Azure Resource Manager (ARM) is the technology platform and orchestration service from Microsoft that ties up all the components that were discussed earlier. It brings Azure’s resource providers, resources, and resource groups together to form a cohesive cloud platform. It makes Azure services available as subscriptions, resource types available to resource groups, and resource and resource APIs accessible to the portal and other clients, and it authenticates access to these resources. It also enables features such as tagging, authentication, role-based access control (RBAC), resource locking, and policy enforcement for subscriptions and their resource groups. It also provides deployment and management features using the Azure portal, Azure PowerShell, and command-line interface (CLI) tools
The ARM architecture
The architecture of ARM and its components is shown in Figure. As we can see, an Azure Subscription comprises multiple resource groups. Each resource group contains resource instances that are created from resource types that are available in the resource provider:
Prior to ARM, the framework used by Azure was known as Azure Service Manager (ASM). It is important to have a small introduction to it so that we can get a clear understanding of the emergence of ARM and the slow and steady deprecation of ASM.
ARM provides distinct advantages and benefits over ASM, which are as follows:
- Grouping: ARM allows the grouping of resources together in a logical container. These resources can be managed together and go through a common life cycle as a group. This makes it easier to identify related and dependent resources.
- Common life cycles: Resources in a group have the same life cycle. These resources can evolve and be managed together as a unit.
- RBAC: Granular roles and permissions can be assigned to resources providing discrete access to customers. Customers can also have only those rights that are assigned to them.
- Deployment support: ARM provides deployment support in terms of templates, enabling DevOps and infrastructure as code (IaC). These deployments are faster, consistent, and predictable.
- Superior technology: The cost and billing of resources can be managed as a unit. Each resource group can provide its usage and cost information.
- Manageability: ARM provides advanced features, such as security, monitoring, auditing, and tagging, for better manageability of resources. Resources can be queried based on tags. Tags also provide cost and billing information for resources that are tagged similarly.
- Migration: Migration and updating resources is easier within and across resource group
With ARM, everything in Azure is a resource. Examples of resources are VMs, network interfaces, public IP addresses, storage accounts, and virtual networks. ARM is based on concepts that are related to resource providers and resource consumers. Azure provides resources and services through multiple resource providers that are consumed and deployed in groups.
These are services that are responsible for providing resource types through ARM. The top-level concept in ARM is the resource provider. These providers are containers for resource types. Resource types are grouped into resource providers. They are responsible for deploying and managing resources. For example, a VM resource type is provided by a resource provider called Microsoft.Compute/virtualMachines resource. Representational state transfer (REST) API operations are versioned to distinguish between them. The version naming is based on the dates on which they are released by Microsoft. It is necessary for a related resource provider to be available to a subscription to deploy a resource. Not all resource providers are available to a subscription out of the box. If a resource is not available to a subscription, then we need to check whether the required resource provider is available in each region. If it is available, the customer can explicitly register for the subscription.
Resource types are an actual resource specification defining the resource’s public API interface and implementation. They implement the working and operations supported by the resource. Similar to resource providers, resource types also evolve over time in terms of their internal implementation, and there are multiple versions of their schemas and public API interfaces. The version names are based on the dates that they are released by Microsoft as a preview or general availability (GA). The resource types become available as a subscription after a resource provider is registered to them. Also, not every resource type is available in every Azure region. The availability of a resource is dependent on the availability and registration of a resource provider in an Azure region and must support the API version needed for provisioning it.
Resource groups are units of deployment in ARM. They are containers grouping multiple resource instances in a security and management boundary. A resource group is uniquely named in a subscription. Resources can be provisioned on different Azure regions and yet belong to the same resource group. Resource groups provide additional services to all the resources within them. Resource groups provide metadata services, such as tagging, which enables the categorization of resources; the policy-based management of resources; RBAC; the protection of resources from accidental deletion or updates; and more. As mentioned before, they have a security boundary, and users that don’t have access to a resource group cannot access resources contained within it. Every resource instance needs to be part of a resource group; otherwise, it cannot be deployed.
Resources and resource instances
Resources are created from resource types and are an instance of a resource type. An instance can be unique globally or at a resource group level. The uniqueness is defined by both the name of the resource and its type. If we compare this with object-oriented programming constructs, resource instances can be seen as objects and resource types can be seen as classes. The services are consumed through the operations that are supported and implemented by resource instances. The resource type defines properties and each instance should configure mandatory properties during the provisioning of an instance. Some are mandatory properties, while others are optional. They inherit the security and access configuration from their parent resource group. These inherited permissions and role assignments can be overridden for each resource. A resource can be locked in such a way that some of its operations can be blocked and not made available to roles, users, and groups even though they have access to it. Resources can be tagged for easy discoverability and manageability.
Here are some of the main features that are provided by ARM:
- RBAC: Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) authenticates users to provide access to subscriptions, resource groups, and resources. ARM implements OAuth and RBAC within the platform, enabling authorization and access control for resources, resource groups, and subscriptions based on roles assigned to a user or group. A permission defines access to the operations in a resource. These permissions can allow or deny access to the resource. A role definition is a collection of these permissions. Roles map Azure AD users and groups to particular permissions. Roles are subsequently assigned to a scope; this can be an individual, a collection of resources, a resource group, or the subscription. The Azure AD identities (users, groups, and service principals) that are added to a role gain access to the resource according to the permissions defined in the role. ARM provides multiple out-of-the-box roles. It provides system roles, such as the owner, contributor, and reader. It also provides resource-based roles, such as SQL DB contributor and VM contributor. ARM also allows the creation of custom roles.
- Tags: Tags are name-value pairs that add additional information and metadata to resources. Both resources and resource groups can be tagged with multiple tags. Tags help in the categorization of resources for better discoverability and manageability. Resources can be quickly searched for and easily identified. Billing and cost information can also be fetched for resources that have the same tags. While this feature is provided by ARM, an IT administrator defines its usage and taxonomy with regard to resources and resource groups. Taxonomy and tags, for example, can relate to departments, resource usage, location, projects, or any other criteria that are deemed fit from a cost, usage, billing, or search perspective. These tags can then be applied to resources. Tags that are defined at the resource group level are not inherited by their resources.
- Policies: Another security feature that is provided by ARM is custom policies. Custom policies can be created to control access to resources. Policies are defined as conventions and rules, and they must be adhered to while interacting with resources and resource groups. The policy definition contains an explicit denial of actions on resources or access to resources. By default, every access is allowed if it is not mentioned in the policy definition. These policy definitions are assigned to the resource, resource group, and subscription scope. It is important to note that these policies are not replacements or substitutes for RBAC. In fact, they complement and work together with RBAC. Policies are evaluated after a user is authenticated by Azure AD and authorized by the RBAC service. ARM provides a JSON-based policy definition language for defining policies. Some examples of policy definitions are that a policy must tag every provisioned resource, and resources can only be provisioned to specific Azure regions.
- Locks: Subscriptions, resource groups, and resources can be locked to prevent accidental deletions or updates by an authenticated user. Locks applied at higher levels flow downstream to the child resources. Alternatively, locks that are applied at the subscription level lock every resource group and the resources within it.
- Multi-region: Azure provides multiple regions for provisioning and hosting resources. ARM allows resources to be provisioned at different locations while still residing within the same resource group. A resource group can contain resources from different regions.
- Idempotent: This feature ensures predictability, standardization, and consistency in resource deployment by ensuring that every deployment will result in the same state of resources and configuration, no matter the number of times it is executed.
- Extensible: ARM provides an extensible architecture to allow the creation and plugging in of new resource providers and resource types on the platform.