Hide-and-seek with Cloud Services containers for Virtual Machines on Azure

From several conversations I had recently it transpired that there’s some confusion around the relevancy of Cloud Service when using Virtual Machines on Azure.
Initially it surprised me, but then it was pointed out to me that, in fact, the Windows Azure Management Portal does a very good job festering this confusion.

I’ll get to why in a moment but first let me start with this –

The simplest way to think about how a Virtual Machine is deployed to Azure is the good-old VM Role –

Just as the VM Role used to, a Windows Azure Virtual Machine is deployed as a role with a single instance within a cloud service. This is quite apparent when you look at it in the old portal – here’s an example of a VM I created in the Management Portal using the standard quick-create as seen on the old portal –


Ok – there’s plenty behind the scenes that the platform is doing differently when managing VMs vs. Web or Worker roles, but from a deployment model point of view, a cloud service is created with a single instance of a role which happens to be a Virtual Machine.

So – why is the portal confusing? well – because, and I suspect that it was an attempt to simplify things that ended up making things rather more confusing – when you deploy a VM, the management portal chooses to hide it’s existence –

I’m guessing that the thinking was that with a single VM the cloud service is rather irrelevant – conceptually, the role and the instance are one and all the management operations and monitoring are done at an instance level and so – there was no real need to surface the fact that a cloud service exists.

Unfortunately, things start to get more confusing as soon as you delete your VM because at some point during the delete operation, the corresponding Cloud Service will suddenly appear, and eventually, when the delete operation will complete, it will be empty –


It appears largely for one reason – so that it can be deleted; otherwise a phantom service will remain in the subscription with no way to manage it through the UI.
BTW – the API and Powershell (and some dialogues, as you will see shortly), seem to always reveal the real details, and the cloud service that is clearly visible in the old-portal is also fully accessible through these. In fact – the description given to the cloud service says it all –


So – why the platform, which had kindly created this cloud service for me – doesn’t also kindly remove it? well – I suspect that this is because it cannot assume that the container will only contain the original VM. How come? let’s look at another case when the cloud service suddenly appears –

If you deploy a second VM, from Gallery, and choose to connect to an existing virtual machine –


(notice how the non-existent cloud service suddenly makes an appearance?)

What you are actually requesting the platform to do is to deploy an new instance, of a new role, into the same cloud service, and that’s a whole different story!  Now – not only the cloud service has a meaning that is greater than either VM definitions, deleting the first VM clearly cannot delete the cloud service and so – shortly after requesting the second VM – the cloud service will make it’s formal appearance in the portal –


and again – looking at how things look like in the old portal can help get a somewhat clearer behind-the-scenes view – one service, two roles, one instance of each –


In the new portal, this is reflected like this (which isn’t telling the full story) –


Interestingly, although not wholly surprisingly, removing the second VM does not re-hide the cloud service and so it is possible to ‘see in the wild’ a Cloud Service with a single VM in it –


And so – given this seemingly erratic behaviour, even if there is some method behind the madness, it is not surprising the people get confused.
Personally, I would have much preferred if things were straight forward, black and white – you create a VM, you get the corresponding Cloud Service. Simples.

But there you go – nobody asked me, so at least I hope this helps shed some light on the subject

Side note – all of this also helps explain the very long and repetitive names given to disks – the naming convention is [cloud serivce]-[VM name]-[disk number]-[timestamp]

About Yossi Dahan
I work as a cloud solutions architect in the Azure team at Microsoft UK. I spend my days working with customers helping be successful in the cloud with Microsoft Azure.

One Response to Hide-and-seek with Cloud Services containers for Virtual Machines on Azure

  1. Pingback: Focus sur les Windows Azure Virtual Machine | Nouvelles Chroniques d'Amethyste

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