What is Azure Bastion?

Microsoft released an introduction video to Azure Bastion a couple of days ago and today a new post has gone live giving us all the details of Azure Bastion in its preview state.

First up, what is a Bastion? Often referred to as a jumpbox, jumphost or bastion host, it’s a server which provides access to a private network from an external network, most commonly the Internet. As it’s exposed to potential attack, bastion hosts must be designed to minimize risk of penetration. As this connectivity function is so widely used, bastions are quite common in the majority of environments. The alternative is to increase your perimeter exposure by allowing public access to your private resources directly. Little tip from me, please don’t do this!

However, management and administration of these hosts can be a complex and time consuming task. Thankfully, Microsoft have introduced a new PaaS based service – Azure Bastion. Which allows managed, seamless access to VMs in your private network via RDP and SSH over SSL.

Azure Bastion

Azure Bastion is provisioned directly into a virtual network, which allows bastion host and integrated connectivity to all virtual machines within that vnet using RDP/SSH directly from and through your browser via the Azure Portal.

Microsoft list the following as key features available right now as part of the preview:

  • RDP and SSH from the Azure portal: Initiate RDP and SSH sessions directly in the Azure portal with a single-click seamless experience.
  • Remote session over SSL and firewall traversal for RDP/SSH: HTML5 based web clients are automatically streamed to your local device providing the RDP/SSH session over SSL on port 443. This allows easy and securely traversal of corporate firewalls.
  • No public IP required on Azure Virtual Machines: Azure Bastion opens the RDP/SSH connection to your Azure virtual machine using a private IP, limiting exposure of your infrastructure to the public Internet.
  • Simplified secure rules management: Simple one-time configuration of Network Security Groups (NSGs) to allow RDP/SSH from only Azure Bastion.
  • Increased protection against port scanning: The limited exposure of virtual machines to the public Internet will help protect against threats, such as external port scanning.
  • Hardening in one place to protect against zero-day exploits: Azure Bastion is a managed service maintained by Microsoft. It’s continuously hardened by automatically patching and keeping up to date against known vulnerabilities.

And they list the following as on the roadmap for future release:

The future brings Azure Active Directory integration, adding seamless single-sign-on capabilities using Azure Active Directory identities and Azure Multi-Factor Authentication, and effectively extending two-factor authentication to your RDP/SSH connections. We are also looking to add support for native RDP/SSH clients so that you can use your favorite client applications to securely connect to your Azure Virtual Machines using Azure Bastion, while at the same time enhance the auditing experience for RDP sessions with full session video recording.

There are a couple of things to note as the service is in preview. As always, be wary deploying for production, there is no SLA yet.

The preview is limited to the following Azure public regions:

  • West US
  • East US
  • West Europe
  • South Central US
  • Australia East
  • Japan East

You have to register the resource provider manually to make use of the preview, instructions on how to do that here.

To use the Azure Bastion service, you need the following roles:

  • Reader role on the virtual machine
  • Reader role on the NIC with private IP of the virtual machine
  • Reader role on the Azure Bastion resource

Once you’re OK with all of the above, you can simply click connect on any of your VM resources and a new Bastion tab is available. From here you can launch your session to the VM right in the browser, which is pretty slick as it provides copy and paste and full screen functionality already.

RDP via Azure Bastion within the browser

One item I noticed from the FAQ is that you may need to use the preview link to access the resource deployment blade from the portal – https://aka.ms/BastionHost

Also of note, pricing! On the FAQ it states you will be billed partially. Not 100% sure what that means, so watch those usage rates. The pricing page is live however so check it out in advance here.

Azure Compute Updates at Ignite

If you thought there were a lot of networking updates at Microsoft Ignite, you won’t believe how many there were when it comes to Azure Compute. Here I will try to round-up those I am most excited about. Some of the features announced have been on a wish list of mine for quite a while…I’m looking at you Managed Disks!

First up, several new VM sizes have been announced. The ND and NV series has been updated in preview. This series offers powerful GPU capabilities and is now running cutting edge tech from NVIDIA.

HPC can often have several blockers on-premise but is easily workable in Azure, building on this, Microsoft have added two new ranges to the H series offering. HB an HC series will be in preview before the end of the year. These allow for staggering amounts of compute power and bandwidth.

Storage is sometimes overlooked when considering VM performance, that is something Microsoft are attempting to correct with the announcement of Ultra-SSD Managed Disks in preview. These disks will offer sub-millisecond latency, and can hit up to 160,000 iOPS on a single disk. There were no typos there, fastest disks available in any cloud.

Standard SSDs and larger sizes across the board were also announced. This allows greater flexibility in performance and cost management when designing and deploying solutions.

As mentioned earlier, my wish list item, Managed Disks can now be moved between resource groups and subscriptions. This finally allows better management and flexibility with deployments. This update allows you to also move managed images and snapshots. We had access to the private preview of this functionality and it works exactly as expected.

Not directly Compute, but important in relation to it is the announcement of Windows Virtual Desktop. Azure is already the only cloud where you can run Windows 10 workloads and this service is going to improve on the deployment and management of them. Essentially, Azure will run the RDS Gateway and Broker service for you. You will have full control and responsibility of the infrastructure this will connect too and which applications and desktops are presented. We’ve chatted to the Product Team here at Ignite and they are excited for people to get their hands on the preview and really test it out. My favourite piece of functionality is that the service will be agent-less when using Windows 10 to connect which should make deployment and adoption as painless as possible for admins!

Finally, to encourage older workload migration, Microsoft announced that if you migrate Windows Server or SQL Server 2008/R2 to Azure, you will get three years of free extended security updates on those systems. This could save you some money when Windows Server and SQL Server 2008/ R2 end of support (EOS).

So many announcements, so little time. Expect more detailed posts on most if not all of the above piece over the coming weeks and months.