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Microsoft Takes Azure Portal out of Extended Preview

| by Richard Seroter Follow 8 Followers on Dec 14, 2015. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes |

Microsoft recently made their updated Azure Portal generally available (GA) after nearly nineteen months in “preview.” Before setting this to default portal experience for all customers, Microsoft says they focused on improving performance, reliability and usability.

This portal acts as a single console for most of Microsoft’s cloud services and offers a drastically different user experience than the “classic” portal. Originally demonstrated at Microsoft’s Build conference in April 2014, the Azure Preview Portal reflected a UX change towards the touch-centric, tile-oriented layout of Windows 8. According to Microsoft, the Portal has evolved during its preview period based on customer feedback and internal quality metrics.

GA release of the portal was a quality driven release rather than date driven. It has been a long journey and we could not have gotten here without your continuous feedback and contributions. We had set a quality bar for ourselves in terms of usability, performance and reliability that we needed to meet in order to make the portal generally available. Our team has been hard at work improving on those areas and we are proud to share that we have met those quality bars.

The Azure Portal – where users can create service instances, personalize the layout, view monthly charges, and manage support tickets – underwent significant performance improvements during the preview period. Microsoft claims that portal startup time has improved by 50% and each service detail view (called “blades”) loads 300% faster than before. Reliability was a focus area as well, as Microsoft’s portal includes many independent, but integrated, sub-sections for the various Azure services. These vertical experiences now load successfully 99.9% of the time.

Usability was one of the biggest love/hate aspects of the Portal during the preview period. Users weren’t shy about using the Microsoft Feedback site to provide passionate input about the user interface. Microsoft says that they heard this feedback and have made steady progress towards improving the user experience. In the blog post announcing the Portal’s general availability, Microsoft pointed out four areas that they paid heavy attention to:

  • “Make it easier to find my resources” - Microsoft addressed this concern by adding new search and navigation features. They also added a list of “recently accessed” resources.
  • “Make it easier to learn how to manage my resources” – The Portal now uses a consistent “settings” view for each resource type, and reduced some of the unnecessary, slow-loading, information on each page. 
  • “Reduce the clicks and visual elements needed to get work done” – There are now more Portal customizations available and keyboard shortcuts.
  • “Get to all my resources from a single portal” – All Azure services are now available in the navigation menu, even if the user is redirected to the “classic” portal in order to use them.

Microsoft has yet to transition all of Azure’s services from the classic portal to this new Azure Portal. The list of unavailable services – the link in the GA announcement blog to the “compatibility” page has a redirect, but a cached version is available – shows a few key services awaiting migration, and InfoQ verified that as of this writing, the below can’t be managed within the new Azure Portal:

Microsoft claims that users issued 2.5 billion requests to the Preview Portal last month. It’s available in 18 languages and 20 geographies and offers a 3,500 item marketplace. While a portal experience is a staple of every cloud provider’s portfolio, developers are increasingly bypassing graphical user interfaces and using APIs to interact with clouds like Microsoft Azure. Microsoft offers a wide range of SDKs and command line tools for users who want to programmatically consume Azure services. DevOps engineers can also find Azure modules for infrastructure build tools like Hashicorp’s Terraform, and configuration management services like Chef and Ansible

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