How do you practically get started with Microsoft Azure?

I’ve been asked by a lot from my colleagues and friends on how to get started with Microsoft Azure. I believe that if you do Google search, you will get hundred millions of results.  Ironically there are almost guide on how to create a trial Azure subscription rather than a practical advice to help you get started. Indeed like other Microsoft products, Azure has been emergent for 2 years although Azure was firstly announced 6 years ago. I’ve been playing with Azure,  mainly Azure Infrastructure-As-A-Service for the past 3 years. Have a look at Azure at the time I started Azure. There are just about 20 services.

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And look at what have been available today. There are nearly 100 services available to Microsoft’s customers globally and several services have been on the preview stage. Newly updated set of Azure services can be found here.

Should we learn all of these Azure services? Of course you should as always if you want to be an Azure guru in the future. But how to get started?

Let’s start with Azure App Service & Azure Virtual Machine

Starting with what you are most familiar with is always recommended. If you have never been in the IT field or an experienced developer, you should start with Azure App Service to try creating a website running on Azure. If you know Visual Studio, you can quickly deploy an ASP.NET application into Azure App Service using Visual Studio. Or If you are a blogger you would have to be familiar with WordPress so let’s start creating a WordPress website in Azure with Azure App Service. During your first experiment on Azure App Service, you may need to execute server-side code which the Azure App Service couldn’t do. In this case, you probably need a virtual machine running on Azure with Azure Virtual Machine.

In a nutshell, let’s practice on Azure what have been familiar with you such as playing with Visual Studio, working on on-premises virtual machine in daily basic. Now these things are on Azure which don’t become hard on you.

If you don’t have an Azure subscription, you can try Azure trial with free of 200$ by this link https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/offers/ms-azr-0044p/.

Be aware that not all countries the payment platform is served well. What I mean is that sometimes your credit card gets declined even after Azure returns a successful registration message. I have received many cases reported to me that credit cards are declined.

In my current Azure training class, my syllabus starts with an introduction of IaaS and Azure compute including virtual machine, virtual network, network security group or other components which Azure virtual machine needs. Why? Because my students (they are all mix to senior developers) have been familiar with virtual machine. In daily basis work, they write code, compile it and deploy to a virtual machine. Like recommended cloud transformation approach, lift-and-shift is the very first phase. After that, I will get them familiar with the development focus mindset in which they don’t need to really care about where they need to deploy the application. Instead, they only need to adjust application setting from the cloud and have more focus on the design pattern which needs to be aligned with Azure PaaS services.

Advance by asking yourself real-world scenario

Creating a website or virtual machine on Azure is to only for your experiment to get you slowly familiar with Azure. Let’s advance by asking yourself real-world scenario. For example, asking yourself how to make your website highly available 24/7, or how to back up your website’s database. What would be a way to monitor your website’s traffic (Azure Application Insight) ? How do I better secure my website (Azure Security Center) ? You will realize that these questions are practical as you’ve done today even not on Azure. For such a question, you realize a need to start learning about high availability on Azure, or to think of load balancer which controls your website’s request  (Azure Traffic Manager, Azure Load Balancer). Should you need to extend your virtual machine’s storage (Azure Storage)?

In a nutshell, try yourself asking real-world scenario on what you have started with (Azure App Service, Azure Virtual Machine).

Microsoft’s Recommended Learning Path

If we study Microsoft technologies, we are supposed to put all the trust in them. And here below is the learning path from Microsoft. Personally I think the roles described from the path is practical to the market demand.

The learning path does not tell you ordering steps though. For example, after mastering Azure administration, there should be a need to ramp up with some coding skills (e.g Azure CLI or Azure PowerShell, even .NET). Another thing I’d comment is the missing DevOps suggestion. Whether you are a system administrator or developer, learning how Azure can help for a DevOps adoption and implementation is my recommendation.

Go far with integration

At this time you know well with some of the Azure services mentioned above. You are able to at least build a website on Azure, monitor and secure it, ensure its availability and optimal performance. Building a SharePoint farm is also within your ability.

Now let’s go far with integration. Imagine if you want to build a YouTube-like website on Azure? You of course are not interested in writing a lot of code to do streaming, conversion, video encoding or so on. And Azure Media Service is what you need to pay attention to.

Imagine if you don’t need a virtual machine for your runtime to run your code. Instead, you dream about something which you can just deploy a piece of code for a specific function? Or if you need somewhere to store your queue message whose body is JSON format which will need to deserialized before becoming objects in another application?

If you are an experienced software developer or a solution architect you probably know what you need from Azure  during your solution design.

Go far to see how Azure can help, and what you need for an integration.

An advanced of integration may include using Azure Function, Azure Service Fabric and other PaaS services to fulfill the scale & integration need for your application

Course to learn

There are many free and paid courses right now. Below is my recommended list:

Not all courses are newly updated. This means some courses are obsolete. They cover Azure Classic model which have been deprecated and not a recommended use in Azure today. My recommendation is to check the published date, while getting your hands dirty with Azure Portal to practice.

Try hard with Azure certification

To strengthen your knowledge, you can take an exam of 70-535 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solution. This is the replacement of 70-534. Or if you need a comprehensive skillset, the exam of MCSE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure would be a consideration.

If architectural level is not adequate to your experience, you can start with 70-532 and 70-533.

Write and share on your blog

To me the best way to memorize is to write what you learn and how much of understanding you have. Let’s write and share with folks what you learn from Azure, and what you do to get it done (e.g. step-by-step configuration and deployment).

Wish you luck on the Azure journey.

If you want to learn advanced Azure IaaS Defense in Depth with lot of hands-on labs to practice, go pre-order my upcoming book here

I’d be very happy to have a conversation with any of you who are stuck at getting started with Azure. Moreover, I’d love to discuss and learn Azure from you as well.


I’ll try to keep this article being maintained as possible so the information provided here is adequate and appropriate. If you would like to contribute to it, please feel free to comment down the article or send email to thuan@outlook.com. All will be acknowledged with my great appreciation!

Comments

  1. Adam
    January 22, 2018 — 12:37 am

    Thank Thuan so much for the comprehensive article. My company is going to invest in a team of around 20 people to work on Azure. Our focus firstly is a set of common PaaS services such as Azure App Service, Azure SQL Database and Azure Storage. Also, we would love to try with Azure Function.

    -Adam

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