For years us SharePoint developers have needed to purchase top of the range laptops or workstations with as much RAM and disk space as possible, just so we can run a development environment that allows us to install SharePoint into a VM and run the necessary SharePoint services.
With the release of SharePoint 2013 the requirements went up significantly. A laptop with 16GB of RAM was needed so you could run a VM with at least 12GB of RAM, especially if you wanted to do anything with the Search Service.
I personally purchased a laptop roughly 18 months ago with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid state drive.
As you can imagine this type of machine costs a fair penny. But now with the cost of Azure VMs coming down all the time and the almost ubiquitous access to a high speed internet connection, hosting your environment on Azure VMs seemed to me like an attractive offer.
Microsoft released a new portal site at https://portal.azure.com/ that has a new interface allowing you to quickly manage and provision your Azure VM’s and services. This new interface includes a deployment type for a SharePoint Farm shown in the image below.
When you click New in the bottom left, you are presented with the list of deployment types as shown in the image above. You can select the SharePoint Server Farm option and you will be taken to a section that allows you to configure your new farm as shown below.
Most things here are self explanatory except for the new concept of Resource Groups in Azure. There is a video over at Channel9 that goes into more detail about Resource Groups, but they are essentially a way to group up and manage Azure VM’s and services into a convenient package which will give you the ability to manage the resources collectively once provisioned.
You get the option to configure your AD, SQL and SharePoint virtual machines and you get the option to select which tier you want for each section of your farm. I would suggest using the A4 tier for your SharePoint server as you will need the extra RAM for Search and installing Visual Studio and other development tools.
You might also want to select the lowest A1 basic AD tier because for development you really only want a small AD server as you won’t be serving many users.
And that’s all there is to the cofiguration. When you click Create, Azure will go off and provision all the necessary components including
- AD server
- SQL Server
- SharePoint Server
- Virtual network
- Storage accounts
Once everything is provisioned you will get a tile added to your Startboard which when clicked give you an overview of your resource group, including estimated costs for each resource which is very handy.
In conclusion I think this is a great way to manage SharePoint development environments and can be cost effective with an MSDN subscription. It’s means us SharePoint developers can move away from costly workstations and manage our environments in the cloud.
I would like to see the ability to save a resource group as a template so that when our farm is provisioned and we have installed all our development tools and configured the SharePoint server we can provision other farms from the same template so that we can have multiple farms for different clients.
That said it’s great to have SharePoint farms included in as a deployment type in Azure.