9 Free Azure Training Resources

9 Free Azure Training Resources

If you’re looking to tune up your Microsoft Azure knowledge, contemplating a cloud computing career, or want to show value to a potential employer, there’s never been a better time than now to seize the opportunity to learn with a few free Azure training resources.

Whether you’re relatively new to Azure or you’re a pro, there’s always more to learn. Microsoft has been releasing more and more free online resources for all learning paths, experience levels, and learning types to help you do just that, and of course there’s a third-party ecosystem built around it as well. That’s why we compiled a list of our favorite Microsoft Azure training resources on how to learn Azure for free: 

1. Microsoft Azure’s Own Training Resources

The most obvious resource for free Azure training is Microsoft itself. Microsoft does a great job of providing ample free educational material with virtual courses, hands-on training, and documentation for users with a range of experience:  

  • Microsoft Learn Courses provide information on Azure Virtual Machines and virtual networks, PaaS, automation and management, cloud migration, and more. 
  • Get hands-on and learn on the go with an Azure free account. It’s free to sign up and $200 credit is yours to spend in the first 30 days. That’s a month of free exploration to “test and deploy enterprise apps, create custom mobile experiences, and gain insight from your data.”  On top of that, you’ll also get 12 months to use some popular services for free.
  • Microsoft Learn for Azure is a great resource for learning more about Azure or expanding your Azure skills.
  • For those who enjoy some light reading, there’s Microsoft Azure Documentation. Jump in and start learning with quickstarts, samples, and tutorials.

2. Favorite YouTube Channels

If you prefer to actually see steps needed to deploy a particular application or how a new feature works, then videos can make all the difference for visual learners. Some of the most popular channels for Azure free training include:

  • Microsoft Azure (173K subscribers) offers demos, technical insights, and training videos.
  • Cloud Ranger Network  (24.7K subscribers) accompanies a popular blog on all things Microsoft Azure, making it a great resource for supplemented learning with both video and text.
  • Azure DevOps (21.8K subscribers) deserves a nod as a great niche channel for developers looking to make use of Azure’s developers services.

3. GitHub

If you want to go beyond videos and start digging in, hands-on, check out these great collections on GitHub. To learn Azure, check out both the official and unofficial Azure GitHub. It will help you save a lot of time and effort.

4. Blogs

Bloggers offer new insights, ideas, and the latest on all things cloud computing – if you know where to look. CloudRanger.net is solely-focused on Microsoft Azure, along with the previously mentioned YouTube channel. Microsoft has its own Azure blog, of course. But for a more well-rounded blog with additional content on AWS and Google Cloud Platform, check out Cloud Academy.

5. Udemy

Udemy offers several free Azure-focused courses. These freebies range from beginner-level overviews to service-specific outlines, as well as certification preparation. 

6. Pluralsight

Pluralsight is a Microsoft partner that provides an incredible number of Azure courses for free. Pluralsight offers over 200+ courses, 40+ Skill IQs, and 8 Role IQs; aiming to prepare students for specific Azure certification exams.

7. EDx

Founded by Harvard University and MIT, EDx is a massive online course provider. Take advantage of free online university-level courses and be on your way to earning professional certifications. Azure course topics include databases, security, cosmos DB, and more.

8. Social Media

A great way to stay informed with the latest from Microsoft Azure (and of course, free) is by subscribing to its social media channels: Microsoft Azure Facebook and Microsoft Azure Twitter.

9. Meetups

While many meetups are being held virtually right now, they are still a great way to get involved in your local community. Typically, tech meetups have talks delivered by group members and other experts, and with small communities, there’s plenty of opportunities to ask questions, request specific topics, and generally have a more personalized experience than mass-produced online content. Search Azure, Cloud, or Microsoft on meetup.com to see what’s available near you (or, since they’re currently virtual, look further afield). 

Take Advantage of These Free Azure Training Resources

Cloud-based application development is growing at a rapid pace and having Azure skills and experience can help you achieve many goals – free Azure online training is both abundant and rewarding. We picked our top 9 resources for their reliability, quality, and range of information. Whether you’re new to Azure or consider yourself an expert, these resources will get you on the right foot.

Further reading:

Has Azure Chargeback Improved with the New Cost Allocation Capabilities?

Has Azure Chargeback Improved with the New Cost Allocation Capabilities?

Microsoft Azure recently announced an addition designed to help with Azure chargeback: cost allocation, now in preview in Azure Cost Management + Billing. We’re always glad to see cloud providers making an effort to improve their native cost management capabilities for customers, so here’s a quick look at this update.

Chargeback for Cost Accountability

Cost allocation for cloud services is an ongoing challenge. Depending on organizational structure and decisions about billing and budgets, every organization will handle it a bit differently. In some cases, separating by Azure subscription can make this easier, but in others, your organization may have shared costs such as networking or databases that need to be divided by business unit or customer. However, it is an obstacle that must be addressed in order for organizations to gain visibility, address inefficiencies, and climb up the cloud spend optimization curve to actually take action to reduce and optimize costs. 

Many IT organizations address this via an Azure chargeback setup, in which the IT department provisions and delivers services, and each department or group submits internal payment back to IT based on usage. Thus, it becomes an exercise in determining how to tag and define “usage”.

In some cases, showback can be used as an alternative or stepping stone toward chargeback. The content and dollar amounts are the same – but without the accountability driven by chargeback. For this reason, it can be difficult to motivate teams to reduce costs with a showback. We have heard teams using variation on showback – ”shameback”. IT can take the costs they’re showing back and gamify savings, coupled with a public shame/reward mechanism, to drive cost-saving behavior.  

What Azure Added with the Preview Cost Allocation Capabilities

The cost allocation capabilities are currently in preview for Enterprise Agreement (EA) and Microsoft Customer Agreement (MCA) accounts. It allows users to identify the costs that need to be split by subscription, resource group, or tag. Then, you can choose to move them, and allocate in any of the following ways: distribute evenly, distribute proportional to total costs, distribute proportional to either network, compute, or storage costs, or choose a custom distribution percentage. 

Cost allocation does not affect your Azure invoice, and costs must stay within the original billing account. So, Azure did not actually add chargeback, but they did add visualization and reporting tools to facilitate chargeback processes within your organization, outside of Azure.

Improvements in the Right Direction – or Too Little, Too Late? 

Azure and AWS are slowly iterating and improving on their cost visibility, reporting, and management capabilities – but for many customers, it’s too little, too late. The lack of visibility and reporting within the cloud providers’ native offerings is what has led to many of the third-party platforms in the market. We suspect there is still a way to go before customers’ billing and reporting needs are fully met by the CSPs themselves. 

And of course, for organizations with a multi-cloud presence, the cloud costs generally need to be managed separately or via a third-party tool. There are some movements within the CSPs to at least acknowledge that their customers are using multiple providers, particularly on the part of Google Cloud. Azure Cost Management has done so in part as well, with the AWS connector addition to the platform, but it’s unclear whether the 1% charge of managed AWS spend is worth the price – especially when you may be able to pay a similar amount for specialized tools that have more features.

Your Guide to Azure SQL Pricing

Your Guide to Azure SQL Pricing

To understand how Azure SQL pricing works, we’ll first talk about how the Azure SQL service is offered. Expanding from one limited offering to a set of services, Azure SQL is a family of managed products built upon the familiar SQL Server database engine, useful for migrating SQL workloads, modernizing existing applications, and more. 

Running Azure SQL database

When Azure SQL Database first launched in 2010, its only offering was a single pricing option. But, now the Azure SQL portfolio has a more complex service model, with many possible combinations of deployment options, including compute models and service tiers. It has grown from “Azure SQL” to a multi-faceted service. It offers three deployment models, two service tiers, and two compute options. 

To run Azure SQL databases, you’ll first need to choose your deployment option. This is how you’ll structure the SQL server and its databases. Then, you’ll need to choose your purchase model to pay for your service. Select your service tier for the level of compute power you want. And, your compute tier to be able to either compute 24/7 or on-demand basis. 

Azure SQL Deployment Models

Azure SQL deployment options differ primarily in their cost and the amount of control they give you over the underlying platform. Deployment options determine how to structure the “SQL Server” and its databases. The three options available are:

  • Azure SQL Database is a general-purpose relational database, provided as a managed service. 
  • Azure SQL Managed Instance – this option modernizes existing SQL Server applications at scale with the managed instance as a service.
  • SQL Server on Azure VMs for lifting-and-shifting the SQL Server workload provides full control over the SQL Server instance

Azure SQL Pricing Models

Depending on the deployment model you’ve chosen for Azure SQL database. There are two purchasing models available:

Here are some examples of how the various pricing options play out: 

To better understand the related storage costs and compare different storage options, calculate Azure SQL costs for your specific scenario using Azure’s pricing calculator.

Azure SQL Service Tiers 

There are two service tiers used by Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Managed Instance, each with a different architectural model. These service tiers include: 

  • A General Purpose tier for common workloads 
  • A Business Critical tier for high throughput OLTP applications requiring low latency and high resilience 

And, Azure SQL Database offers an additional service tier called:

  • A Hyperscale tier for very large OLTP systems with faster auto-scaling, backup and restore support.

Azure SQL Compute Tiers 

Under the Azure SQL Database deployment option, under the vCore pricing model with General Purpose storage, you’ll find two options for your compute resources, these include:

  • Provisioned: Azure SQL provides Azure resources that run your database with a fixed amount of compute resources for a fixed hourly price.
  • Serverless: the database is provisioned as a serverless component with auto-scaling compute and billing for use per second

Optimizing Costs on Azure SQL

The choice to mix and match Azure SQL deployment options depends on your application and migration requirements. If you are still not sure which Azure SQL deployment option is right for your workloads, here are some tips from Microsoft on how to choose. 

Now, to monitor and control your storage expenses and optimize usage in your SQL databases, yes, you can use Azure Cost Management. However, even though cloud efficiency is a core tenant of the Microsoft Azure Cost Management tool, optimization is not its strongest suit.

Another way to save money on Azure SQL Database and SQL Managed Instance is by committing to a reservation for compute resources compared to pay-as-you-go prices. With reserved capacity, you make a commitment for SQL Database and/or SQL Managed Instance use for a period of one or three years to get a significant discount on the compute costs. Or, In the provisioned compute tier of the vCore-based purchasing model, you can exchange your existing licenses for discounted rates on Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Managed Instance by using Azure Hybrid Benefit. 

ParkMyCloud continues to add ways to optimize cloud environments no matter what cloud service you use. Azure SQL database types are just the latest cloud resources you can manage in the ParkMyCloud platform. Scheduling and parking recommendations will be available soon on these resources so you can optimize your costs more efficiently and automatically. 

If you’re new to ParkMyCloud, you can get started with a free trial

The Azure Well-Architected Review is Worth Your Time

The Azure Well-Architected Review is Worth Your Time

In July, Microsoft introduced the Azure Well-Architected Framework best practices – a guide for building and delivering solutions built with Azure’s best practices. If you’ve ever seen the AWS Well-Architected Framework, Azure’s will look… familiar. It strikes many similarities with the Google Cloud Architecture Framework as well, which was released in May. This is perhaps a sign that despite the frequently argued differences between the cloud providers (and people love to compare – by far the most-read post on this blog is this one on AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud market share), they are more similar than different. Is this a bad thing? We would argue, no. 

There are many aspects of a well-designed architecture and these frameworks to discuss. Given ParkMyCloud’s focus on cost here, we’ll examine the cost optimization principles in Azure’s framework and how they compare to AWS and Google’s.

Architecture Guidelines at a High Level

The three cloud providers each provide architecture frameworks with similar sets of principles. AWS and Azure use the “pillar” metaphor, and in fact, the pillars are almost identically named:

While at first it is somewhat amusing to note these similarities (did Azure just ctrl+c?), it is reassuring that between the major cloud providers, all can agree what components comprise the best architecture. Better yet, they are providing ever-improving resources, training, assessments and support for their users to learn and apply these best practices.

Who Should Use the Azure Well-Architected Framework – and How to Get Started

Speaking of users – which ones are these architecture frameworks for? In their announcement, Azure noted the shifting of responsibility of security, operations, and cost management from centralized teams toward the workload owner. While the truth of this statement will depend on the organization, we have recognized this shift as well

So while Azure’s framework is aimed largely at new Azure users and/or new applications, we would recommend every Azure user skim the table of contents and take the well-architected review assessment. The assessment takes the form of a multiple-choice “quiz”. At the end of the assessment, you are given a score and results on a scale from 1 to 100. You are also linked to next steps with detailed articles for each question where there is room for improvement. This assessment is worth the time (and won’t take much of it), giving you a straightforward action plan. 

There is also a set of Microsoft Learn pathways that should take about six hours to complete. 

Cloud Cost Optimization Pillar Comparison

The architecture resources provided by Google Cloud are much briefer than AWS and Azure’s frameworks, and they combine performance and cost optimization into one principle, so it’s not surprising several topics are missing – including any discussion of governance or ownership of cost. AWS focuses on this the most, particularly with the new section on cloud financial management, but Azure certainly also discusses organizational structure, governance, centralization, tagging, and policies. We appreciate the stages of cost optimization Azure uses, from design, to provisioning, to monitoring, to optimizing. 

All three cloud providers have similar recommendations in cost optimization regarding scalable design, using tagging for cost governance and visibility, using the most efficient resource cost models, and rightsizing. 

Azure puts it this way: cost is important, but you should seek to achieve balance between all the pillars. Shoring up any of the other pillars will almost always increase costs. Invest in security first, then performance, then reliability. Operational excellence can increase or decrease costs. Cost optimization will always be important for any organization in public cloud, but it does not stand alone. 

AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud Governance Models

AWS vs. Azure vs. Google Cloud Governance Models

The deliverability of cloud governance models has improved as public cloud usage continues to grow and mature. These models allow large enterprises to tier and scale their AWS Accounts, Azure Subscriptions and Google Projects across hundreds and thousands of cloud users and services. When we first started talking to customers 5+ years ago, mostly AWS users at the time, they often had a single AWS account for their entire organization and required third-party tools to manage usage and costs by project, line of business or application owner. But now, the “Big 3” cloud providers offer an array of ways for even the largest Fortune 500 enterprises to set up, run and manage their use of the dizzying volume of cloud services.

Why Cloud Governance Models are Important

The main way cloud providers allow cloud administrators to manage and grant access to their services is by leveraging Identity and Access Management (IAM) and providing options for roles and policies that govern both access and usage. IAM lets you grant granular access to specific AWS, Azure and/or Google Cloud resources and helps prevent access to other resources. IAM lets you adopt the security principle of least privilege, where you grant only necessary permissions to access specific resources like VM’s, Databases, Storage, Containers, etc.. With IAM, you manage access control by defining who (identity) has what access (role) for which resource. 

In ParkMyCloud, we apply this with Teams and Roles. Admins can create Teams (equivalent to Projects, Applications, or Lines of Business) and can invite a Team Lead to manage that PMC Team, and they can in turn grant users access and set permissions for them, which can then by automated based on policies, usually by leveraging tags but you can use other metadata as well. 

What if you want more flexibility with the cloud providers to both manage user access and to more tightly align your cloud services and usage to your organizational structure, projects and applications? Each of the major providers has designed ways for large enterprises to implement a hierarchical usage of cloud users and services that probably can look very similar to that enterprises organization chart. (If you can understand their jargon.)

How AWS, Azure, and Google Apply Cloud Governance Models

We dug into AWS, Azure and Google and this is what we found:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
    • Tier 1: AWS Organization
      • Tier 2: Organization Unit
        • Tier 3: AWS Accounts
          • Tier 4: Tags

  • Microsoft Azure
    • Tier 1: Azure Enterprise Portal
      • Tier 2: Departments
        • Tier 3: Accounts
          • Tier 4: Subscriptions
            • Tier 5: Resource Groups
              • Tier 6: Tags

  • Google Cloud
    • Tier 1: Organization
      • Tier 2: Folders
        • Tier 3: Projects
          • Tier 4: Resources
            • Tier 6: Tags

Tips for implementing Cloud Governance Models:

  1. Research and attend web sessions on these cloud governance models to ensure you understand the nuance
  2. Implement your cloud provider’s latest hierarchies and governance models prior to mainstream cloud adoption in your organization
  3. Make sure you run the hierarchies you plan to implement by CloudOps, ITOps, DevOps and FinOps to ensure proper organizational mapping and reporting

The cloud providers have done a pretty good job of documenting their roles, policies and hierarchies and creating a graphical representation of their current hierarchical structures cloud governance models. Of course, none of them use the same terminology – I mean, why would you, too easy, right? (And why does Google rank a ‘Folder’ above a ‘Project’? )

With these options available to you, your cloud operations team can make sure to use this to your advantage when planning new resources, accounts, and use cases within your organization. Let us know your thoughts and if you use any of these models to improve your cloud usage.

Your Guide to Microsoft Ignite 2020: Now Free, Online, and Split in Two

Your Guide to Microsoft Ignite 2020: Now Free, Online, and Split in Two

As we look forward to this year’s Microsoft Ignite 2020, we can’t help but also reflect on our first visit to the sold-out live event last year. Part of the live conference experience is the fun surrounding meeting new people, having conversations, attending sessions, spending some time at the expo hall meeting vendors, checking out product demos, plus the swag and cool prizes. However, Microsoft Ignite 2020 is going to look a little bit different this year in its new format as a free digital event. 

September is Only The First Part of Ignite

In response to the current global health crisis, Microsoft announced that Ignite, its conference for developers and IT professionals, will follow the company’s other upcoming events and shift to a digital-only format, instead of the in-person conference scheduled to be held in New Orleans. In addition, Microsoft will split Ignite into two events. The first event will take place on September 22-24, while the second one is planned for early 2021.

Announcements, Speakers, and More!

Microsoft has yet to release the full agenda for Ignite, but one thing it has revealed is the introduction of TableTalks and TableTopics to drive community conversation during the digital event. TableTopics will feature multiple tables with designated topics hosted on the Microsoft tech community where you can comment on a conversation or start your own. It will use a built-in AI translation to enable a global conversation giving everyone the opportunity to network between peers around the world. And, TableTalks will be hosted by a moderator for face-to-face conversations (a.k.a. team meetings) for a real-time conversation over video chat.

You can expect in-depth sessions on how to use Azure, Teams, GitHub, and other Microsoft assets, new capabilities across its major platforms to enhance cloud computing and productivity and cover topics such as: 


How to Get the Most Out of Digital-Only events

Last year Microsoft announced Azure Arc, Azure Synapse Analytics, along with other updated capabilities in Azure, and Power Platform, so while you wait for this year’s digital event, you can revisit last year’s event highlights and sessions now available on-demand from the MyIgnite community website. 

Microsoft plans to make all events digital-only at least through mid-2021. Earlier this year, Build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference, was also held in a virtual-only event with a focus on practical tools, services, and resources for developers, with some sessions live and others pre-recorded as well as their partner conference Inspire.

While it won’t be the same as a live event, here are a few ways to maximize the experience:

  • Create a schedule – block off the full days in your calendar now, so you don’t get overbooked with meetings. Once the schedule is released, plan in advance which sessions you’ll attend and put them on your calendar. 
  • Find a watch party – it can actually be easier with a digital event to find other folks to discuss and chat with. If coworkers are tuning in, create a Teams or Slack channel to chat about sessions and announcements. Or, use the #MSIgnite hashtag on Twitter. Many local meetup groups will have their own mechanisms to watch together. And don’t count out Reddit groups and other forums.
  • Look for offers from would-be sponsors – if there are Microsoft product/service-related vendors you’re interested in, sign up for their mailing lists now. There will likely be many online swag/prize giveaways to make up for the loss of the conference hall, which can be a fun way to win cool stuff and of course, learn about potential solutions. (You can always unsubscribe!) We’ll keep an eye out for giveaways and update here. 

The registration is set to open on September 3rd, you can check Ignite’s website for more updates. Both Ignite and Build are expected to once again be hosted virtually for the earlier part of 2021.