Continuous Delivery with TFS / VSTS – Laying Foundations in Azure

Posted by Graham Smith on November 19, 2015No Comments (click here to comment)

[Please note that I've edited this post since first publishing it to reflect new information and / or better ways of doing things. See revision list at the end of the post.]

In the previous post in this series on Continuous Delivery with TFS / VSTS we started working with the new-style Azure PowerShell cmdlets. In this post we use the cmdlets to lay some foundational building blocks in Azure.

Resource Groups

One of the new concepts in Azure Resource Manager (ARM) is that all resources live in Resource Groups which are really just containers. Over time best practices for resource groups will undoubtedly emerge but for the moment I'm planning to use resource groups as follows:

  • PRM-COMMON -- this resource group will be the container for shared infrastructure such as a storage account and virtual network and is the focus of this post.
  • PRM-CORE -- this resource group will be the container for enduring servers such as the domain controller and the TFS server.
  • PRM-$ENV$ -- these resource groups will be containers for servers that together form a specific environment. The plan is that these environments can be killed-off and completely recreated through ARM's JSON templates feature and PowerShell DSC.

I'm using PRM as my container prefix but this could be anything that suits you.


Once you have logged in to Azure PowerShell  creating PRM-COMMON is straightforward:

Note that you need to specify a location for the resource group -- something to consider as you'll probably want all your groups close together. If you want to visually verify the creation of the group head over to the Azure Portal and navigate to Resource groups.

Create a Storage Account

In order to keep things simple I prefer just one storage account for all of the virtual hard disks for all the VMs I create, although this isn't necessarily a best practice for some production workloads such as SQL Server. One thing that is worth investigating is premium storage, which uses SSDs rather than magnetic disks. I'd originally discounted this as it looked like it would be expensive against my Azure credits however after experiencing how VS 2015 runs on standard storage (slow on a Standard A4 VM) I investigated and found the extra cost to be marginal and the performance benefit huge. I recommend you run your own tests before committing to premium storage in case you are on a subscription where the costs may not outweigh the performance gains, however I'm sold and most of my VMs from now on will be on premium storage. To take advantage of premium storage you need a dedicated premium storage account:

Even though the resource group is in West Europe you still need to supply the location to the New-AzureRmStorageAccount cmdlet, and note that  I've added a ‘p' on the end of the name to indicate the account is a premium one as I may well create a standard account for other purposes.

Create a Virtual Network

We also need to create a virtual network. Slightly more complicated but only just:

Create a SendGrid Account for Email Services

In later posts we'll want to configure some systems to send email notifications. The simplest way to achieve this in Azure is to sign up for a free SendGrid email service account from the Azure Marketplace. At the time of writing the documentation is still for the classic Azure portal which doesn't allow the SendGrid account to be created in a resource group. The new portal does though so that's the one to go for. Navigate to Marketplace > Web + Mobile and search for sendgrid to display the  SendGrid Email Delivery which is what you want. Creating an account is straightforward -- I called mine PRMSMTP and created it in the PRM-COMMON resource group. Make sure you choose the free option.

Using Azure Resource Explorer

As an alternative to using the portal to examine the infrastructure we have just created we can also use the browser-based Azure Resource Explorer.  This very nifty tool allows you to drill down in to your Azure subscriptions and see all the resources you have created and their properties. Give it a go!

Cheers -- Graham


31/12/15 -- Recommendation to investigate using premium storage.