Azure In The Fast Lane – Part II

Lessons Learned and the Major Takeaways

Redesign Phase: It’s Not So Bad After All
After talking with the CRM vendor, it turned out that we were designing to a possible production environment, and that what our client needed immediately was a slightly smaller implementation environment that would host development and conversion work for the next 12-18 months.

This let us resize the proposed environment and save the client some money. This came out to be a much more reasonable $12k/month estimate that looked easy enough on paper: a single DC in Azure, with several SQL Server Enterprise systems in the domain.

The downside: By the time the redesign was done and the project scope doc written, we were down to 7 calendar days to deliver this infrastructure.
Fortunately, our ability to do a quick turnaround on the design impressed the client and they gave us the green light to move ahead.

Going Down the CSP Path
Rather than going with a more traditional path for purchasing a subscription, we decided to purchase the client’s Azure subscription through the CSP program we’ve been using to deliver Office 365. This lets us deliver the monthly, usage-based billing that retail Azure clients expect. We hadn’t delivered an Azure solution through CSP before, so it was new experience for us. It’s similar to, but not quite the same as the Office 365 CSP program – which made things a little more complex in some ways.

We sorted out the general details with our Tier 1 reseller and were able to purchase an Azure subscription, which should have let us start that whole instant provisioning of VMs thing (“within minutes!”) that we needed to do.

This did not go smoothly.

Lesson 2: From Purchase to Provisioning
First things first: When selling Azure on the CSP model, client point of contact that will “own” the account at the client must have a Microsoft account linked to their email address. Not an Office 365-based “work or school” account, but an actual Microsoft account. It appears that Microsoft has recently updated Azure to allow you to sign up through a “work or school”, but that’ll be something to look at when we have a more leisurely implementation to do.

Our client contact didn’t have a Microsoft account linked to their email address. The impact was weird, and it caused us a delay of almost a day.
The general process is this: Once the purchase is made through the Tier 1 reseller, we have to contact the reseller to let them know who the owner of the Azure subscription will be. If that person does not have a Microsoft account tied to their email address, the subscription ownership cannot be assigned. When logged in to the Azure portal with our admin account, we didn’t see a subscription.

No subscription — no provisioning.

We had to wait until the next morning to walk the client through creating a Microsoft account, then re-contact the Tier 1 reseller, before the subscription showed up.
With 6 calendar days left, we could finally start provisioning. No sweat. Well…a little.

For a Second, We Thought It Was Going to be Easy
One thing to be aware of when looking at selling Azure through CSP is that CSP only works with Azure Resource Manager (ARM), not Azure Classic. If you need Azure Classic or certain services that aren’t yet available with CSP subscriptions in ARM, you’ll need to purchase Azure through a traditional method. Fortunately, all the infrastructure services our client needed were available in ARM and the CSP model.

Armed with a subscription, we began provisioning VMs, starting with a small A3 box for a DC. No problem — except that Microsoft is moving fast with Azure, sometimes faster than their documentation is updated, and we ran into a couple of problems running PowerShell commands to perform some operations like manage storage and static IP addresses. Because the clock wasn’t stopping for us to spend a lot of time sorting out documentation, we made a call to support.

Lesson 3: Azure Support in the CSP Model
We started with Microsoft, because we had the Developer support package for Azure for this client. This also did not go well. We weren’t authorized to contact Microsoft directly for some reason I still don’t fully understand, so we turned to our Tier 1 vendor support.

When we tried to contact the vendor by phone, someone actually answered the phone, “Hello?” and then when we mentioned we were calling for Azure support, they asked, “We sell that?”
Under a remarkably tight deadline to build an infrastructure using a new subscription model, you don’t want to hear that the company that’s supposed to support you and just sold you the thing doesn’t know if they sell the thing they just sold you.

After a few moments of panic, we found out that the Tier 1 reseller was having some unfortunately timed phone system problems. We got through to support, and between our reseller support and our partner resources at Microsoft, we resolved our problems and got the DC up and running.

This gave us a crash course in how Azure technical support works under the CSP model. As the Tier 2 reseller, Convergence is the first line of technical support for our clients’ Azure problems. This is nothing new for us; being the first line of support is what we do as an MSP. The difference between CSP and retail Azure is that the Tier 1 reseller is the next line of support – not Microsoft. If we have a problem we can’t resolve, even if we’ve purchased an Azure support subscription through Microsoft, our first call is to the Tier 1 reseller, who will help us and will contact Microsoft on our behalf if needed.

That process, like much of what we’d learned on this CSP-based Azure project, was different than what retail Azure customers can expect. I have to say, though, that both our Tier 1 reseller and Microsoft were quick to respond and work with us through this process. And, as I’ll discuss next time, the CSP model for delivering Azure isn’t just new to us, it’s new to everyone including Microsoft, and it’s evolving quickly. I’ll also write next time about some of the other features and caveats we found with the CSP model for Azure in our race to deliver a fully functional infrastructure ready for the CRM vendor.

Three Takeaways for Today:

  1. For many businesses, there’s value in Azure beyond the cost. Azure isn’t always the least expensive option, but more and more companies see the value in moving to public cloud: the ability to pay for just what you need, scale without having to buy more hardware, avoiding the maintenance headaches of on-premises infrastructure, greater mobility, and more. Azure will be a great fit for a variety of reasons that aren’t related to monthly cost.
  2. The CSP program for Azure gives MSPs and other IT providers a great option for delivering Azure solutions with monthly, usage-based billing that can be bundled with other services provided to the customer
  3. For the value and flexibility it provides, the CSP program also has some things to watch out for. You need to make sure that the Azure services your client needs are available both in ARM and in the CSP program. If they are, great. If not, you’ll need to go through other methods to deliver Azure. Also, when delivering Azure solutions under CSP, the flow of technical support is different. IT service providers will need to contact their Tier 2 provider first instead of going straight to Microsoft.