Creating a Web Site on Azure

In supporting the Microsoft cloud vision, I decided to create this blog using Microsoft’s Azure platform.  It was surprisingly easy.    Here are the key steps that I went through to create this blog.

Create an Azure Account

Creating an azure account is easy – simply register here.  You can register with a Microsoft account (e.g. as your outlook.com or Hotmail.com account) or you can create an account based on your organizational account.  For this web site I just used by personal Hotmail account.

Create a Subscription

You will need a subscription with a credit card attached to it.  Your credit card is charged as you use Azure services and you can monitor your charges through the Azure portal. The most basic subscription is a “Pay as you Go” subscription that charges you based on your usage every month.

There are some ways to get free Azure subscriptions.  Microsoft provides you a trial subscription to get you started that you can activate.  If you are an MSDN subscriber, you can also register for a limited subscription (it’s about $160 in usage benefits per month).  Your organization may also have subscription benefits as part of your Enterprise Agreement so check with your corporate IT department as many organizations have the benefit but aren’t fully utilizing it.

Accessing the Azure Portal

Microsoft provides a portal for accessing all your Azure services in one spot – its quite user friendly (better than Amazon’s in my opinion) and easy to spin up services.

Creating the Web Site

In the Azure Portal, click on Web Sites and then the new button at the bottom left hand corner.

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The menu provides three options for creating a new web site:

  • Quick Create: creates a new instance with nothing in it. 
  • Custom Create: creates a new instance with a basic file system and a database (either SQL Server or mySQL)
  • From Gallery: creates a web site based on a preconfigured template

Choosing a Web Site Template

Let’s choose one of the existing templates.  This blog was created using the WordPress template, which creates a fully functional WordPress site complete with a mySQL database.

There are lots of options here – mainly open source CMS platforms including PHP/mySQL based platforms such as Drupal and WordPress as well as .NET based platforms such as Orchard and Umbraco.  If you are looking for a commercial option, Kentico CMS is an enterprise grade CMS that you can spin up on Azure and then add in a commercial license key once you have spun up the instance.

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In my case, I chose WordPress because it’s a great blogging platform and I’m familiar with it as a site administrator.

Provide a URL

The next step is to provide a URL, create or provide an existing database, choose a data center location and attach your new web site to a subscription.

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Once you have provided the appropriate configuration information, your instance will be spun within the Azure cloud.

Accessing Your New Web Site

Within the Azure portal, you will now have a web site created that you can access.  Clicking on the web site will bring you to your dashboard that will show you all the ways you can access your new site including:

  • SiteURL: access the main web site directly.
  • FTP: access the file system via FTP.
  • FTPS: access the file system via FTPS.

You can also access the underlying database as well through the portal.

Using WebMatrix to Access your Web Site

Microsoft also provides a desktop application called WebMatrix that provides you the ability to update all the files on your web site.  It provides a view into your web site file system, a file transfer utility and a code editor all within a single desktop tool.

Scaling Out Your Website

By default, your web site is created in “Free” mode which means that you have limited quotas and you cannot attach a custom domain name to it.  In order to move your web site to production quality, you can switch it to either “Shared” or “Standard”.

In Azure, “Shared” means that you are running in a small sliced VM with a bunch of other shared web sites.  “Standard” means that you have your own dedicated core for managing all your web sites.  Shared is charged per web site, Standard is charged per core.

To change your web site from free to either Shared or Standard, go to your web sites dashboard and click on Scale and you can then switch your web site to either option.

Registering a Custom Domain Name

Registering a custom domain name requires you to point a CNAME record to authorize Microsoft to be your domain name’s target.  Configuring this is done through your domain name provider.  In my case, I used GoDaddy to register the domain name so within their portal, I created a CNAME record back to azure.

Once this is registered, you can go into the Azure Portal and add the domain name to your created web site.

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It’s Really That Easy…

Creating a new web site is really just that easy.   For the cost of a few dollars a month (more on the economics of Azure later) you can have a dynamically scaled web site that is fully managed by Microsoft.   The power of the cloud means you can also shut down your web site, destroy it, scale it or add additional web sites with a few clicks and no contracts!