The Microsoft Azure Portal is the primary interface for managing apps, services and solutions commissioned on the Azure platform. This feature-rich web application allows you to interact with Azure services through a rich web-based interface, building, managing, and monitoring everything from simple web apps to complex cloud applications in a single, unified console.
You can also manage Azure through two built-in command line tools. Azure PowerShell which runs on a Windows platform providing a set of cmdlets for managing Azure resources, and the Azure CLI, a cross-platform tool providing the same functionality.
These three primary tools give you the power to manage everything on Azure. However, there may be times when the functionality is either limited or using the tool requires a level of skill you do not possess or have the time to master, say, in PowerShell command syntax. In these instances, there are many third-party tools developed by Microsoft and other vendors. These applications and services were created to help you achieve what you need to accomplish in Azure in the shortest possible time, or in the simplest possible way. Here are our top 10 tools which can assist you with everything from managing your Azure costs to DevOps automation.
#1. Azure Pricing Calculator
The Azure Pricing Calculator is a free web-based tool which helps you price and configure Microsoft Azure features for different solutions. By giving you the ability to set and estimate the costs for Azure products, this tool can help you produce indicative pricing and clear up the uncertainty of how much an Azure solution will cost you.
#2. Azure Storage Explorer
Azure Storage Explorer is an application running on Windows, macOS, and Linux. It helps you simply and efficiently manage the contents of your storage account with an easy-to-use graphical user interface. This tool lets you create, delete, view, and edit your storage resources ranging from blobs and queues to Cosmos DB and Data Lake. With Azure Storage Explorer you can also easily manage your virtual machine disks as well as manage and configure cross-origin resource sharing (CORS) rules.
Copying data to and from Azure can be cumbersome using the Azure Portal. AzCopy is a light-weight command line utility that allows you to move data into and out of your Azure storage account and works with blobs, files, and tables. It works on both Windows and Linux, providing the optimal performance you need to move large amounts of Azure data rapidly and efficiently.
#4. Microsoft Certification Test Tool for Azure Certified Virtual Machines
Microsoft Azure is not only a cloud platform to provision services and create solutions. It is also an active ecosystem where you can upload a pre-configured application to the Azure Marketplace and grow your cloud business. The Microsoft Certification Test Tool for Azure Certified Virtual Machines is a Microsoft application which tests your virtual machine to ensure it is capable of running efficiently on Azure. It is designed to provide an assessment of compliance to technical requirements as part of the Azure Certified program and includes a wizard-style interface, with an automation and questionnaire section, which assesses the characteristics of a virtual machine image. Once you have successfully run the tool and passed all necessary tests, you just submit the results and your image to Microsoft who will classify your solution as Azure Certified.
#5. Azure App Service Migration Assistant
The Azure App Service Migration Assistant lets you migrate your on-premise IIS web application to the cloud. Created by Microsoft, this tool analyzes an IIS installation and identifies which sites hosted on the instance can migrate to Azure. It also identifies any web elements which cannot be migrated or are not supported on the Azure platform. When the analysis completes, it automatically creates the web apps and databases or, if your sites are incompatible, the readiness assessment indicates what additional configuration or design changes are needed.
Building apps and rapidly updating them is a key competitive advantage for organizations operating in today’s digital age. To keep up with the pace demanded by users and business, software developers often deploy continuous integration. This practice of merging multiple independent pieces of development code into a shared repository helps ensure the sanctity of development best practices and creates better solutions through operations such as revision control and automated testing. Jenkins is an open-source automation server which helps development teams build, automate, and deploy their projects. Azure provides full Jenkins support and integration letting you deploy a Jenkins server on Azure and using it to automate your development processes and builds with continuous integration.
One of the primary benefits organizations gain by moving to the cloud is the ability to scale. However, scaling infrastructure can be complex, especially if the configuration is different for various parts of the solution. Chef is an open-source configuration management tool which lets you automate IT infrastructure. Using ‘recipes,’ the chef user can apply configuration settings via a script which deploys to all the relevant components of a solution. This ensures standardization across all parts of a solution which not only provides a stable configuration context for scalability but also enhances the simplicity and efficiency of an IT environment. Chef on Azure allows you to standardize and automate the deployment of Azure virtual machines and is part of the Azure VM creation process as an optional extension.
Puppet is similar to Chef in that it too is an open-source software configuration management tool. Where Chef uses ‘recipes,’ Puppet uses ‘manifests’ to achieve automation standardization across an infrastructure configuration solution. The other difference between the two solutions is that a Chef user needs to write their ‘recipes’ using a pure-Ruby domain-specific language (DSL) whereas Puppet ‘manifests’ can be created using its own declarative language. Chef and Puppet essentially provide the same features, and like Chef, Puppet on Azure delivers the DevOps capability you need to manage your Azure configuration effectively.
Ansible, like Chef and Puppet, is another open-source DevOps tool which automates software provisioning, configuration management, and application deployment. However, as Ansible is a newer solution, it does not have the maturity or support community the other two configuration automation tools enjoy. It does have a few unique features. It uses an agentless architecture, which makes, it a real contender in the DevOps tool space. Using Ansible ‘playbooks’ on Azure, which are similar to Chef ‘recipes’ and Puppet ‘manifests’ you can automate your Azure environment managing items such as virtual machines, containers, and networks.
Like Chef, Puppet, and Ansible, Terraform is another DevOps tool which automates configuration management of IT environments. However, instead of using ‘recipes,’ ‘manifests’ or ‘playbooks,’ you write, plan, and create infrastructure in code. Also, where Chef, Puppet, and Ansible are configuration tools, Terraform adds the additional feature of orchestration. This functionality gives you the ability to provision servers automatically whereas the other tools only allow you to set and standardize configuration. By writing Terraform code on Azure, you can reliably standardize, configure, automate, and maintain entire Azure environments in code.
Just Scratching the Surface
As you can see, there are many third-party tools you can use to augment the Azure Portal, Azure PowerShell, and Azure CLI to make managing your Azure resources both simpler and more efficient. However, this list just scratches the surface of the true extensibility of the Azure platform. The Azure Marketplace has many different pre-configured tools and solutions you can use to construct enterprise-grade solutions quickly and effectively manage them.