Azure Lab Services - Administrator guide

Note

This article references features available since the August 2022 Update, in which lab plans replaced lab accounts. For more information, see What's New in the August 2022 Update.

Note

If using a version of Azure Lab Services prior to the August 2022 Update, see Administrator guide when using lab accounts.

Information technology (IT) administrators who manage a university's cloud resources are ordinarily responsible for setting up the lab plan for their school. After they have set up a lab plan, administrators or educators create the labs that are associated with the lab plan. This article provides a high-level overview of the Azure resources that are involved and the guidance for creating them.

Depending on settings chosen when creating lab plans, some resources will be hosted in your subscription and some will be hosted in a subscription managed by Azure Lab Services.

  • Lab VMs are hosted within an Azure subscription that is owned by Azure Lab Services.
  • Lab plans, labs, compute galleries, and image versions and are hosted within your subscription.
  • If using advanced networking, the virtual network and network-related resources for lab VMs are hosted within your subscription. Otherwise, the virtual network is hosted in a subscription managed by Azure Lab Services.
  • You can have your lab plans, labs, and the compute galleries in the same or different resource group.

For more information about the architecture, see Labs architecture fundamentals.

Subscription

Your university might have one or more Azure subscriptions. You use subscriptions to manage billing and security for all Azure resources and services that are used within it, including lab plans and labs.

The relationship between a lab plan and its subscription is important because:

  • Billing is reported through the subscription that contains the lab plan.
  • You can grant users in the subscription's Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) tenant the ability to manage Azure Lab Services lab plans and labs. You can add someone as a lab plan owner, lab plan contributor, lab creator, or lab owner. For more information about built-in RBAC roles, see Manage identity.

Labs virtual machines (VMs) are managed and hosted for you within a subscription that is owned by Azure Lab Services.

Resource group

A subscription contains one or more resource groups. Resource groups are used to create logical groupings of Azure resources that are used together within the same solution.

When you create a lab plan, you must configure the resource group that contains the lab plan. Name your resource group carefully. Labs are grouped by resource group name in the Lab Services web portal: https://labs.azure.com.

A resource group is also required when you create an Azure Compute Gallery. You can place your lab plan and compute gallery in the same resource group or in two separate resource groups. You might want to take this second approach if you plan to share the compute gallery across various solutions.

We recommend that you invest time up front to plan the structure of your resource groups. It's not possible to change a lab plan or compute gallery resource group once it's created. If you need to change the resource group for these resources, you'll need to delete and re-create them.

Lab plan

A lab plan set of configurations that influence the creation of a lab. A lab plan can be associated with zero or more labs. When you're getting started with Azure Lab Services, it's most common to have a single lab plan. As your lab usage scales up, you can choose to create more lab plans later.

The following list highlights scenarios where more than one lab plan might be beneficial:

  • Manage different policy requirements across labs

    When you create a lab plan, you set policies that apply to all newly created labs, such as:

    • The Azure virtual network with shared resources that the lab can access. For example, you might have a set of labs that need access to a license server within a virtual network.
    • The virtual machine images that the labs can use to create VMs. For example, you might have a set of labs that need access to the Data Science VM for Linux Azure Marketplace image.

    If each of your labs has unique policy requirements, it might be beneficial to create separate lab plans for managing each lab separately.

  • Isolate pilot labs from active or production labs

    You might have cases where you want to pilot policy changes for a lab plan without potentially affecting your active labs. In this type of scenario, creating a separate lab plan for piloting purposes allows you to isolate changes.

Lab

A lab contains VMs that are each assigned to a single student. In general, you can expect to:

  • Have one lab for each class.
  • Create a new set of labs for each semester, quarter, or other academic system you're using. For classes that need to use the same image, you should use a compute gallery. This way, you can reuse images across labs and academic periods.

When you're determining how to structure your labs, consider the following points:

  • All VMs within a lab are deployed with the same image that's published.

    As a result, if you have a class that requires different lab images to be published at the same time, a separate lab must be created for each image.

  • The usage quota is set at the lab level and applies to all users within the lab

    To set different quotas for users, you must create separate labs. However, it's possible to add more hours to specific users after you have set the quota.

  • The startup or shutdown schedule is set at the lab level and applies to all VMs within the lab

    Similar to quota setting, if you need to set different schedules for users, you need to create a separate lab for each schedule.

By default, each lab has its own virtual network. If you have advanced networking enabled, each lab will use the specified network.

An Azure Compute Gallery is attached to a lab plan and serves as a central repository for storing images. An image is saved in the gallery when an educator chooses to export it from a lab's template VM. Each time an educator makes changes to the template VM and exports it, new image definitions and\or versions are created in the gallery.

Educators can publish an image version from the compute gallery when they create a new lab. Although the gallery stores multiple versions of an image, educators can select only the most recent version during lab creation. The most recent version is chosen based on the highest value of MajorVersion, then MinorVersion, then Patch. For more information about versioning, see Image versions.

The compute gallery is an optional resource that you might not need immediately if you're starting with only a few labs. However, a compute gallery offers many benefits that are helpful as you scale up to more labs:

  • You can save and manage versions of a template VM image

    It's useful to create a custom image or make changes (software, configuration, and so on) to an image from the Azure Marketplace gallery. For example, it's common for educators to require different software or tooling be installed. Rather than requiring students to manually install these prerequisites on their own, different versions of the template VM image can be exported to the compute gallery. You can then use these image versions when you create new labs.

  • You can share and reuse template VM images across labs

    You can save and reuse an image so that you don't have to configure it from scratch each time that you create a new lab. For example, if multiple classes need to use the same image, you can create it once and export it to the compute gallery so that it can be shared across labs.

  • You can upload your own custom images from other environments outside of labs

    You can upload custom images other environments outside of the context of labs. For example, you can upload images from your own physical lab environment or from an Azure VM into compute gallery. Once an image is imported into the gallery, you can then use the images to create labs.

To logically group compute gallery images, you can do either of the following methods:

  • Create multiple compute galleries. Each lab plan can connect to only one compute gallery, so this option also requires you to create multiple lab plans.
  • Use a single compute gallery that is shared by multiple lab plans. In this case, each lab plan can enable only images that are applicable to the labs in that plan.

Naming

As you get started with Azure Lab Services, we recommend that you establish naming conventions for Azure and Azure Lab Services related resources. For resource naming restrictions, see Microsoft.LabServices naming rules and restrictions. Although the naming conventions that you establish will be unique to the needs of your organization, the following table provides general guidelines:

Resource type Role Suggested pattern Examples
Resource group Contains one or more lab plans, labs and/or compute galleries. rg-labs-{org-name}-{env}-{instance}, rg-labs-{dept-name}-{env}-{instance} rg-labs-contoso-pilot, rg-labs--math-prod-001
Lab plan Template for newly created labs. lp-{org-name}-{env}-{instance}, lp-{dept-name}-{env}-{instance} lp-contoso, lp-contoso-pilot, lp-math-001
Lab Contains one or more student VMs. {class-name}-{time}-{educator} CS101-Fall2021, CS101-Fall2021-JohnDoe
Azure Compute Gallery Contains one or more VM image versions sig-{org-name}-{env}-{instance}, sig-{dept-name}-{env}-{instance} sig-contoso-001, sig-math-prod

In the proceeding table, we used some terms and tokens in the suggested name patterns. Let's go over those terms in a little more detail.

Pattern term/token Definition Example
{org-name} Token for organization short name with no spaces. contoso
{dept-name} Token for short name of department in organization. math, bio, cs
{env} Token for environment name prod for production, pilot for small test
{instance} Number to identify instance if multiple resources created. 001, 123
{class-name} Token for short name or code for class being supported. CS101, Bio101
{educator} Alias of educator running the lab. johndoe
{time} Token for short name (with no spaces) for time the class is being offered. Spring2021, Dec2021
rg Indicates resource is a resource group.
lp Indicates resource is a lab plan.
sig Indicates resource is a compute gallery.

For more information about naming other Azure resources, see Naming conventions for Azure resources.

Regions

When you set up your Azure Lab Services resources, you're required to provide a region or location of the data center that will host the resources. Lab plans can enable one or more regions in which labs may be created. The next sections describe how a region or location might affect each resource that is involved with setting up a lab.

  • Resource group. The region specifies the datacenter where information about a resource group is stored. Azure resources contained within the resource group can be in a different region from that of their parent.
  • Lab plan. A lab plan's location indicates the region that a resource exists in. When a lab plan is connected to your own virtual network, the network must be in the same region as the lab plan. Also, labs will be created in the same Azure region as that virtual network.
  • Lab. The location that a lab exists in varies, and doesn't need to be in the same location as the lab plan. Administrators control which regions labs can be created in through the lab plan settings. A general rule is to set a resource's region to one that is closest to its users. For labs, this means creating the lab that is closest to your students. For online courses whose students are located all over the world, use your best judgment to create a lab that is centrally located. Or you can split a class into multiple labs according to your students' regions.

Note

To help ensure that a region has sufficient VM capacity, it's important to first request capacity.

VM sizing

When administrators or Lab Creators create a lab, they can choose from various VM sizes, depending on the needs of their classroom. Remember that the size availability depends on the region that your lab plan is located in.

For information on VM sizes and their cost, see the Azure Lab Services Pricing.

Size Minimum vCPUs Minimum memory: GiB Series Suggested use
Small 2 4 Standard_F2s_v2 Best suited for command line, opening web browser, low-traffic web servers, small to medium databases.
Medium 4 8 Standard_F4s_v2 Best suited for relational databases, in-memory caching, and analytics.
Medium (nested virtualization) 4 16 Standard_D4s_v4 Best suited for relational databases, in-memory caching, and analytics. This size also supports nested virtualization.
Large 8 16 Standard_F8s_v2 Best suited for applications that need faster CPUs, better local disk performance, large databases, large memory caches.
Large (nested virtualization) 8 32 Standard_D8s_v4 Best suited for applications that need faster CPUs, better local disk performance, large databases, large memory caches. This size also supports nested virtualization.
Small GPU (Compute) 6 112 Standard_NC6s_v3 Best suited for computer-intensive applications such as AI and deep learning.
Small GPU (visualization) 8 28 Standard_NVas_v4 *Windows only Best suited for remote visualization, streaming, gaming, and encoding using frameworks such as OpenGL and DirectX.
Medium GPU (visualization) 12 112 Standard_NV12s_v3 Best suited for remote visualization, streaming, gaming, and encoding using frameworks such as OpenGL and DirectX.

Note

You may not see some of the expected VM sizes in the list when creating a lab. The list is populated based on the current capacity in the selected region.

RBAC roles

By using Azure role-based access control (RBAC) for access to lab plans and labs, you can assign the following roles:

  • Owner

    An administrator who creates a lab plan is automatically assigned the lab plan Owner role. The Owner role can:

    • Change the lab plan settings.
    • Grant other administrators access to the lab plan as an Owner or Contributor.
    • Grant educators access to labs as a Creator, Owner, or Contributor.
    • Create and manage all labs in the lab plan.
  • Contributor

    An administrator who is assigned the Contributor role can:

    • Change the lab plan settings.
    • Create and manage all labs in the lab plan.

    However, the Contributor can't grant other users access to either lab plans or labs.

  • Lab Creator

    When set on the lab plan, this role enables the user account to create labs from the lab plan. The user account can also see existing labs that are in the same resource group as the lab plan. When applied to a resource group, this role enables the user to view existing lab and create new labs. They'll have full control over any labs they create as they're assigned as Owner to those created labs. For more information, see Add a user to the Lab Creator role.

  • Lab Contributor

    When applied to an existing lab, this role enables the user to fully manage the lab. When applied to a resource group, this role enables the user account to fully manage existing labs and create new labs in that resource group.

    A key difference between the lab Owner and Contributor roles is that only an Owner can grant other users access to manage a lab. A Contributor can't grant other users access to manage a lab.

  • Lab Operator

    When applied to a resource group or a lab, this role enables the user to have limited ability to manage existing labs. This role won't give the user the ability to create new labs. In an existing lab, the user can manage users, adjust individual users' quota, manage schedules, and start/stop VMs. The user account will be able to publish a lab. The user won't have the ability to change lab capacity or change quota at the lab level. The user won't be able to change the template title or description.

  • Lab Assistant

    When applied to a resource group or a lab, this role enables the user to view an existing lab. Lab assistants can only perform actions on the lab VMs (reset, start, stop, connect) and send invitations to the lab. They don't have the ability to change a lab, create a lab, publish a lab, change lab capacity, or manage lab quota, individual quota nor schedules.

  • Lab Services Contributor

    When applied to a resource group, enables the user to fully control all Lab Services scenarios in that resource group.

  • Lab Services Reader

    When applied to a resource group, enables the user to view, but not change, all lab plans and lab resources. External resources like image galleries and virtual networks that may be connected to a lab plan aren't included.

When you're assigning roles, it helps to follow these tips:

  • Ordinarily, only administrators should be members of a lab plan Owner or Contributor role. The lab plan might have more than one Owner or Contributor.
  • To give educators the ability to create new labs and manage the labs that they create, you need only assign them the Lab Creator role.
  • To give educators the ability to manage specific labs, but not the ability to create new labs, assign them either the Owner or Contributor role for each lab that they'll manage. For example, you might want to allow a professor and a teaching assistant to co-own a lab.

Content filtering

Your school may need to do content filtering to prevent students from accessing inappropriate websites. For example, to comply with the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Lab Services doesn't offer built-in support for content filtering.

There are two approaches that schools typically consider for content filtering:

  • Configure a firewall to filter content at the network level.
  • Install third-party software directly on each computer that performs content filtering.

By default, Azure Lab Services hosts each lab's virtual network within a Microsoft-managed Azure subscription. You'll need to use advanced networking in the lab plan. Make sure to check known limitations of VNet injection before proceeding.

We recommend the second approach, which is to install third-party software on each lab's template VM. There are a few key points to highlight as part of this solution:

  • If you plan to use the auto-shutdown settings, you'll need to unblock several Azure host names with the 3rd party software. The auto-shutdown settings use a diagnostic extension that must be able to communicate back to Lab Services. Otherwise, the auto-shutdown settings will fail to enable for the lab.
  • You may also want to have each student use a non-admin account on their VM so that they can't uninstall the content filtering software. Adding a non-admin account must be done when creating the lab.

If your school needs to do content filtering, contact us via the Azure Lab Services' Q&A for more information.

Endpoint management

Many endpoint management tools, such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager, require Windows VMs to have unique machine security identifiers (SIDs). Using SysPrep to create a generalized image typically ensures that each Windows machine will have a new, unique machine SID generated when the VM boots from the image.

With Lab Services, if you create a lab with a template, the lab VMs will have the same SID. Even if you use a generalized image to create a lab, the template VM and student VMs will all have the same machine SID. The VMs have the same SID because the template VM's image is in a specialized state when it's published to create the student VMs.

To obtain lab VMs with unique SID, create a lab without a template VM. You must use a generalized image from the Azure Marketplace or an attached Azure Compute Gallery. To use your own Azure Compute Gallery, see Attach or detach a compute gallery in Azure Lab Services. The machine SIDs can be verified by using a tool such as PsGetSid.

If you plan to use an endpoint management tool or similar software, we recommend that you don't use template VMs for your labs.

Pricing

Azure Lab Services

To learn about pricing, see Azure Lab Services pricing.

Billing entries in Azure Cost Management are per lab VM. Tags for lab plan ID and lab name are automatically added to each entry for more flexible analysis and budgeting.

You also need to consider the pricing for the compute gallery service if you plan to use compute galleries for storing and managing image versions.

Creating a compute gallery and attaching it to your lab plan is free. No cost is incurred until you save an image version to the gallery. The pricing for using a compute gallery is ordinarily fairly negligible, but it's important to understand how it's calculated, because it isn't included in the pricing for Azure Lab Services.

Storage charges

To store image versions, a compute gallery uses standard hard disk drive (HDD) managed disks by default. We recommend using HDD-managed disks when using compute gallery with Lab Services. The size of the HDD-managed disk that is used depends on the size of the image version that is being stored. Lab Services supports image and disk sizes up to 128 GB. To learn about pricing, see Managed disks pricing.

Replication and network egress charges

When you save an image version by using a lab template VM, Azure Lab Services first stores it in a source region. However, you'll most likely need to replicate the source image version to one or more target regions.

A network egress charge occurs when an image version is replicated from the source region to other target regions. The amount charged is based on the size of the image version when the image's data is initially transferred outbound from the source region. For pricing details, see Bandwidth pricing details.

Egress charges might be waived for Education Solutions customers. To learn more, contact your account manager.

For more information, see "What data transfer programs exist for academic customers and how do I qualify?" in the FAQ section of the Programs for educational institutions page.

For information about costs to store images and their replications, see billing in an Azure Compute Gallery.

Cost management

It's important for lab plan administrators to manage costs by routinely deleting unneeded image versions from the gallery.

Be wary of removing replication to specific regions as a way to reduce the costs. Replication changes might have adverse effects on the ability of Azure Lab Services to publish VMs from images saved within a compute gallery.

Next steps

For more information about setting up and managing labs, see: