How to Build a SQL Server AlwaysOn Failover Cluster Instance with SIOS DataKeeper using Azure Resource Manager

The officially recommended way for building highly available SQL Server environments in Azure is AlwaysOn Availability Groups, see here. This approach has many benefits, e.g. failover for a discrete set of user databases, flexible failover policies and read-only secondaries, but it requires SQL Enterprise edition (as described in the feature matrix of SQL Server 2014).

If you don’t need these additional capabilities and you like saving some money, there is an alternative way to build a highly-available and very scalable 2-node cluster on top of AlwaysOn Failover Cluster Instances (FCI) using SQL Server Standard edition. ‘Hang on’, you might say, ‘doesn’t FCI require shared storage – is that possible at all in Azure?’ Actually it is, by leveraging SIOS DataKeeper from the Azure Marketplace in order to synchronize local disks attached to the cluster nodes.

This post will show you how to set up this environment in Azure Resource Manager step-by-step, using PowerShell 1.0 as well as the new Azure Portal.

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Access your Azure VMs through a Web Browser with ThinRDP

Sometimes, especially in enterprise environments, firewalls prevent connecting via RDP to Azure Windows VMs over port 3389. Quite often, the only outgoing ports being open in the network are 80 and 443 for HTTP(S). Additionally, RDP-over-SSL based technologies like Azure RemoteApp require users to install an app on the client, which also imposes a challenge in many cases, e.g. due to corporate policies.

Wouldn’t it be nice to access your Azure VMs via the browser in an RDP-like manner, without the need for special client-side software and networking configuration? Well, that can actually be done by installing ThinRDP on the target VM. This post will show you how to achieve that in a completely automated manner, using PowerShell with an Azure Resource Manager template and a custom script extension.

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