What's new in Azure Lab Services August 2022 Update

We've made fundamental improvements for the service to boost performance, reliability, and scalability. In this article, we'll describe all the great changes and new features that are available in this preview!

Overview

Lab plans replace lab accounts. The lab account concept is being replaced with a new concept called a lab plan. Although similar in functionality, there are some fundamental differences between the two concepts. The lab plan serves as a collection of configurations and settings that apply to the labs created from it. Also, labs are now an Azure resource in their own right and a sibling resource to lab plans.

Canvas Integration. Now, educators don't have to leave Canvas to create their labs. Students can connect to a virtual machine from inside their course.

Per customer assigned capacity. No more sharing capacity with others. If your organization has requested more quota, Azure Lab Services will save it just for you.

Virtual network injection. Virtual network peering is replaced by virtual network injection. In your own subscription, create a virtual network in the same region as the lab plan and delegate a subnet to Azure Lab Services. Lab plans with advanced networking will cause labs to create VMs attached to your virtual network.

Improved auto-shutdown. Auto-shutdown settings are now available for all operating systems!

More built-in roles. Previously, there was only the Lab Creator built-in role. We've added a few more roles including Lab Operator and Lab Assistant. Lab operators can manage existing labs, but not create new ones. Lab assistants can only help students by starting, stopping, or redeploying virtual machines. Lab assistants can't adjust quota or set schedules.

Improved cost tracking in Azure Cost Management. Lab virtual machines are now the cost unit tracked in Azure Cost Management. Tags for lab plan ID and lab name are automatically added to each cost entry. If you want to track the cost of a single lab, group the lab VM cost entries together by the lab name tag. Custom tags on labs will also propagate to Azure Cost Management entries to allow further cost analysis.

Updates to lab owner experience. Choose to skip the template creation process when creating a new lab if you already have an image ready to use. We've also added the ability to add a non-admin user to lab VMs.

Updates to student experience. Students can now redeploy their VM without losing data. We also updated the registration experience for some scenarios. A lab VM is assigned to students automatically if the lab is set up to use Azure AD group sync, Teams, or Canvas.

SDKs. The Azure Lab Services PowerShell is now integrated with the Az PowerShell module. Also, check out the C# SDK.

In this release, there are a few known issues:

  • When using virtual network injection, use caution in making changes to the virtual network and subnet. Changes may cause the lab VMs to stop working. For example, deleting your virtual network will cause all the lab VMs to stop working. We plan to improve this experience in the future, but for now make sure to delete labs before deleting networks.
  • Moving lab plan and lab resources from one Azure region to another isn't supported.
  • Azure Compute resource provider must be registered before Azure Lab Services can create and attach an Azure Compute Gallery resource.

Lab plans replace lab accounts

For the new version of Lab Services, the lab account concept is being replaced with a new concept called a lab plan. Although similar in functionality, there are some fundamental differences between the old lab account and the new lab plan.

Lab account (classic) Lab plan
Lab account was the only resource that administrators could interact with inside the Azure portal. Administrators can now manage two types of resources, lab plan and lab, in the Azure portal.
Lab account served as the parent for the labs. Lab plan is a sibling resource to the lab resource. Grouping of labs is now done by the resource group.
Lab account served as a container for the labs. A change to the lab account often affected the labs under it. The lab plan serves as a collection of configurations and settings that are applied when a lab is created. If you change a lab plan's settings, these changes won't affect any existing labs that were previously created from the lab plan. (The exception is the internal help information, which will affect all labs.)

Lab accounts and labs have a parental relationship. Moving to a sibling relationship between the lab plan and lab provides an upgraded experience. The following table compares the previous experience with a lab account and the new improved experience with a lab plan.

Feature/area Lab account (classic) Lab plan
Resource Management Lab account was the only resource tracked in the Azure portal. All other resources were child resources of the lab account and tracked in Lab Services directly. Lab plans and labs are now sibling resources in Azure. Administrators can use existing tools in the Azure portal to manage labs. Virtual machines will continue to be a child resource of labs.
Cost tracking In Azure Cost Management, admins could only track and analyze cost at the service level and at the lab account level. Cost entries in Azure Cost Management are now for lab virtual machines. Automatic tags on each entry specify the lab plan ID and the lab name. You can analyze cost by lab plan, lab, or virtual machine from within the Azure portal. Custom tags on the lab will also show in the cost data.
Selecting regions By default, labs were created in the same geography as the lab account. A geography typically aligns with a country and contains one or more Azure regions. Lab owners weren't able to manage exactly which Azure region the labs resided in. In the lab plan, administrators now can manage the exact Azure regions allowed for lab creation. By default, labs will be created in the same Azure region as the lab plan.
Note, when a lab plan has advanced networking enabled, labs are created in the same Azure region as virtual network.
Deletion experience When a lab account is deleted, all labs within it are also deleted. When deleting a lab plan, labs aren't deleted. After a lab plan is deleted, labs will keep references to their virtual network even if advanced networking is enabled. However, if a lab plan was connected to an Azure Compute Gallery, the labs can no longer export an image to that Azure Compute Gallery.
Connecting to a virtual network The lab account provided an option to peer to a virtual network. If you already had labs in the lab account before you peered to a virtual network, the virtual network connection didn't apply to existing labs. Admins couldn't tell which labs in the lab account were peered to the virtual network. In a lab plan, admins set up the advanced networking only at the time of lab plan creation. Once a lab plan is created, you'll see a read-only connection to the virtual network. If you need to use another virtual network, create a new lab plan configured with the new virtual network.
Labs portal experience Labs are listed under lab accounts in https://labs.azure.com. Labs are listed under resource group name in https://labs.azure.com. If there are multiple lab plans in the same resource group, educators can choose which lab plan to use when creating the lab.
Permissions needed to manage labs To create a lab, someone must be assigned:
- Lab Contributor role on the lab account.
To modify an existing lab, someone must be assigned:
- Reader role on the lab account.
- Owner or Contributor role on the lab. (Lab creators are assigned the Owner role to any labs they create.)
To create a lab, someone must be assigned:
- Owner or Contributor role on the resource group that contains the lab plan.
- Lab Creator role on the lab plan.
To modify an existing lab, someone must be assigned:
- Owner or Contributor role on the lab. (Lab creators are assigned the Owner role to any labs they create.)

Configure a lab plan

Once the lab plan is created, administrators can set up configurations as needed.

Most lab plan configurations apply at the time of lab creation.

  • Which region(s) the labs can be created in.
  • Default auto-shutdown settings for labs.
  • What marketplace images are allowed.
  • What custom images from a connected Azure Compute Gallery are allowed.
  • Linked Azure Compute Gallery to export custom VM images to.
  • Give access to educators to create and manage labs.

Configuration that applies to all labs:

  • Internal support information for your organization when using Azure Lab Services.

Remember, changes made to the lab settings from the lab plan will apply only to new labs created after the settings change is saved.

Don't forget to assign user permissions on the lab plan and the lab plan's resource group. Permission assignments for new labs may also be required if labs are created for educators instead of by them.

Getting started

Use the following checklist to get started with Azure Lab Services August 2022 Update:

  • Configure shared resources.
  • Create lab plans.
  • Request capacity.
  • Validate images.
  • Configure LMS integrations.
  • Create labs.
  • Update cost management reports.

As you migrate, there likely will be a time when you're using both the August 2022 Update and the current version of Azure Lab Services. You might have both lab accounts and lab plans that coexist in your subscription and that access the same external resources.

With all the new enhancements, it's a good time to revisit your overall lab structure. More than one lab plan might be needed depending on your scenario. For example, the math department may only require one lab plan in one resource group. The computer science department might require multiple lab plans. One lab plan can enable advanced networking and a few custom images. Another lab plan can use basic networking and not enable custom images. Both lab plans can be kept in the same resource group.

Let's cover each step to get started with the August 2022 Update in more detail.

  1. Configure shared resources. Optionally, configure licensing servers. For VMs that require access to a licensing server, create a lab using a lab plan with advanced networking. You can reuse the same Azure Compute Gallery and the licensing servers that you use with your lab accounts.

  2. Create Lab plans.

    1. Create and configure lab plans. If you plan to use a license server, don't forget to enable advanced networking when creating your lab plans.
    2. Assign permissions to educators that will create labs.
    3. Enable Azure Marketplace images.
    4. Optionally, attach an Azure Compute Gallery.
  3. Request capacity. Forecast and request dedicated VM capacity. Even if enrollment isn't finalized, you can use preliminary estimates for your initial capacity request. You can request more capacity later, if needed.

  4. Validate images. Each of the VM sizes has been remapped to use a newer Azure VM Compute SKU. If using an attached compute gallery, validate images with new Azure VM Compute SKUs. Validate that each image in the compute gallery is replicated to regions the lab plans and labs are in.

  5. Configure integrations. Optionally, configure integration with Canvas including adding the app and linking lab plans. Alternately, configure integration with Teams by adding the app to Teams groups.

  6. Create labs. Create labs to test educator and student experience in preparation for general availability of the updates. Lab administrators and educators should validate performance based on common student workloads.

  7. Update cost management reports. Update reports to include the new cost entry type, Microsoft.LabServices/labs, for labs created using the August 2022 Update. Built-in and custom tags allow for grouping in cost analysis. For more information about tracking costs, see Cost management for Azure Lab Services.

Next steps