Azure Spring Clean – 5 Tips to help you align to Enterprise Scale

Azure Spring clean. Easily one of my favourite Azure events of each year.  I spend a lot of my year helping organisations clean up their Azure tenancies, so even though I’m writing this as Australia enters autumn, I’m super pumped to take you through my contribution for 2022. 5 Tips for how you can start your own Enterprise Scale journey, today.

For those who haven’t heard of Enterprise Scale Landing Zones (ES) before – It’s a bloody straight forward concept. Microsoft has developed several Azure best practices through the years, with these being reflected in the Cloud Adoption and Well Architected Frameworks. Enterprise Scale is guidance on how best to use these techniques in your environment.

This article will take you through five tips for customers who already have an Azure deployment, albeit not really aligned to the ES reference architectures. Microsoft also provides guidance on this process here. Let’s dive right in!

1. Understand the right reference architecture for you!

While Enterprise Scale (ES) is generic in implementation, every organisation is unique. As such, Microsoft has provided multiple options for organisations considering ES. Factors such as your size, growth plans or team structure will all influence your design choices. The first tip is pretty simple – Understand where you currently are, compared to the available architectures.

The four reference architectures that Microsoft provides for ES are:

Each Enterprise Scale pattern builds in capability

Note: The ES reference architectures that Microsoft provides here aren’t the only options; Cloud Adoption Framework clearly allows for “Partner Led” implementations which are often similar or a little more opinionated. Shameless Plug 😉 Arinco does this with our Azure Done Right offering.

2. Implement Management Groups & Azure Policy

Once you have selected a reference architecture, you then need to begin aligning. This can be challenging, as you’re more than likely already using Azure in anger. As such you want to make a change with minimal effort, but a high return on investment. Management Groups & Policy are without a doubt the clear winner here, even for single subscription deployments.

Starting simple with Management groups is pretty easy, and allows you to segment subscriptions as you grow and align. Importantly, Management Groups will help you to target Azure Policy deployments.

A simple structure here is all you need to get going, Production/Development as an easy line to draw, but it’s really up to you. In the below plan, I’ve segmented Prod and Dev, Platform and Landing Zone and finally individual products. Use your own judgement as required. A word from the wise; Don’t go too crazy, you can continue to segregate with subscriptions and resource groups.

Once you’ve set up Management Groups, it’s time to limit any future re-work and minimise effort for changes. Azure Policy is perfect for this, and you should create a Policy initiative which enforces your standards quickly. Some examples of where you might apply policy are;

If you haven’t spent much time with Azure Policy, the AWESOME-Azure-Policy repository maintained by Jesse Loudon has become an amazing source for anything you would want to know here!

3. Develop repeatable landing zones to grow in.

The third tip I have is probably the most important for existing deployments. Most commonly, non ES organisations operate in a few monolithic subscriptions, sometimes with a few resource groups to separate workloads. In the same way that microservices allow development teams to iterate on applications faster, Landing Zones allow you to develop capability on Azure faster.

A Landing Zone design is always slightly different by organisation, depending on what Azure architecture you selected and your business requirements.

Some things to keep in mind for your LZ design pattern are:

  • How will you network each LZ?
  • What security and monitoring settings are you deploying?
  • How will you segment resources in a LZ? Single Resource Group or Multiple?
  • What cost controls do you need to apply?
  • What applications will be deployed into each LZ?
A Microsoft Example LZ design

There’s one common consideration on the above list that I’ve intentionally left off the above list;

  • How will you deploy a LZ?

The answer for this should be Always as Code. Using ARM Templates, Bicep, Terraform, Pulumi or any IaC allows you to quickly deploy a new LZ in a standardised pattern. Microsoft provides some excellent reference ARM templates here or Terraform here to demonstrate exactly this process!

4. Uplift security with Privileged Identity Management (PIM)

I love PIM. It’s without a doubt, my favourite service on Azure. If you haven’t heard of PIM before (how?), PIM focuses on applying approved administrative access within a time-boxed period. This works by automatically removing administrative access when not required, and requiring approval with strong authentication to re-activate the access. You can’t abuse an administrator account that has no admin privileges.

While the Enterprise Scale documentation doesn’t harp on the benefits of PIM, the IAM documentation makes it clear that you should be considering your design choices and that’s why using PIM is my fourth tip.

I won’t deep dive into the process of using PIM, the 8 steps you need here are already documented. What I will say is, spend the time to onboard each of your newly minted landing zones, and then begin to align your existing subscriptions. This process will give you a decent baseline of access which you can compare to when minimising ongoing production access.

5. Minimise cost by sharing platform services

Cost is always something to be conscious of when operating on any cloud provider and my final tip focuses on the hip pocket for that reason. Once you are factoring in things like reserved instances, right sizing or charge back models into your landing zones, this final tip is something which can really allow you to eek the most out of a limited cloud spend. That being said, this tip also requires a high degree of maturity within your operating model you must have a strong understanding of how your teams are operating and deploying to Azure.

Within Azure, there is a core set of services which provide a base capability you can deploy on top of. Key items which come to mind here are:

  • AKS Clusters
  • App Service Plans
  • API Management instances
  • Application Gateways

Once you have a decent landing zone model and Enterprise Scale alignment, now you can begin to share certain services. Take the below diagram as an example. Rather than build a single plan per app service or function, a dedicated plan helps to reduce the operating cost of all the resources. In the same way, a platform team might use the APIM DevOps Toolkit to provide a shared APIM instance.

Note that multiple different functions are using the same app service plan here.

Considering this capability model when you develop your alignment is an easy way which you can minimise work required to move resources to a new Enterprise Scale deployment. In my opinion, consolidating Kubernetes pods or APIM API’s is a lot easier than moving clusters or Azure resources between landing zones.

Note: While technically possible, try to avoid sharing IaaS virtual machines. This does save cost, but encourages using the most expensive Azure compute. You want to push engineering teams towards cheaper and easier PaaS capabilities where possible.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you have found some value in this post and my tips for Enterprise Scale alignment. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the community generated content. Until next time, stay cloudy!