Who likes free stuff?? Who doesn't!

Brent Adcock
November 10, 2017

So after having been down at a client site where they were using Microsoft Azure to host their database servers, I was inspired to learn more about this Azure thingy (ooh shiny).  So I thought lets try and set up a collection of blogs about travels through the Azure Portal (see what I did there).
So let’s start with something close to most peoples hearts – money!!  Azure markets itself as having a large collection of free stuff of limited and unlimited duration, so lets see what we can get for nothing (well almost nothing – as you will see).
First off a big bad caveat – I’m not going to include the little sweetener that Azure currently has with its “free” (the quotations will be elaborated on at the end) accounts which is (at time of writing) $280 in Azure credits to be used within the first 30 days of sign-up (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/offers/ms-azr-0044p/).  My thinking is that it doesn’t keep in the theme of free stuff for a while – 12 months is fine, but 1 month is a bit short – but don’t let me stop you from blowing the cash in the digital Vegas – send me a postcard.
Anyway what can we get from Microsoft for “free”?  Well there’s a lovely list and graphical goodness at (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/free/), but pictures don’t always tell the entire story so here is a couple of lists with the additional information gleaned from the FAQ and a little research on what the acronyms mean.

Limited Time Only !!!

First lets start with the 12 month teasers (on a per month basis):

  • Linux Virtual Machines – 750 hours in total for the month – B1S VM*
  • Windows Virtual Machines –  750 hours in total for the month – B1S VM*
  • Managed Disks – 2 x 64GB (2 P6 SSDs) plus 1GB snapshot an 2 million I/O operations (P is Premium (SSD) vs S for Standard (HDD))
  • Blob Storage – 5GB LRS** Hot block with 2 million read, 2 million write, and 2 million write/list operations
  • File Storage – 5GB LRS** File Storage with 2 million read, 2 million list, and 2 million other file operations
  • SQL Database – 250GB standard S0*** instance with 10 database transaction units
  • Cosmos DB – 5GB – 400 requests units per second (see https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cosmos-db/request-units if you like maths).
  • Bandwidth (Data Transfer) – 15 GB Outbound – with free unlimited inbound transfer.

* The full specification details of a B1S VM are here (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/windows/sizes-general).  The B (preview) series is limited to specific regions (US – West 2, US – East, Europe – West, Asia Pacific – Southeast) and has specific terms of use.
** locally redundant storage (LRS). This means three copies of your data are managed by Azure Storage in the data center specified when the storage account was set up. When changes are committed to one copy, the other two copies are updated before returning success. This means the three replicas are always in sync. Also, the three copies reside in separate fault domains and upgrade domains, which means your data is available even if a storage node holding your data fails or is taken offline to be updated.
*** S0 is the first entry in the Standard Service Tier (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/sql-database/sql-database-resource-limits).

Database Throughput Unit (DTU): DTUs provide a way to describe the relative capacity of a performance level of Basic, Standard, and Premium databases. DTUs are based on a blended measure of CPU, memory, reads, and writes. As DTUs increase, the power offered by the performance level increases. For example, a performance level with 5 DTUs has five times more power than a performance level with 1 DTU. A maximum DTU quota applies to each server.

Obviously after 12 months you’ll need to start paying and I plan to cover what the regular costs would be for the above services in a later post, but if you like to know right now, then (https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/) is the place for you.

All Free All the Time!!

The following list of services in Azure are apparently completely and utterly “free” – obviously subject to change at any time and within defined limits.  What’s not clear is what happens if you exceed the monthly limits (like any good Top Gun pilot) – I’m betting you will be paying for it.

  • App Service – build web, mobile, and API apps (10 in total) – with 1 GB storage. Apparently this includes access to a free 20 MB SQL database for 12 months. After 12 months, the free SQL Database converts to a paid basic SQL subscription – I’m assuming this can be used in parallel to the 12 month special list above (but happy to be corrected).
  • Functions – 1,000,000 requests per month and 400,000 GBs of resource consumption –  provides a server less development experience supporting a robust set of event triggers and data bindings.
  • Container Service – Free  – Deploy and manage containers to cluster virtual machines.
  • Active Directory – 500,000 objects with single sign-on (SSO) for 10 apps per user.
  • Active Directory B2C – 50,00 monthly stored users and 50,000 authentications per month.
  • Service Fabric – Free to build micro service apps – Service Fabric is available with any standard size Windows Server or Linux virtual machine, you are charged for the compute instances you choose and the storage and networking resources to create a Service Fabric cluster.
  • Visual Studio Team Services – First 5 users/seats free – It appears that these can be issued/revoked as necessary to stay within the free cap.
  • Application Insights – Unlimited nodes  and 1GB of telemetry data per month – Data retention is for 90 days – this lets you monitor the performance of apps.
  • DevTest Labs – Free – However, you will be charged for other Azure resources that are created in DevTest Labs.  For example Virtual Machines (that aren’t covered by the 12 month goodies listed above I assume).
  • Machine Learning Studio – 100 modules per experiment – A module appears to be the smallest level of task in the designer, and 1 hour per experiment with 10GB included storage.
  • Security Center – Free Policy assessment and recommendations – probably as much in their interests as yours.
  • Advisor – Unlimited recommendations for Azure Best Practises.
  • Microsoft IoT Hub – 8,000 messages per day with 0.5 KB message meter size and register up to 500 device identities.
  • Load Balancer – Free – public load balanced IP (VIP) – The basic Azure Load balancer is free of charge. However, it is not offered with basic virtual machines.
  • Data Factory – 5 activities low frequency – need to check up on what an activity is.
  • Search – 10,000 hosted documents for a web/mobile application – 50 MB storage and 3 indexes per service – note that inbound data is free for this, but any outbound data over the 5GB limit per month gets billed.
  • Notification Hubs – 1,000,000 push notifications and free namespace.
  • Batch – provides job scheduling and cluster management, allowing applications or algorithms to run in parallel at scale. There’s no charge for Batch itself, only the underlying compute and other resources consumed to run your batch jobs.
  • Automation – 500 Minutes of Process Automation job run time, Configuration Update management is free for Azure nodes.
  • Data Catalog – Enterprise-wide metadata catalog enabling self-service data asset discovery (Bingo!!!) – Unlimited Users and 5,000 catalog objects.
  • Face API –  30,000 transactions per month processing at 20 transactions per minute allowing you to detect and recognize human faces in images.
  • Bing Speech API – 5,000 transactions per month – speech to text and back – also enables you to build smart apps that are voice triggered.
  • Translator Text API – 2,000,000 characters per month.
  • Log Analytics – 500MB cap per day analysis plus 7-day retention period.
  • Scheduler – 1 Job collection (5 jobs per collection) and 3,600 job executions with a maximum execution frequency of hourly.
  • Virtual Network – Azure Virtual Network is free of charge. Every subscription is allowed to create up to 50 virtual networks across all regions. Public IP addresses, and reserved IP addresses used on services inside a virtual network, are charged.  Network appliances such as VPN Gateway and Application Gateway that are run inside a virtual network are also charged.
  • Inter-VNET data transfer – Unlimited Inbound.
  • Bandwidth (Data Transfer) – 5GB outbound.

Note: because these are free services they usually won’t have any form of Service Level Agreement (SLA) associated with them.

What does “Free” mean?

I promised that I would elaborate on this earlier, and while you may get the first 12 months of the afore mentioned services free, your account that you use to connect to the Azure Portal will have to be upgraded to a paying one (or more correctly – one with the capacity to pay).
Microsoft’s exact wording is:

Within 30 days of sign-up or upon exhaustion of the Credits (whichever occurs first), you must upgrade to a Pay-As-You-Go subscription by removing the Spending Limit. This allows continued use of the Azure Free Account and select free services for the term.

So if you’re planning on consuming the Credits candy floss you may end up with the “upgraded” account sooner than you think.  Also I’m not sure what actions you can take, or monitoring to put in place to warn you of getting close to the limit of your free monthly consumption.  Hopefully I can elaborate on this in the next post where we’ll go through the looking glass and into wonderland.
Until de next de time – bork, bork, bork.

Brent is a data warehouse developer who uses Azure, SQL and AWS a fair bit. He is also a wizard with power automate.

Connect with Brent on LinkedIn or read some of his other blogs here.

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