Azure Enterprise Integration Series
Part 2: Azure Resource Manager Overview
1. Azure Resource Manager
The Azure Resource Manager (ARM for short) is the deployment engine behind Azure. It’s actually a whole lot more than that, but let’s just start with that.
In a nutshell, we can supply it a description of what we want to create (in a JSON file known as an ARM Template) and it will go away and provision all the required resources. It does this asynchronously, and we can check back regularly to see how it’s getting on.
The beauty of ARM is that we can group our resources however we want, and we can keep the definition of those resources in a single file, or group them in multiple files, depending on our needs.
Each resource to be created is represented by a Provider which uniquely identifies the type of resource being created. For each provider, there is also an API Version, which specifies which version of the resource to create. For example, to create a Logic App, you use a provider type of “Microsoft.Logic/workflows” and an API Version of “2016-06-01” (as at the current date).
Almost every resource in Azure can be created by the ARM engine, and the goal is to support all resource types. For example, you may want ARM to create: a virtual machine, the hard disks, a Virtual Network, Traffic Manager, and then kick off a script that install some software on the VM.
Alternatively, you may use ARM to create some Logic Apps, and API App, an Azure SQL Database, and an instance of API Management.
The ARM engine also sits behind the Azure Portal: when you provision a new resource in the portal (e.g. API Management) the portal sends a REST request to the ARM engine instructing it in what to create.
2. Resource Groups
A Resource Group is a mechanism for grouping a set of related resources in Azure. Any actions you perform on that Resource Group then apply to all the contained resources. The Resource Group also acts as a billing container, allowing you to see the costs of all contained resources.
The main criteria for which resources to group together is that all the resources share the same deployment lifecycle. Ultimately how you group your resources is left up to you, but the general rules to follow are:
- Resources that are exclusively used by an application, should be in the same Resource Group.
- Resources that are shared with other applications should be grouped with other resources used by those same applications
- If you would end up with a whole lot of resources on their own in a Resource Group, look at grouping those in a common Resource Group
- Use Resource Groups to delineate application environments e.g. Dev, Test, UAT, Prod
- For larger applications, it may make sense to split the application amongst multiple Resource Groups e.g. put Web Front end in one Resource Group, and middleware/database in another.
For example, say you had the following application, called CustomerService:
- 3x Logic Apps
- 1x API Apps
- 1x Function App
- 1x Azure SQL Server
If all those resources are only used by the same application, then we put them all in the same Resource Group (called CustomerServiceRG). That way, if we need to tear down the CustomerServiceRG Resource Group (e.g. to move it, or during redeploy) we don’t affect any other application. We can also apply Security (RBAC) and Tagging at the Resource Group level, and have it affect all the resources in the group.
Now imagine that 6 months later, the Azure SQL Server starts being used by 2 other applications.
If we *don’t* move the Azure SQL Server to a separate Resource Group, then next time we tear down the CustomerServiceRG resource Group, we inadvertently break those other two applications.
Note: you’ll notice that when you create a resource group, you need to specify a location (i.e. an Azure Data Center). And that you also need to do this when adding resources to the Resource Group.
The location for the Resource group is just the location where Resource Group metadata is stored. It has no bearing on the location where the actual resources are deployed.
In fact, you could have a Resource Group located in North Europe that contained some resources in Wes US, and some in South East Asia.
But for simplicities sake, it’s usually best to keep the Resource Group location, and the resource locations, the same.
One exception might be for Disaster Recovery situations, where you have a supplicate set of resources in a separate region.
3. ARM Templates
An ARM Template is a JSON file the specifies the resource that the ARM engine should create.
ARM templates also contains sections to handle parameters that are passed in, variables used during the execution, and for returning outputs.
There is a whole ARM Template language, containing expressions and functions, that you can use (along with the JSON you write) to set values and define the resources. You can read more about the format of an ARM template here, and see a list of supported expression and functions here.
Almost everything in Azure can be represented via an ARM template: Logic Apps are defined in ARM Templates, as are Integration Accounts, App Services, Virtual Machines, Storage Accounts, Service Bus Namespaces/Topics/Subscriptions, etc.
An empty ARM template looks like this:
Looking at the sections above:
The parameters section contains a list of parameter objects, defining the values to be passed into the ARM template (either by an ARM template parameter file, or via a parameter override).
A parameter definition contains:
- The name of the parameter (required)
- The type of parameter (required)
- Minimum length (for string parameters)
- Maximum length (for string parameters)
- Minimum value (for numerical types)
- Maximum value (for numerical types)
- Metadata (e.g. description)
- Default value (if no value passed in) – if this value is missing, it’s a required parameter
- Allowed values (an array of allowed values)
For example, a parameter that passed in a Logic App name might look like this:
“description”: “Name of the Logic App.”
Note: Parameterization is a crucial part of integration development in Azure.
The variables section contains values that are created at the time of deployment, usually from a combination of parameter values and expression/function value.
Variables allow you to simplify your template by putting common values in one place, improving readability and preventing repetition of values.
For example, imagine you have an Integration Account in a Logic App ARM Template.
You reference that Integration Account using an ID, which is a bit like a URL to the Azure resource (in fact, it’s a lot like a relative URL to the Azure resource!).
Suppose you had an Integration Account ID that looked like this:
If you needed to reference that Integration Account at multiple places in your Logic App, you’d have the same value repeated in multiple places.
If you wanted to change the Integration Account ID, you’d have to change it at each location in the Logic App.
What would be easier, would be to define the Integration Account ID as a variable:
And you can then refer to this variable in your ARM Template like this:
Going one step further, you could parameterize the variable, so that the value came partly from expressions, and partly from passed in parameter values:
In the example, above, we are assuming that the Integration Account is in the same subscription as the ARM template we’re going to be deploying, and we pass in the name of the Integration Account and the Resource Group it is in.
The resources section contains an array of resource objects defining the Azure resources we want the ARM engine to create.
Each Resource object follows a standard format:
The values above are:
Name of the resource being created
Name of the provider to use for this type of resource e.g. Microsoft.Logic/workflows
Note: provider names are grouped under namespaces. In the example, above, “Microsoft.Logic” is the namespace. Not all providers are supported in all regions.
The region the resource should be deployed in. Note: this doesn’t have to be the same region as the Resource Group.
Contains metadata for the resource e.g. for a logic app, the displayName value is stored here.
The specific version of the resource you want to create. API Version change occasionally, usually when a major new release (or breaking change) is introduced. This value allows you to specify which version of the resource you want created, which allows you to maintain compatibility even after a new version is realised.
The properties for the resource. This is where the actual resource content is stored. For example, for a logic app, this is where the Logic App definition is stored: if you switch to Code View in the Logic App designer, what you’re seeing is this properties value (i.e. you don’ see the rest of the ARM template that defines the Logic App).
An array of resource name or IDs that this resource depends on. The ARM engine will build dependent resources first, and in sequence. Any resources that have no dependency are provisioned in parallel. The resources in this array must be defined in this template.
Note: You can see a full list of providers (grouped by namespace) in the portal, by selecting Resource Explorer, and then choosing providers:
The outputs section is a list of output objects, which are used to return values after the deployment is complete.
Often, the outputs section is used to return a URL to a resource, or a connection string (e.g. for a Service Bus Namespace).
A output object definition contains:
- The name of the output (required)
- The type of output (required)
- The value being returned
For example, an output that returns the Connection String for a newly created Service Bus Namespace might look like this:
“value”: “[listkeys(variables(‘authRuleResourceId’), variables(‘sbVersion’)).primaryConnectionString]”
4. ARM Template Parameter Files
An ARM Template Parameter File provides an easy way to group all the parameters required for an ARM template into one place.
The Parameter file is a JSON file that contains at least one parameter definition for each required parameter in the corresponding ARM Template.
There is no actual relationship between a parameter file and an ARM template: you could use one parameter file for multiple ARM Template, if the parameter names were the same.
A parameter file looks like this:
You can have multiple parameter files for a single ARM Template, with each parameter files containing the values for a given environment (e.g. Dev, Test, UAT, Production).
5. Deploying ARM Templates
There are multiple ways to deploy an ARM template: via the Portal, via the Resource Explorer web site (https://resources.azure.com/), via PowerShell, and directly via the ARM REST API.
To deploy an ARM Template using PowerShell, you use the New-AzureRmResourceGroupDpeloyment cmdlet:
New-AzureRmResourceGroupDeployment -Name DeploymentName `
-ResourceGroupName ResourceGroupName `
-TemplateFile ARMTemplateFile `
-TemplateParameterFile ParameterFile `
When you execute this cmdlet, you’ll get back a Tracking ID you can use to check the deployment status: this is because the deployment is asynchronous.
An ARM Template can only be deployed to a single Resource Group – you can’t have an ARM Template that spans Resource Groups.
However, you *can* have multiple ARM templates that all deploy to the same Resource Group: this allows you to separate resources into separate ARM templates by resource type, for example. You could then have all your Logic Apps in one ARM template, Storage Accounts in another, etc.
ARM Templates can be deployed in one of two modes:
- Full: In full mode, all existing resources in the Resource Group are removed, and only the resources in the ARM Template are deployed.
- Incremental: In Incremental mode, the ARM engine compares the resources in the ARM Template to the existing resources in the Resource group, and only deploys what has changed e.g. it might add some resources, and modify others, but it won’t remove any.
Incremental mode is what allows us to separate resources into multiple ARM Templates.
6. Obtaining ARM Template Samples
ARM templates can be obtained in several ways:
- Via the Resource Explorer application (https://resources.azure.com/)
- From the Portal, using the Automation Script option:
- Via PowerShell cmdlets
- From the ARM management REST API
As an integration developer, it’s important that you learn how to author ARM templates: not all resources (in fact very few) have a visual designer. Instead, you either need to create your resources in the Portal and export the ARM Template; or you need to manually create the ARM Template in Visual Studio.
The best option is to have a library of ARM templates which you can then modify to suit your needs.
7. Further Reading
How to author an ARM template:
ARM Template expression and functions: