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Azure Lab Services August 2022 update—Improved classroom and training experience

Posted on August 8, 2022

Senior Program Manager, Azure Lab Services

Two students sitting at table in café collaborating on a Surface Book and Surface Pro.

The new updated Azure Lab Services allows you to set up and configure Cloud labs for your classroom and training scenarios. You don’t have to worry about setting up, expanding, or managing on-premises labs anymore. We provide a managed service and take the hassle out of managing and maintaining these labs. The updated service comes with improved performance and enhanced backend reliability. With the introduction of virtual network (VNet) injection and more control of the virtual network, you can now unlock key training and classroom scenarios such as lab-to-lab communication and utilize the service to teach a wide range of courses requiring complex configurations. With this new update you also now have an option to integrate the service with the Canvas learning management system.

The introduction of additional roles, Azure policies, and enhanced cost tracking and management capability provides the features you need to fully understand, manage and maintain your service. The availability of a .NET SDK, Python SDK, Azure PowerShell module, and Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates makes it easy for IT and administrators to automate and manage all aspects of the service. Learn more about the Azure Lab Services update and how to use it.

With major reliability and performance enhancements to the original service, this major update is bringing a whole slew of additional features for IT organizations, administrators, educators, and students.

The update is bringing features and functionality for all personas of the service including administrators, educators, and students.

New features help IT departments and administrators automate and manage

For the IT staff and the service administrators, now there is a concept of creating a lab plan instead of a lab account in the Azure portal to start the process of creating labs. A lab plan is used to create, configure settings, and manage the labs. For ease of administration of the lab, new roles have been created to provide granular control to different people in the organization who will manage and maintain the labs. We are also introducing default and custom Azure policies with this update to help administrators with more control over the management of the labs.

Similar to the older service, you will have to request additional virtual processors (vCPUs), depending on your Azure subscription, and how many labs and virtual machines you want to create in the labs. With this updated release, there is an improved vCPU capacity management for your subscription, and you don't share the vCPU capacity with other customers when using the service.

With the new release, it is also easier to track costs for your labs or the virtual machines utilizing Azure Cost Management. On the networking front, we are introducing Virtual Network Injection compared to virtual network peering, which was offered in the older service. Virtual Network Injection provides you with control of Azure NSG (Network Security Group) and load balancer for your virtual network. Virtual Network Injection supports some of the common scenarios such as lab-to-lab communication, access to Azure or on-premises license server, and utilizing Azure File services.

In order to make it easy for administrators to manage and maintain the service, we are offering a range of tools including a .NET SDK, Python SDK, Azure PowerShell module, and ARM templates. These tools will not only help you with automating and managing your service but can also be utilized to build value-add services on top of our service for your customers.

In alignment with all the global compliance and regulatory laws around data residency, the customers now have a choice to deploy the labs and related virtual machines in their region of choice, so their data stays local to where they want.

More options and flexibility for educators

Educators and instructors are also getting features and new functionality to improve their experience in the service. The updated service can also be integrated with Canvas, a popular learning management system. This makes it easy for educators to stay in Canvas to create, manage, and maintain their labs, and students can also access the labs and virtual machines from within Canvas. Educators now have the option to create labs with virtual machines and assign students to them with non-admin access.

The auto-shutdown feature of the virtual machines has now been improved to work across both Windows and Linux virtual machines. In addition, there are improvements around virtual machine idle detection based on resource usage and user presence. The update also provides additional flexibility to the educator to skip the virtual machine template creation process if they already have an image to use and don’t want to customize it. Using an already existing image or the default image from the Azure marketplace allows for fast creation of the lab compared to when the educator wants to create a lab with an image but will further customize it after the lab is created.

Faster, easier access for students

The updated service has also introduced improvements to the student experience.  Students can now troubleshoot any virtual machine access issues by redeploying their virtual machine without losing data. If the lab is set up to use Azure Active Directory (AAD) group sync, there is no longer a need to send an invitation email to the students to register for the lab and get access to the virtual machine. Now, a virtual machine is automatically assigned to the student and they can access it immediately.

Learn more

Enable your educational, learning, and training scenarios today no matter what industry, by using the service. Get started today to use the enhanced experience and new features by utilizing the Azure Lab Services August 2022 update!