Linux on Azure—a Strange Place to Find a Penguin
Taking Azure for a Spin
Using Microsoft Azure requires a free Windows Live account, as well as a credit card to open a charge account. If your employer participates in the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) program, you already may be entitled to a free quantity of Azure services every month. Once your account is set up, you can head to the management portal and start adding services.
The Azure control panel is, quite simply, gorgeous. Perhaps pretty controls are not a big selling point for a cloud service, but the Azure interface is marvelously interactive. As you set up services, messages on the status of operations appear at the bottom of the screen asynchronously. Performance graphs and history are integrated into the display, and the panel feels much more like a desktop app than a "click-submit-and-wait" Web interface.
Figure 1. The Azure management portal is easy to use and attractively designed.
Figure 2. The Azure portal displays task message and status.
Azure offers several flavors of Linux: CentOS 6.2, Ubuntu 12.04, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and OpenSUSE 12.1. It's possible to roll your own image and upload it, but this requires working with Microsoft's Hyper-V server product, which is something the average Linux user is unlikely to have handy.
Figure 3. Five different Linux options are offered when creating a VM.
For this article, I create a CentOS 6.2 VM called "penguin1". A DNS name is created automatically for the VM in the cloudapp.net domain, which then can be CNAME'd if you own your own domain.
Figure 4. Setting Up penguin1 in Azure
VMs are not directly exposed to the Internet, but rather are given 10.x IP addresses. Inside the Azure panel, users then can configure endpoints to open firewall ports and map them as they like. For example, to set up a Web server, it's necessary to create a port 80 (and perhaps 443) endpoint, which can be mapped to any port desired on the VM.
Figure 5. Adding a Network Endpoint to Set Up a Web Server
This network firewall is a nice security feature. By default, only port 22 (SSH) is configured. If you intend to change your default SSH port (as often is done to prevent script-kiddie scanning), you'll need to change the endpoint in the Azure management portal as well. You also have the option of changing it in the management portal and mapping it back to 22 on the VM.
Creating "From Gallery" gives you the most options for creation. After supplying basic information, such as name and size, provisioning begins immediately and takes about ten minutes to complete in my experience.
Andrew Fabbro is a senior technologist living in the Portland, Oregon, area. He's used Linux since Slackware came on floppies and presently works for Con-way, a Fortune 500 transportation company.
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