Ask the Expert: Migrating and extending your on-premises environment with Microsoft Azure


The public cloud is becoming more and more important for companies that want to stay agile and flexible to meet their business demands.

But if a company decides to move to the public cloud, what are the best ways to migrate to Microsoft Azure? In this blog post, we’ll take a quick look at what services Microsoft offers to make your cloud migration easier.

A lot of customers are getting ready to move or extend their environments to the public cloud. The public cloud offers a couple of advantages when you compare it to traditional IT.

The cloud’s economic model allows you to quickly, and flexibly, react to business demand. By offering elastic and scalable services, the cloud can help businesses to become more agile. Think about a scenario where an organization demands new servers for a brand-new project. If you don’t have the resources on-premises, you most likely need to buy new hardware and extend your environment to achieve the desired capacity, which can take several weeks or even months. This is where Microsoft Azure can help. Spinning up new resources is not a challenge in a technical way; the self-service approach allows you to deploy new services within minutes.

Another big advantage of using the public cloud is that you get immediate access to over 50 Azure datacenter regions worldwide. If you need to deploy a new server or service on another continent where you don’t have your own datacenter, Azure gives you access to that. By taking advantage of cloud economics like the pay-per-use model, you can elastically scale your infrastructure to meet demand, bringing you cost savings along with flexibility.

Using Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS), you get benefits that can accelerate your digital transformation. If you’re running your services on Azure, Microsoft takes care of the underlying infrastructure, starting with the data center facilities, hardware, cloud infrastructure, and even the operating systems in the case of PaaS offerings. This frees up your resources to implement new solutions to drive your business forward.

All this doesn’t mean you need to move everything to the cloud; a lot of companies have invested in their on-premises environment and circumstances mean keeping resources on-prem makes more sense. There can be technical or regulatory challenges to moving workloads to the cloud, but extending their environment with the public cloud can drastically improve their capabilities.

You could think about removing old tape libraries from your datacenter, for example, and using a modern, online backup solution like Azure Backup, which has a retention rate of up to 99 years if needed. This is just one of the advantages you get by running virtual machines on Azure IaaS. There are many more like Disk Encryption, Log Analytics and Insights, Azure Update Management, and Azure Security Center too.

Another benefit is the flexibility to quickly switch the size of virtual machines on demand, and having the choice of using specialized hardware—like Accelerated Networking and GPU support—whenever you need it.

There are different ways to move to the cloud and a lot of opinions on cloud migrations. Many people think that cloud migrations only make sense if you rearchitect your complete environment and put it on PaaS services. However, I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that, and the question really is: what do you want to achieve?

Using the cloud and modernizing your applications makes a lot of sense, so you can overhaul your services and deploy these on Azure. In a lot of cases, rewriting and rearchitecting your applications costs a lot of time and money. Many customers end up having parts of modern applications running in Azure and other parts staying on traditional Azure virtual machines, or even in combination with virtual machines running on-prem.

Other customers have end-of-life datacenter contracts and hardware life cycles, and they don’t want to invest in data center space and hardware anymore. For them, moving their virtual machine workloads to Azure and modernizing in the cloud can save them from on-prem investments, and give them the flexibility they’re looking for.

In any case, there are many advantages to be enjoyed when customers start extending their existing environments with Azure cloud services. As mentioned, utilizing services like Azure Backup, Azure Site Recovery, and Azure Update Management allows customers to use the cloud to make their local datacenter infrastructure even better.

Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008: End of support

Windows Server and SQL Server have a large footprint in enterprise data centers. Support for Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 expires on January 14th 2020—after that date, customers will not receive any security updates for Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2. To avoid being caught in this precarious scenario, customers should migrate to a newer version of Windows Server, like Windows Server 2019, before the cut-off date.

Some companies will have trouble migrating all their systems to a newer operating system or a modern SaaS or PaaS architecture in time. For these customers, Microsoft offers a couple of different options:

  • Buy Extended Security Update support and receive Security Updates on existing servers
  • Migrate Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2 virtual machines to public Azure and get three years of Extended Security Updates for free
  • Migrate the Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 systems to Azure Stack running in their datacenter (Since Azure Stack VMs offer the same benefit as Azure VMs, customers also get years of Extended Security Updates for free)

These options will give customers more time to migrate their Windows and SQL Server infrastructure from 2008 and 2008 R2 to servers running newer operating systems by migrating to PaaS and SaaS architectures.

Assessment using Azure Migrate

Before you start migrating your virtual machines to Azure, there are prerequisites and preparations you should be aware of. You want to make sure you have the right contracts and licenses in place. Think about offerings like the Azure Hybrid Benefit, Reserved Instances offering, and especially the Extended Security Updates for Windows Server 2008 (R2) and SQL Server 2008 (R2).

To help you to identify your on-premises environment, Microsoft offers a service called Azure Migrate. Azure Migrate will create an assessment of your local environment, ascertain which virtual machines are compatible with Azure IaaS, and help you with the virtual machine sizing based on the local CPU, memory, and storage consumption. Azure Migrate will even detect under- or over-utilized virtual machines on your on-prem infrastructure, so it chooses the right Azure VM size depending on the real needs of the workload.

Also, Azure Migrate helps you to migrate workloads with more confidence by visualizing dependencies of on-premises machines to create groups of machines that you will assess and migrate together, and estimate monthly costs of running your on-premises workloads on Azure.

Figure 1 – Azure Migrate Architecture (Microsoft Docs)

To use Azure Migrate, create a new Azure Migrate account in Azure and download the on-premises collector virtual machine. You can then connect to your VMware vCenter environment, and Azure Migrate will start collecting usage data to create the assessment. (If you’re running Hyper-V, Azure Migrate for Hyper-V is currently in preview.)

After the assessment, you can use services such as Azure Site Recovery and Azure Database Migration Service to migrate the machines to Azure.

Migrate to Azure IaaS using Azure Site Recovery

Before you start replicating and moving virtual machines to Azure, you’ll also need to prepare your environment. You’ll need to make sure that you’ve done your homework in terms of governance, security, and network architecture.

To migrate your physical servers or virtual machines from VMware or Hyper-V to Azure, there’s an Azure service called Azure Site Recovery (ASR). Azure Site Recovery allows you to easily set up a BCDR solution to replicate VMs on Azure or even another on-prem location. Azure Site Recovery is charged by the virtual machine you replicate, however, the first 31 days are free, which makes it a great migration tool.

ASR lets you create failover machines in case of a disaster, but also comes with the option to do a planned failover or a test failover. The planned failover stops the source machine and replicates the latest changes, before failing over the virtual machines to Azure. This allows you to migrate a machine with zero data loss. Before you failover or migrate virtual machines, you first want to make sure that the virtual machines and the application running on it are working after the failover. Test failover enables you to create a test migration in an isolated virtual network, so you can test the application without impacting the production machine.

Migrate servers using Windows Admin Center

Figure 2 – ASR in Windows Admin Center (

Windows Admin Center is a locally deployed, browser-based app for managing Windows Servers, clusters, hyper-converged infrastructure, and Windows 10 PCs. The Azure Site Recovery integration in Windows Admin Center allows you to easily replicate Hyper-V virtual machines to Microsoft Azure.

Windows Admin Center will set up the Azure recovery vault, as well as the other necessary Azure resources, install the Azure Site Recovery agents on the Hyper-V hosts and configuring the replication to Azure. Windows Admin Center gives you a clear and simple way to migrate your virtual machines to Azure, especially if you’re an SMB customer or you want to migrate from branch offices.

Windows Admin Center works best with Windows Server 2019 and Windows Server 2016. However, you can also manage Windows Server 2008 R2 and higher.

Migrate and run VMware on Azure

Some companies need to migrate their workloads from on-premises data centers to the cloud quickly because their datacenter contracts are coming to an end. In some of these time-critical cases, customers will be happy to know that they can move their VMware workloads directly to Azure and manage them in a familiar way. This gives them time to start the modernization process without having to beat the clock on soon-to-be-ending contracts. With Azure VMware Solutions, we can address exactly these scenarios.

VMware Solutions on Azure by CloudSimple is a fully managed service that lets you run the VMware platform in Azure. This solution includes vSphere, vCenter, vSAN, NSX-T, and similar tools. The VMware environment runs natively on Azure Bare Metal infrastructure, on Azure cloud locations. Customers can live-migrate their virtual machines into an Azure datacenter using vMotion. After you move your workloads successfully to Azure, you can then start the modernization process.

This is another option for Azure customers to migrate workloads to the cloud, and also get the benefit of the Extended Security Update support for Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008.

Hybrid cloud with Azure Stack

Not all workloads are designed or able to run in the public cloud. This can be due to technical and network limitations, regulations, or internal policies. Think about factories, for example, that’re running machines and devices that the business wants to connect to Azure IoT Hub. With Azure Stack, you get Azure services where you need them, without having to rely on the public cloud, connectivity, or data regulations.

Azure Stack is an integrated system, designed to bring you a consistent experience with Microsoft Azure. From the portal, through the APIs, up to the services, you get a consistent experience with the public cloud so that you can leverage the same platform, management, and deployment mechanisms.

This makes Azure Stack a great option for the workloads you cannot run in the public cloud, and bringing in benefits like the Extended Security Update support for Windows Server and SQL Server for free.

With the latest addition to the Azure Stack family, Azure Stack HCI solutions, Microsoft makes it easier to connect your virtualization workloads on-premises to the cloud. The service delivers validated hardware, Windows Server 2019 software-defined data center solutions and Windows Admin Center in a simple solution.

Microsoft offers a public cloud platform that enables you to modernize your applications and infrastructure, and gives you the benefit of cloud economics. With tools like Azure Migrate and Azure Site Recovery, you can move workloads easily to the cloud, and by taking advantage of services like Windows Admin Center, Azure Stack, and Azure Stack HCI, using and connecting Azure services on-prem becomes simple.

If you want to try out the Microsoft Azure, check out the offering to create a free Azure account.

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About the author

Thomas Maurer works as a Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft. He engages with the community and customers around the world to share his knowledge and collect feedback to improve the Azure cloud platform.

Prior to joining the Azure engineering team, Thomas was a Lead Architect and Microsoft MVP, helping to architect, implement and promote Microsoft cloud technology.

If you want to know more about Thomas, check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.