As more and more businesses shift towards the cloud, virtual machines have become a crucial aspect of modern computing. Whether you’re running a small-scale operation or a large enterprise, the ability to fine-tune the performance of your virtual machines can be the difference between success and failure. In this blog, we’ll be sharing some valuable tips and tricks to help you maximize the performance of your Azure Virtual Machines and take your business to the next level and ensure that your workloads are running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Whether you’re a seasoned Azure user or just getting started, these tips are sure to help you get the most out of your virtual machines and take your cloud computing to the next level. So, let’s dive in!
What is Azure Virtual Machine?
Azure VM is a computing service that allows users to host their applications or systems in the cloud on Windows and Linux operating systems. Azure Virtual Machines provide users with the ability to customize and configure the virtual machine environment according to their requirements. They can choose the operating system, size, and configuration of the virtual machine based on their workload requirements. Users can also access the VM through a remote desktop or SSH, which provides the ability to manage the VM from any location.
Azure Virtual Machines can be used for various purposes, including development and testing, hosting applications and websites, running enterprise applications, and providing backup and disaster recovery solutions.
Why we need to optimize the Virtual Machine
Using virtual machines is convenient and efficient, but sometimes VM performance degrades. Reasons for that vary and may be the result of hardware or software issues. This blog post explains how to improve virtual machine performance if VM performance is slow in Azure. Read about the most common issues that cause low virtual machine performance, and find recommendations on how to fix them and improve VM performance.
Optimizing your virtual machine is important because:
- Virtual machine performance is slower than the performance of an identical VM.
- Applications run slower than they should and it takes lots of time to launch.
- Running applications frequently stopped responding.
- CPU, memory, or disk usage is 100%.
Azure Virtual Machine – Tips for optimizing Performance
Reliability ensures that your application can meet the commitments you make to your customers. This means that your virtual machine should be available and responsive when it is needed.
Consider the below recommendations to optimize your Virtual Machine for service reliability:
1. Review SLAs for Virtual Machine
The Azure Service Level Agreement (SLA) describes Microsoft’s commitments for uptime and connectivity for individual Azure Services. Each Azure service has its own SLA with associated terms, limitations, and service credits. Azure services such as virtual machines require a specific configuration. The SLA starts at a lowly 95% on Single Instance Virtual Machines using Standard HDD Disks to 99.99% for multi-instance Virtual Machines deployed across two or more Availability Zones in the same Azure region.
You can monitor and track the global Azure status page to find if there is any outage in the compute infrastructure. You can also access the Service health page, containing ongoing service issues, upcoming planned maintenance, explanation, and relevant advisories. Resource health provides information about the health of specific virtual machine instances.
2. Install Applications on Data Disks
A data disk is attached to a virtual machine to store the application data. Each data disk has a maximum capacity of 32,767 (GiB). Installing your application on a separate disk from your OS disk makes it easier to recover from failures and migrate workloads.
3. Use Maintenance Control
Maintenance Configurations give you the ability to control and manage updates for many Azure virtual machine resources since Azure frequently updates its infrastructure to improve reliability, performance, and security or launch new features. Most updates are transparent to users, but some sensitive workloads, like gaming, media streaming, and financial transactions, can’t tolerate even a few seconds of a VM freezing or disconnecting for maintenance. Maintenance Configurations is integrated with Azure Resource Graph (ARG) for low latency and high scale customer experience.
Maintenance configuration supports 3 scopes for maintenance:
- Host: Manage platform updates that do not require a reboot on your isolated Virtual machine
- OS Image: Decides when to apply upgrades to the OS disk in your virtual machine scale set.
- Guest: Allows you to save recurring deployment schedules to install updates for your Windows server.
Since a Virtual Machine stores and accesses lots of data and can be misused and manipulated easily. Therefore, we must ensure all the security features to protect the data. Also, Azure Advisor will also help you ensure and improve security.
Here we have some security recommendations which will help you to optimize the Virtual Machines:
1. Monitor your Security
Monitor your security posture for your Virtual Machine using Microsoft Defender for Cloud. Microsoft Defender is a cloud application designed to protect cloud-based applications from various cyber-attacks and vulnerabilities.
Microsoft defender for the cloud has the following capabilities:
- Security: Microsoft defender provides security practices during the software development process. You can protect your code environment and code pipelines to get your development environment security posture from a single location.
- Improvement: Microsoft defender helps you to provide the necessary steps to improve the security posture of your environment.
- Protection: When your environment is threatened, security alerts will indicate the nature of the threat so that you can plan your response. After you identify a threat in your environment, you need to quickly respond to limit the risk to your resources.
2. Use Azure Disk Encryption
Encryption is part of a layered approach to security and should be used with other recommendations to secure your Virtual Machines and their disks. Azure Disk Encryption will help you to protect and secure your data to meet your organization’s Security. Azure Disk Encryption encrypts the Operating System and data disks of Azure Virtual Machines inside your Virtual Machine by BitLocker (for windows VM) and DM-Crypt (for Linux VMs).
You can also go for end-to-end encryption to secure your Virtual Machine. End-to-end encryption ensures that data stored on the VM host hosting your VM is encrypted at rest and flows encrypted to the storage cluster
3. Consider using Azure Bastion
Azure Bastion is a service that lets you connect to a virtual machine using your browser and the Azure portal. When you connect via Azure Bastion, your virtual machine does not need a public IP address, agent, or software.
Azure Bastion provides secure RDP and SSH connectivity to all the virtual machines in the virtual network. It also protects your virtual machine from exposing RDP/SSH ports to the outside world, while still providing secure access using RDP/SSH.
Using Azure Bastion will help you to protect your Virtual Machine against port scanning by malicious users because you don’t need to expose the VMs to the internet.
Cost Optimization is a part of the Azure Portal and provides information about the ongoing utilization and cost of your Services and Marketplace offerings. This also monitors and provides insights into AWS usage and costs, in multi-cloud setups.
So, consider the below recommendation which will reduce the cost and hence, improve the performance of the Virtual Machines:
1. Use Right Size Virtual Machine
The right size means all your virtual machines’ infrastructure is allocated the correct resources for another workload, with the goal of minimizing the cost and maximizing the performance. Using the right size virtual machine will help you to optimize the performance and reduce the costs. For example, adding a vCPU if the VM is running high CPU utilization or removing memory if the server is not using all of its allocated memory.
If your workload requirements change over time, you may need to scale up or down your virtual machine to meet those requirements. By selecting the right size virtual machine, you can ensure that you have enough resources to support your workload without overprovisioning and incurring unnecessary costs.
2. Stop Virtual Machines during Off-hours
The Start/Stop VMs during off-hours feature start or stops enabled Azure VMs. It starts or stops machines on user-defined schedules, provides insights through Azure Monitor logs, and sends optional emails using action groups.
This feature provides a decentralized low-cost automation option for users who want to optimize their Virtual Machine cost.
Running VMs can consume a considerable amount of resources, including CPU, memory, and storage. If a VM is not in use, it is best to shut it down or stop it to minimize the attacks and also reduce the risk of unauthorized access and potential data breaches.
3. Prepay for added Cost Savings
Purchasing reserved instances is a way to reduce Azure costs for workloads with stable usage. If usage is too low, then you’re paying for resources that aren’t used. Keep reserved instances simple and keep management overhead low to prevent the increasing cost. With an Azure savings plan for computing, you save money across select compute services globally. Commit to spending a fixed hourly amount for 1 or 3 years and unlock lower prices until you reach your hourly commitment.
Operational Excellence covers the operations processes that keep an application running in production. Deployments must be reliable and predictable. Automated deployments reduce the chance of human error. Fast and routine deployment processes won’t slow down the release of new features or bug fixes.
Consider the below recommendations to improve the operations in Virtual Machines:
1. Build a Robust Testing Environment
Robust testing will improve the reliability and will find corner cases by inputting data that mimics extreme environmental conditions to help determine whether or not the system is robust enough to deliver.
Ideally, an organization will have multiple environments in which to test deployments. These test environments should be similar enough to production that deployment and run-time issues are detected before deployment to production.
2. Monitor your Virtual Machine Health
Virtual Machine is a versatile cloud computing platform that works with various servers and is frequently used for testing and development. Its adaptability and the user’s ability to quickly deploy apps make it an essential resource for most business organizations. Without the proper Microsoft Azure monitoring tool, servers frequently underperform, which results in unwanted service issues and downtime.
Installation of the Log Analytics agent by VM insights allows for collecting performance information from Virtual Machine’s guest operating systems. Following are the steps to enable monitoring for VMs,
- Create a Log Analytics workspace
- Enable monitoring
- View performance
- View processes and dependencies
- View machine details
3. Automate Task
An automation task is a workflow running on the behind-the-scenes Azure logic app services. Automation tasks are currently in preview and support sending monthly costs for all Azure resources and special templates for Azure virtual machines, Azure Storage accounts, and Azure Cosmos DB.
With automation tasks, Azure offers a simple way to manage a specific resource or resource group using automation task templates. These templates depend on the Azure resource. For example, for an Azure virtual machine, you can create an automation task that turns on or off that virtual machine on a predefined schedule or sends the resource’s monthly cost. This can be especially helpful if you are trying to reduce the cost of your Azure VMs.
Performance efficiency is matching the resources that are available to an application with the demand that it’s receiving. It includes scaling resources, identifying and optimizing potential bottlenecks, and optimizing your application code for peak performance.
Here are some recommendations for performance efficiency in Virtual Machines:
1. Use Premium SSD
Azure Premium SSDs deliver high-performance and low-latency disk support for virtual machines (VMs) with input/output (IO)-intensive workloads. To take advantage of the speed and performance of Premium SSDs, you can migrate existing VM disks to Premium SSDs. Premium SSDs are suitable for mission-critical production applications, but you can use them only with compatible VM series.
2. Use Azure Virtual Machine Scale Set or Autoscaling
An Azure Virtual Machine Scale Set can automatically increase or decrease the number of VM instances that run your application. Autoscaling reduces the management overhead to monitor and optimize the performance of your application.
If your application demand increases, the load on the VM instances in your scale set increases. If this increased load is consistent, rather than just a brief demand, you can configure autoscale rules to increase the number of VM instances in the scale set.
3. Consider Accelerated Networking
Accelerated networking enables single root input/output virtualization to a VM, improving its networking performance. Without accelerated networking, all networking traffic in and out of the VM must traverse the host and the virtual switch.
With accelerated networking, network traffic arrives at the VM’s network interface (NIC) and is then forwarded to the VM. All network policies that the virtual switch applies are now offloaded and applied in hardware.
For the best result, enable this feature on at least two VMs connected to the same Azure Virtual Network.
Best Practice to defend Azure Virtual Machine:
Virtual Machines have the same security risks as physical computers and they have additional guest-to-guest and guest-to-host security risks. Protecting Azure VMs is essential for maintaining the security, availability, and compliance of your organization’s data and applications. It helps minimize the risk of data breaches, service disruptions, and other security incidents, while enabling organizations to meet regulatory compliance requirements and achieve cost savings.
Consider the below best practices which will help you to secure your Virtual Machines:
1. Use Azure Secure Score in Azure Security Center
Azure Secure Score is a numerical measurement of your security posture based on system configurations, user behavior, and other security-related measurements. The Secure Score helps you to prioritize your response to security recommendations by assigning the values, which will help to improve security.
The Secure score is calculated based on the ratio between your healthy resources and your total resources. If the number of healthy resources equals the total number of resources, you get the highest Secure Score value possible for a recommendation, which can go up to 50.
If your score is near 100%, it means you are following the best practices. Otherwise, work on the highest priority items to improve your security posture.
2. Isolate management ports on virtual machines from the Internet and open them only when required
The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a popular remote access solution. Changing the default port for the RDP server is not a good solution. Attackers will not only scan a single port rather they will scan the entire range of ports. The attacker can easily detect that a change has been made from port number 3389 to 4389.
Commonly attacked ports are SSH (22), FTP (21), Telnet (23), HTTP (80), HTTPS (443), SQL (1433), and LDAP 389. Be careful while permitting inbound and outbound traffic from unauthorized sources and only permit if it is required for the business need.
Here we have some methods which will help you to manage the inbound access to VMs:
- Use Just-in-time (JIT) VM Access: This will reduce the attack while allowing users to access VMs.
- Use Network Security Groups (NSG): Allow or deny inbound and outbound traffic from VMs.
- Use Azure Firewall: Provide threat protection for your cloud workloads running in Azure.
3. Use complexity for passwords and user account names
If you are allowing Inbound traffic to your Virtual Machine for some business reasons, then it is important to use a complex username and password. But, we are not sure that using a complex password or username is a perfect way to secure your Virtual Machine from attackers.
To defend your Virtual Machine from attackers passwordless or multifactor authentication is the best solution. Hence, a passwordless approach such as facial recognition will reduce annoying out-of-bank multifactor authentication actions.
4. Keep the operating system patched
Regularly updating the operating system (OS) is essential for keeping it secure and protected against known vulnerabilities. Microsoft releases security updates and patches regularly, and it is important to install them promptly to avoid exposure to potential threats. You can use Azure Update Management to automate patching across multiple VMs and ensure that they are all up to date.
5. Keep third-party applications current and patched
In addition to keeping the OS up to date, it is important to keep third-party applications current and patched. Many security breaches occur due to vulnerabilities in applications, and it is crucial to install updates and patches as soon as they become available. You can use Azure Security Center to identify vulnerabilities in third-party applications and get recommendations for patching.
6. Actively Monitor for Threats
It is difficult to actively monitor Azure VMs for threats and anomalies that could indicate a potential security breach. Azure Security Center provides continuous monitoring and alerts for suspicious activities, and you can configure alerts to be sent to designated personnel when a threat is detected. Also, You can integrate Azure VMs with Azure Sentinel, a cloud-native security information and event management (SIEM) system that provides real-time threat detection and response.
7. Azure Backup Service
Regularly backing up Azure VMs is essential for ensuring business continuity and disaster recovery. Azure Backup service provides a simple and reliable way to back up and restore VMs, and you can configure it to automatically back up VMs on a schedule. You can also use Azure Site Recovery to replicate VMs to a secondary location, enabling you to quickly recover from a disaster.
Optimizing the Virtual Machine will improve the performance, reduce the cost, and will increase the efficiency of your Virtual Machines without any data losses. In this article, we have discusses the tips and best practices to optimize the performance of your Virtual Machine such as Installing the applications in the data disk, using maintenance control, using azure disk encryption, stopping your virtual machine during off hours, using the right size virtual machine and more. Hence, actively monitor your virtual machines for the best performance.