Azure Labs Services is a fully managed service that provides virtualized infrastructure very fast and with an easy-to-use interface without the need for significant infrastructure. The current available use case for Azure Labs is for classroom labs. Microsoft designed the solution to very cost effective and give delegation to educators to create labs without IT assistance.
Azure Labs does not require any on-premises integration, although you can setup the environment to communicate and access on-premises and other Azure resources.
Labs vs WVD
Microsoft just published a great article explaining the differences between Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) and Azure Labs. Basically, Azure Labs is a fully cloud based managed solution that requires no additional Azure infrastructure to operate. WVD requires existing infrastructure to integrate with. However, that does make Azure Labs heavily use case whereas WVD can be greatly customized for your virtualization needs. Additionally, Azure Labs supports external users, such as Gmail accounts. However, they must be associated with a Microsoft account.
While classroom labs are the only supported scenario currently, it has the potential to expand outside the classroom use case for additional situations where the need is for quick, temporary build out of compute infrastructure (think pop-up venues or conventions).
Pricing and Capacity
Azure Labs is built on Azure. That means you only pay for what you use. There is a very simple pricing model. The cost is broken up into the following formula:
<# of users/VMs> X <# of hours> X <Lab Units> X $0.01 per hours
The Lab units are the metric assigned to the size of the VM deployed. They are billed at $0.01 per hour. Currently, there are 8 VM sizes supported, each with an assigned Lab unit.
Additional controls can be put in place to manage costs. Each lab can have a schedule created. VMs are only allowed to run during scheduled events. Additional quota hours can be allotted for more time. Also, automated shutdown controls can be configured for disconnected and inactive VMs.
Additional costs may be incurred from VM template creation, shared image gallery, and any other administrative task that would require the VMs to run outside of scheduled events.
Azure Labs Account
To create labs, first you need to create lab accounts. This serves as a central repository for labs to be created. You can create multiple lab accounts. In fact, a common scenario is to create a lab account for each educator so they can then create labs for each class they are instructing. To create a lab account, go to Lab Services within the Azure Portal and select Add.
Complete the fields on basic tab to create the account in the appropriate subscription.
On the Advanced tab, there are a few options to configure, if necessary. These include:
- Shared Image Gallery
- Shutdown and Disconnect automation
- Virtual network peering
Once you have created your lab account, you can delegate permissions as needed. In addition to typical Owner/Contributor rights, you can assign Lab Creator rights. This role allows for the creation of a lab within an account. This is a role you would assign to an educator that will be creating their own labs.
Once a lab is created, you can then assign owner rights to the individual lab. So if you are not going to permit educators to create labs, you can still delegate rights to configure settings within the lab itself.
Azure Labs Portal
Once a lab account is created, you can now start creating labs within the account. To access Azure Labs services as either a Lab administrator or user, go to https://labs.azure.com. Once there, click New lab.
Lab creation has three steps:
- Step 1: Chose name, image, and size
- Step 2: Set username credentials
- Make note of the username and password. They will not be shown again.
- Step 3: Configure quota and automation
- These can be adjusted later if necessary
Once the lab is created, there will be several tabs to the left.
The first task is to configure the VM template. If you have used a preconfigured template from the Shared Image Gallery, they you can simply publish the VM template as is. If you used a marketplace image and need to customize it and/or install applications, you can start the VM, RDP into it, make your changes, shut it down, then publish it.
The published version of the template is used to create the VMs for the lab. Note that while the template VM is running, you will be incurring costs.
Next, you can create a schedule. VMs will only run during scheduled events and the allotted quota. To add a schedule, select Schedule on the left menu. Click Add scheduled event, and fill in the event details. You can setup repeat events for ongoing events based on a class schedule.
VMs will start and stop based on the scheduled event. It is best to set the start times up to 15 minutes early to allow for the VMs to startup prior to actual use.
The final setup task is to add users. You can add users either manually (via email address or CSV file upload) or sync from an Azure AD group. If you use an Azure AD group, the user list will update once every 24 hours to match the group membership.
Users that are added to the lab will receive a registration email. Once they register, they will appear in the user list as Registered and they will have a VM assigned to them. The user will be using the same VM for the life of the lab so they can save items locally if they desire to.
Users also access their VMs by going to https://labs.azure.com. Once signed in, they will see a list of their VMs. If the VM is stopped, they can toggle the switch to start it. Remote connection information can be obtained by clicking the computer icon in the bottom right pane.
If the VM is running windows, RDP information will display, or an RDP file will download. If Linux, RDP or SSH information will display.
Integration to Teams
One final feature of Azure Labs is integration with Microsoft Teams. Azure Lab Services is an app available to be added to a team. Lab owners and users can perform the same set of actions from within Microsoft Teams that they could from the Azure Labs Portal.
Using Teams integration automatically populates the user list for Azure Labs based off the Team membership and is updated every 24 hours.
Azure Labs can be a great way to meet your needs to provide lab services to your users without having to deal with the complexities and costs associated with Windows Virtual Desktop or other VDI environment. Knowing whether Azure Labs or WVD is the right choice is the first question to ask yourself.
Enabling Technologies can help you properly prepare for moving to the cloud based on Microsoft Best Practices and utilizing a secure and productive environment. You can check out more in the Azure section of our website.