This is part of a multi part examination of the options of moving to the Microsoft cloud. If you missed the first episode, you’ll find it here:
Moving to the Cloud – Part 1
which covered off setting up a site to site VPN to Azure.
The next piece of the puzzle that we’ll add here is storage.
Storage in the Microsoft cloud comes in many forms, SharePoint, Teams, OneDrive for Business and Azure. We’ll get to stuff in Microsoft 365 like SharePoint, Teams and OneDrive later, but to start off with we want to take advantage of the site to site VPN that was set up in Part 1.
In Azure there are three different access tiers of storage; hot, cool and archive. They all vary by access speed and cost. The slower the access, the cheaper it is. Hot is the fastest access, followed by cool, then archive. You can read more about this here:
Azure Blob storage: hot, cool, and archive access tiers
The other variable here with Azure storage is the performance tier; standard or premium. You can read more here:
Introduction to Azure storage
Basically, standard performance tier uses HDD while Premium uses SSD. Apart from performance, the major difference is how the storage cost is actually calculated. With the standard tier, you are only billed for the space you consume BUT you are also billed for access (read, write, delete) operations. With premium, you are billed for the total capacity of the storage you allocate immediately BUT, you are not billed for any access operations.
So the key metrics you need to keep in mind when you are designing a storage solution in Azure is firstly the access tier (hot, cool or archive) the performance tier (standard or premium) and the capacity you desire for each. You may find some combinations are unavailable, so check out the document linked above for more details on what is available with all these options.
The easiest approach to Azure storage is to create an Azure SMB Share and map these directly on a workstation which I have previously detailed here:
Creating an Azure SMB Share
as well as an overview on pricing:
Clarification on Azure SMB file share transactions
Azure SMB files currently only supports hot and cool tiers. You can use archive storage but only via blob access, not SMB files. So what good are all of these you may ask? Well, if you read my article:
Data discovery done right
You’ll find that I recommend dividing up your data into items to be deleted, archived and to be migrated.
So we need to ask ourselves the question, what data makes sense where?
Let’s start with Azure archive storage. What makes sense in here, given that Azure archive storage is aimed at replacement of traditional long term storage (think tape drives)? Into this, you want to put data that you aren’t going to access very often, and that doesn’t make sense going into Teams, SharePoint and OneDrive. What sort of data doesn’t make sense going into SharePoint? Data that can’t be indexed such as large image files without text, Outlook PST backups, custom file types SharePoint indexing doesn’t support (think some types of CAD files and other third party file types). In my case, Azure archive storage is a great repository for those PST backups I’ve accumulated over the years.
Here is the guidance from Microsoft:
- Hot – Optimized for storing data that is accessed frequently.
- Cool – Optimized for storing data that is infrequently accessed and stored for at least 30 days.
- Archive – Optimized for storing data that is rarely accessed and stored for at least 180 days with flexible latency requirements (on the order of hours).
We now repeat this again but with the cool tier storage, remember that this tier now directly supports Azure SMB files. So, what makes sense here? There is obviously no hard and fast rule but again, what doesn’t make sense going into SharePoint? Stuff that can’t be indexed, is typically large, is not accessed that often but more often than archive storage AND you also want to be accessible via a mapped drive letter. In my case, that data that springs to mind are my desktop utility apps (like robocopy), ISO images (of old versions of SharePoint server I keep in case I need to do a migration) and copies of my podcast recordings in MP3 format.
We repeat this again for the hot tier which is fastest and most expensive storage option. Initially here I’m going to place the user profile data when I get around to configuring Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) in this environment. That needs to be quick, however most other current data files I have will go into Microsoft 365. Being the most expensive tier of storage, I want to keep this as small as possible and only REALLY put data on here that makes sense.
You don’t have to use all three tiers as I do. You can always add more storage later if you need to, but I’d recommend you work out what capacity you want for each tier and then implement it. For me, I’m going for 100GB Archive, 100GB cool and 50GB hot as a starting point. Your capacities will obviously vary depending on how much data you plan to put in each location. That why you need to have some idea idea where all your data is going to go BEFORE you set all this stuff up. Some will go to Azure, some will go to Microsoft 365, some will deleted and so on.
As for performance tiers, I’m going to stick with standard across all storage accounts for now to keep costs down and only pay for the capacity I actually use.
Let’s now look at some costs by using the Azure pricing calculator:
I’ll firstly work out the price for each based on 1TB total storage for comparisons between the tiers and to SharePoint and OneDrive for Business.
All the storage calculations are in AU$, out of the Australian East data center, on the standard performance tier and locally redundant unless otherwise stated.
You can see that 1TB or archive storage is only AU$2.05, but it ain’t that simple.
There are other operations, as you can see above that need to be taken into account. I have adjusted these to what I believe makes sense for this example but as you can see, variations here can significantly alter the price (especially the read operations).
The estimated total for 1TB of archive storage on the standard performance tier = AU$27.05 per month.
Now, as a comparison, if I change the performance tier to Premium I get:
The price of the storage goes way up, while the price of operations goes way down. So, if you want to minimise costs and you have lots of operations on your storage, standard tier is your best option.
The estimated total for 1TB of archive storage on the premium performance tier = AU$224.22 per month.
Basically 10 x the cost above the standard tier.
In my case, I don’t need 1TB of storage, I only want 100GB of storage.
When I now do the estimation of 100GB of archive storage, the cost of just the storage falls by 10x (as expected) to AU$0.20, Don’t forget however about the storage operations which remain the same. So, my storage cost went down but my operation costs remained the same. Thus,
The estimated total for my 100GB of archive storage on the standard performance tier = AU$25.95 per month.
While premium is:
The estimated total for my 100GB of archive storage on the premium performance tier = AU$22.78 per month.
As outlined before, as a general rule of thumb with archive storage, premium performance tier is better value for low storage capacity and also low data operations. Once the capacity increases with premium performance, the price ramps ups.
So why would I recommend staying with the standard performance tier? Although, I ‘estimate’ that my archive will be small, I want the flexibility to grow the capacity if I need it. Remember, that we don’t set a storage capacity quota for block storage, it can just grow as needed and the bigger the storage capacity the more it will cost me if I go premium. Given that storage capacity here is more important than working with the data, I want the cheapest storage costs I can get as the data capacity increases. Thus, I’ll stick with the standard access tier. Also, remember that I’m estimating when my storage reaches 100GB here I’ll be billed AU$25.95 per month but until I reach that capacity and the less operations I do on files there, the cheaper this storage will be. I therefore expect my ‘real world’ costs to in fact be much less than this AU$25.95 figure over time.
Let’s now look at the next two storage locations, which will be Azure SMB file shares.
Unfortunately, the pricing calculator doesn’t allow us to easily calculate the price for an SMB Share on a cool access tier (Azure SMB files doesn’t currently support being on the archive tier). However, the pricing is only an estimate, so I know if I place it on a cool access tier it will be cheaper anyway, so I’m going to keep it simple.
Thus, for reference:
The estimated total for 1TB of SMB file storage on the standard performance tier = AU$106.58 per month.
remembering that for the standard tier we need to take into account the cost of operations as shown.
and for Premium:
The estimated total for 1TB of SMB file storage on the premium performance tier = AU$348.00 per month.
With premium storage, you don’t need to worry about operations, however don’t forget, if you go premium you’ll be paying for the total allocated capacity no matter how much you are actually using. Thus, I’ll again be sticking with standard storage.
So, for my 50GB Azure SMB files hot tier I calculate the following:
The estimated total for my 50GB of hot SMB file storage on the standard performance tier = AU$32.40 per month.
Now how can I get an idea of what the cool SMB file price will be? Although it is not this simple, I’m going to use a ratio from:
Azure Block blob pricing
So, by my super rough rule of thumb maths I get:
cool/hot = 0.02060/0.0275 = 0.75
Thus, cool storage is 75% the cost of hot storage say.
The estimated total for my 100GB of cool SMB file storage on the standard performance tier = AU$32.40 per month x 2 x 0.75 = AU$48.60 per month
The 2 x is because the hot price I have is only for 50GB and I want 100GB of cool storage.
In summary then, I will create 3 x storage repositories for my data:
– 100GB blob archive storage = AU$25.95 per month
– 100GB SMB file cool storage = AU$48.60 per month
– 50GB SMB file hot storage = AU$32.40 per month
250GB total storage estimated cost = AU$106.95 per month
Again remember, this is my estimated MAXIMUM cost, I expect it to be much lower until the data capacities actually reach these levels.
Now that I have the costs, how do I actually go about using these storage locations?
Because archive storage is blob storage I’ll need to access it via something like Azure Storage Explorer as I can’t easily use Windows Explorer. I’m not expecting all users to work with this data so Azure Storage Explorer will work fine to upload and manipulate data if needed by a select few.
As for the SMB file cool and hot storage I’m going to map these to two drives across my VPN as I have detailed previously:
Azure file storage private endpoints
This means they’ll just appear as drive letter on workstations and I can copy data up there from anything local, like a file server. The great thing is that these Azure SMB file shares are only available across the VPN and not directly from elsewhere as the article shows. That can be changed if desired, but for now that’s they way I’ll leave it. I can also potentially get to these locations via Azure Storage Explorer if I need to. The flexibility of the cloud.
So far we now have:
– Site to Site VPN to Azure (<5GB egress from/unlimited ingress to Azure)= $36.08 per month
– 100GB blob archive storage = AU$25.95 per month
– 100GB SMB file cool storage (mapped to Y: Drive) = AU$48.60 per month
– 50GB SMB file hot storage (mapped to Z: Drive) = AU$32.40 per month
Total maximum infrastructure cost to date = AU$143.03 per month
So we now have in place the ability to start shifting data that doesn’t make sense going into Microsoft 365 SharePoint, Teams and OneDrive for Business. Each of the three new storage locations has their advantages and disadvantages. That is why I created them all, to give me the maximum flexibility at the minimum cost
We continue to build from here in upcoming articles. Stay tuned.