows them to smooth out the purchase of expensive multi-year and all-upfront RIs and Savings Plans over the course of time.

6. Keeping Your Options Open

Even if you aren’t multi-cloud at the moment, you never know how your cloud strategy might evolve over the next few years. By separating into multiple AWS accounts, it helps you keep your options available for individual groups or applications to move to different cloud providers without disrupting other departments. This flexibility can also help your management feel at ease with choosing AWS, as they won’t feel as locked-in as they otherwise might.

Get Started With An AWS Multi-Account Strategy

If you haven’t already started using multiple AWS accounts, Amazon provides a few different resources to help. One recent announcement was AWS Control Tower, which helps with the deployment of new accounts in an automated and repeatable fashion. This is a step beyond the AWS Landing Zone solution, which was provided by Amazon as an infrastructure-as-code deployment. Once you have more than one account, you’ll want to look into AWS Organizations to help with management and grouping of accounts and sharing reservations.

For maximum cost savings and cloud waste reduction, use ParkMyCloud to find and eliminate cloud waste – it’s fully multi-account aware, allowing you to see all of your accounts in a single pane of glass. Give it a try today and get recommended parking schedules across all of your AWS accounts.

How Microsoft Azure Deallocate VM vs. Stop VM States Differ

How Microsoft Azure Deallocate VM vs. Stop VM States Differ

Do you know the difference between Azure “deallocate VM” and “stop VM” states? They are similar enough that in conversation, I’ve noticed some confusion around this distinction.  

If your VM is not running, it will have one of two states – Stopped, or Stopped (deallocated). Essentially, if something is “allocated” – you’re still paying for it. So while deallocating a virtual machine sounds like a harsh action that may be permanently deleting data, it’s the way you can save money on your infrastructure costs and eliminate wasted Azure spend with no data loss.

Azure’s Stopped State

When you are logged in to the operating system of an Azure VM, you can issue a command to shut down the server. This will kick you out of the OS and stop all processes, but will maintain the allocated hardware (including the IP addresses currently assigned). If you find the VM in the Azure console, you’ll see the state listed as “Stopped”. The biggest thing you need to know about this state is that you are still being charged by the hour for this instance.

Azure’s Deallocated State

The other way to stop your virtual machine is through Azure itself, whether that’s through the console, Powershell, or the Azure CLI. When you stop a VM through Azure, rather than through the OS, it goes into a “Stopped (deallocated)” state.  This means that any non-static public IPs will be released, but you’ll also stop paying for the VM’s compute costs. This is a great way to save money on your Azure costs when you don’t need those VMs running, and is the state that ParkMyCloud puts your VMs in when they are parked.

Which State to Choose?

The only scenario in which you should ever choose the stopped state instead of the deallocated state for a VM in Azure is if you are only briefly stopping the server and would like to keep the dynamic IP address for your testing. If that doesn’t perfectly describe your use case, or you don’t have an opinion one way or the other, then you’ll want to deallocate instead so you aren’t being charged for the VM.

If you’re looking to automate scheduling when you deallocate VMs in Azure, ParkMyCloud can help with that. ParkMyCloud makes it easy to identify idle resources using Azure Metrics and to automatically schedule your non-production servers to turn off when they are idle, such as overnight or on weekends. Try it for free today to save money on your Azure bill!

Further reading:

How to Use Google Preemptible VMs to Get 80% Savings

How to Use Google Preemptible VMs to Get 80% Savings

Google Cloud has always had a knack for non-standard virtual machines, and their option of creating Google preemptible VMs is no different. Traditional virtual machines are long-running servers with standard operating systems that are only shut down when you say they can be shut down. On the other hand, preemptible VMs last no longer than 24 hours and can be stopped on a moment’s notice (and may not be available at all). So why use them?

Google Cloud Preemptible VM Overview

Preemptible VMs are designed to be a low-cost, short-duration option for batch jobs and fault-tolerant workloads. Essentially, Google is offering up extra capacity at a huge discount – with the tradeoff that if that capacity is needed for other (full-priced)  resources, your instances can be terminated or “preempted”. Of course, if you’re using them for batch processing, being preempted will slow down your job without completely stopping it. 

You can create your preemptible VMs in a managed instance group in order to easily manage a collection of VMs as a single entity – and, if a VM is preempted, the VM will be automatically recreated. Alternatively, you can use Kubernetes Engine container clusters to automatically recreate preempted VMs.  

Preemptible VM Pricing

Pricing is fixed, not variable, and you can view the preemptible price alongside the on demand prices in Google’s compute pricing list and/or pricing calculator. Prices are 70-80% off on demand, and upward of 50% off even compared to a 3-year committed use discount

Google does not charge you for instances if they are preempted in the first minute after they start running.

Note: Google Cloud Free Tier credits for Compute Engine do not apply to preemptible instances. 

Use Cases for Google Preemptible VMs

As with most trade-offs, the biggest reason to use a preemptible VM is cost. Preemptible VMs can save you up to 80% compared to a normal on-demand virtual machine. (By the way – AWS users will want to use Spot Instances for the same reason, and Azure users can check out Low Priority VMs). This is a huge savings if the workload you’re trying to run consists of short-lived processes or things that are not urgent and can be done any time. This can include things like financial modeling, rendering and encoding, and even some parts of your CI/CD pipeline or code testing framework.

How to Create a Google Preemptible VM

To create a preemptible VM, you can use the Google Cloud Platform console, the ‘gcloud’ command line tool, or the Google Cloud API. The process is the same as creating a standard VM: you select your instance size, networking options, disk setup, and SSH keys, with the one minor change that you enable the ‘preemptible’ flag during setup. The other change you’ll want to make is to create a shutdown script to decide what happens to your processes and data if the instance is stopped without your knowledge. This script can even perform different actions if the instance was preempted as opposed to shut down from something you did.

One nice benefit of Google preemptible VMs is the ability to attach local SSD drives and GPUs to the instances. This means you can get added extensibility and performance for the workload that you are running, while still saving money. You can also have preemptible instances in a managed instance group for high scalability when the instances are available. This can help you process more of your jobs at once when the preemptible virtual machines are able to run.

FAQs About Google Preemptible Instances

How long do GCP preemptible VMs last?

These instances can last up to 24 hours. If you stop or start an instance, the 24-hour counter is reset because the instance transitions into a terminated state. If an instance is reset or other actions that keep it in a running state, the 24-hour clock is not reset. 

Is pricing variable?

No, pricing for preemptible VMs is fixed, so you know in advance what you will pay.

What happens when my instance is preempted? 

When your instance is preempted, you will get a 30 second graceful shutdown period. The instance will get a preemption notice in the form of an ACPI G2 Soft Off signal. You can use a shutdown script to complete cleanup actions before the instance stops. If an instance does not stop after 30 seconds, it will get an ACPI G3 Mechanical Off signal to the operating system, and terminate it. You can practice what this looks like by stopping the instance.

By using managed instance groups, you can automatically recreate your instances if capacity is available. 

How often are you actually preempted?

Google reports an average preemption rate from 5-15% per day per project, with occasional spikes depending on time and zone. This is not a guarantee, though, and you can be preempted at any time. 

How does Google choose which instances to preempt?

Google avoids preempting too many instances from a single customer, and preempts new instances over older instances whenever possible – this is to avoid losing work across your cluster. 

How to Use Google Preemptible VMs to Optimize Costs

Our customers who have the most cost-effective use of Google resources often mix Google preemptible VMs with other instance types based on the workloads. For instance, production systems that need to be up 24/7 can buy committed-use discounts for up to 57% savings on those servers. Non-production systems, like dev, test, QA, and staging, can use on-demand resources with schedules managed by ParkMyCloud to save 65%. Then, any batch workloads or non-urgent jobs can use Google preemptible instances to run whenever available for up to 80% savings. Questions about optimizing cloud costs? We’re happy to help – email us or use the chat client on this page (staffed by real people, including me!).

Further reading on Google Cloud cost optimization:

How Containerization in the Cloud Reduces Vendor Lock-in

How Containerization in the Cloud Reduces Vendor Lock-in

As you accelerate your organization’s containerization in the cloud, key stakeholders may worry about putting all your eggs in one cloud provider’s basket. This combination of fears – both a fear of converting your existing (or new) workloads into containers, plus a fear of being too dependent on a single cloud provider like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud – can lead to hasty decisions to use less-than-best-fit technologies. But what if using more of your chosen cloud provider’s features meant you were less reliant on that cloud provider?

The Core Benefit of Containers

Something that can get lost in the debate about whether containerization is good or worthwhile is the feature of portability. When Docker containers were first being discussed, one of the main use cases was the ability to run the container on any hardware in any datacenter without worrying if it would be compatible. This seemed to be a logical progression from virtual machines, which had provided the ability to run a machine image on different hardware, or even multiple machines on the same hardware. Most container advocates seem to latch on to this from the perspective of container density and maximizing hardware resources, which makes much more sense in the on-prem datacenter world.

In the cloud, however, hardware resource utilization is now someone else’s problem. You choose your VM or container size and pay just for that size, instead of having to buy a whole physical server and pay for the entirety of it up-front. Workload density still matters, but is much more flexible than on-prem datacenters and hardware. With a shift to containers as the base unit instead of Virtual Machines, your deployment options in the cloud are numerous. This is where container portability comes into play.

The Dreaded “Vendor Lock-in”

Picking a cloud provider is a daunting task, and choosing one and later migrating away from it can have enormous impacts of lost money and lost time. But do you need to worry about vendor lock-in? What if, in fact, you can pivot to another provider down the road with minimal disruption and no application refactoring?

Implementing containerization in the cloud means that if you ever choose to move your workloads to a different cloud provider, you’ll only need to focus on pointing your tooling to the new provider’s APIs, instead of having to test and tinker with the packaged application container. You also have the option of running the same workload on-prem, so you could choose to move out of the cloud as well. That’s not to say that there would be no effort involved, but the major challenge of “will my application work in this environment” is already solved for you. This can help your Operations team and your Finance team to worry less about the initial choice of cloud, since your containers should work anywhere. Your environment will be more agile, and you can focus on other factors (like cost) when considering your infrastructure options. 

Further Reading