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SCVMM's ability to manage Azure VMs leaves a lot to be desired

Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager is great for managing Hyper-V hosts and VMs, but it comes up short when managing Azure VMs.

System Center Virtual Machine Manager is Microsoft's preferred tool for managing Hyper-V hosts and VMs. Given that...

Microsoft Azure is based on Hyper-V, it isn't exactly surprising that System Center Virtual Machine Manager can be used to manage Azure VMs. However, it may come as a surprise that its ability to interact with Azure is very limited.

This, of course, raises two questions: First, why is System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM) so limited in its ability to manage Azure VMs? And, second, what are the limitations?

Understanding SCVMM's limitations

This limitation stems from the fact that Azure is a multi-tenant environment. As such, administrators aren't able to add entire Azure-based Hyper-V servers or Hyper-V clusters to SCVMM. Microsoft simply can't provide root-level access to Hyper-V without affecting other tenants and without potentially compromising the security of Azure.

You won't be able to use SCVMM to create new Azure VMs, or to migrate VMs to or from Azure. SCVMM also lacks the ability to reconfigure Azure VMs or to perform any sort of performance monitoring.

So, if SCVMM doesn't have access to the root Azure Hyper-V servers, then what can it do? SCVMM is suitable for very lightweight management of Azure VMs. SCVMM works well for verifying the state of Azure VMs and for opening a console session into an Azure VM. You can also use SCVMM to perform basic tasks, such as starting or stopping an Azure VM.

Unfortunately, this is the extent of SCVMM's ability to manage Azure VMs. You won't be able to use SCVMM to create new Azure VMs, or to migrate VMs to or from Azure. SCVMM also lacks the ability to reconfigure Azure VMs or to perform any sort of performance monitoring.

Microsoft provides a list of what SCVMM is and isn't capable of doing with regard to Azure VMs. However, there is one major factor that this list doesn't address.

The Azure portal vs. the Azure class portal

In early 2016, Microsoft announced the general availability of a new portal for Azure. While it's easy to dismiss the new portal as being little more than a new GUI for Azure, the new portal is actually based on a completely different set of APIs than the classic portal. Because of this, a single Azure subscription now essentially contains two separate versions of Azure. There is a disconnect between the Azure portal and the Azure classic portal, with the two sometimes reporting conflicting information. This is especially true for Azure VMs.

To show you what I mean, take a look at Figures A and B. Figure A shows Azure portal's view of Azure VMs. Figure B shows Azure classic portal's view of Azure VMs. As you can see in the figures, the list of VMs is completely different, even though both screen captures were taken from the same Azure subscription.

Azure portal view of Azure VMs
Figure A. Azure portal view of Azure VMs
Azure classic portal's view of Azure VMs
Figure B. Azure classic portal's view of Azure VMs

Microsoft provides instructions for connecting SCVMM to Azure; these instructions are based on the use of an Azure Management Certificate. As it stands, management certificates are only available through the Azure classic portal. In fact, the reason why Microsoft still supports the Azure classic portal is it hasn't finished porting all of the classic portal's functionality to the new Azure portal.

Since the connection between SCVMM and Azure is based on the use of management certificates that aren't yet supported within the new Azure portal, SCVMM is effectively linked to the environment that is exposed through the Azure classic portal. Hence, if a VM is displayed through the Azure classic portal, it can also be accessed through SCVMM. However, SCVMM doesn't display any of the VMs that exist within the new Azure portal.

Even though SCVMM leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to managing Azure VMs, Microsoft has done something in SCVMM 2016 to make the experience a little bit better. The SCVMM console contains a toolbar shortcut labeled Management Portal. Clicking this button launches a browser and opens the Azure classic portal.

Next Steps

Evaluate top virtualization management products

What new features does SCVMM 2016 offer?

Alleviate management stress with custom SCVMM roles

This was last published in April 2017

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In lieu of System Center Virtual Machine Manager, what tool do you use to manage Azure virtual machines?
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