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Get started with Microsoft Dev Box

CHIANGMAI, THAILAND - AUG 31, 2019: Microsoft Surface tablet on desk with businessman and businesswoman discussing the background.  made by Microsoft for Windows 10.
Image: itchaznong/Adobe Stock

As companies move to hybrid work, it is becoming increasingly difficult for IT departments to manage and control PCs. If there’s no way to manage and monitor the network a PC is on, how can you be sure the data is safe?

Microsoft’s Windows 365 Cloud PC concept aims to bridge that gap, allowing users to continue working on their PCs with workloads and data stored in Microsoft 365 and Azure. Applications can be provisioned and maintained using well-known tools and delivered to user desktops via Remote Desktop.

That same approach can be used across more than task and information workers, leveraging the computing capabilities of the cloud to run entire development environments. While security concerns remain important, there’s another aspect of the cloud PC that can help developers: supply chain issues make it difficult to find the high-quality hardware needed to build modern applications — especially those that rely on GPUs. for machine learning or scientific computing.

SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: a side-by-side analysis with checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

Instead of building and running your development toolchain on your desk, why not host it in the cloud so you can access it on pc’s, tablets and even a phone?. These capabilities are available as an example through Microsoft Dev Box.

Announced on BUILD 2022, Dev Boxes are now in public preview, so you can try them out before using them in your development teams. The preview gives you the opportunity to experiment with various custom images, in addition to Microsoft’s own Cloud PC systems.

Configure your first Dev Box

Dev Boxes are managed through a DevCenter hosted in Azure. Start creating a DevCenter from the Azure portal, map to a subscription and resource group, as well as a deployment region. After you name and create your DevCenter, you can manage it with familiar Azure tools.

There are three management options: define your Dev Boxes, configure virtual networks, and use projects to group configurations and networks, along with other resources. Importantly, you can build complete development infrastructures in Azure, so your developers can code, build, and test their code from within their Dev Boxes without requiring additional resources.

Define the Dev Box and choose an image

Defining a Dev Box is the first step. Then you need to name it before choosing a base image. Currently, the service preview offers Windows 11 and Windows 10 images based on the Enterprise SKU. Releases are available with and without Microsoft 365 apps, going back to Windows 10 1909. This approach allows you to target the correct Windows versions and align with your own support and management decisions.

Adding Microsoft 365 support to an image allows developers to make it their default working environment, although some prefer to keep development and productivity tools separate. However, including tools such as Word and OneNote can ensure that projects are well documented.

Each image is versioned, but while the service is in preview, you have the 1.0 and Last option. You can then choose the underlying virtual machine that will host the Dev box environment. In the preview, this is limited to 4 or 8 vCPUs and 16 or 32GB of RAM.

Finally, you can choose storage, 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB SSD. After selecting the options, you will have a base image for your Dev Box. Accounts can have pools of different images and configurations so that you can allocate appropriate resources to developers. Someone who builds machine learning code needs a very different setup than someone who builds JavaScript front-ends in Visual Studio Code.

If you have the appropriate license, you can not only use the default images, but also create your own custom images and connect the service to an Azure Compute Gallery that hosts it.

Connect the Dev Box to Azure and create projects

You can now connect your Dev Box service to an existing Azure virtual network before setting up a link to your Azure Active Directory. In this way, you manage and control access, set permissions for users to use and create Dev Box instances. New networks are automatically tested before you can use them. You may need to open some ports in the Azure firewall to allow external users access.

You can now start creating projects, which manage the instances available to developers and determine who has access and what they can do. Projects host pools of managed Dev Boxes, using your existing definitions and network connections. After you create a pool, you can apply the privileges that users are given with the option to give local administrator access or work as a standard user.

SEE: Windows, Linux, and Mac Commands Everyone Should Know (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Then apply access control rules to a pool and assign Dev Box user roles to users. You can give access to individual users or entire teams. Allows your users to manage and create Dev Boxes using a self-service portal. Some users can be assigned administrator roles, which allow them to manage a pool without the need for a higher-level administrator.

Connecting users to a Dev Box

Once you’re ready to give users access to their Dev Boxes, give them the URL for the Dev Box portal. They need to log in with a work account and also see existing Dev Boxes they use as an option to create a new one. Here they can name it, choose a project and then an instance from an available pool that is part of the project. just like a Windows 365 Cloud PC, this will start a 30 to 90 minute creation process.

With a Dev Box ready to go, you can access it from the portal in your browser or through a Remote Desktop client. Your Dev Box and files can be paused between sessions and deleted when no longer needed. While browser access is useful for quickly checking some code or making urgent changes, the best experience comes with a native Remote Desktop client, where the portal provides instructions on how to download an appropriate version along with the URL needed to access your Dev Box portal.

Unsurprisingly, Dev Boxes are listed as Cloud PCs in Remote Desktop, because they are. Unlike standard cloud PCs, they have more memory, more processors, and more storage – just what you’d expect from a developer workstation.

Create custom images

Users need to install their own toolchain to write code, which can delay initial adoption. However, there is an alternative: an attached Azure Compute Gallery to host your own custom images loaded with development applications.

Each image in a gallery can be configured to support specific development teams, with individual images for the web, for .NET, for Java and more. A custom image can contain libraries and SDKs in addition to development tools, ready for a developer to pick up and start coding. Custom images are not limited to one project, they can be used across projects and teams.

Dev Box Preview Pricing

Dev Boxes are still in preview, with free time for both compute and storage. Once you have used up your free time, you will be charged $0.99 per hour for 4vCPU systems and $1.98 per hour for 8vCPUs while a system is in use.

Storage comes in at $0.053/hr for 256 GB, $0.105 for 512 GB, and $0.21 for 1 TB. Storage is billed even when systems are turned off. Each user needs an appropriate Microsoft 365 license for the operating system and Azure Active Directoryalong with any application licenses.

Dev Boxes Provide Extensibility and Control

Microsoft’s approach to virtual development is interesting. Building on the Cloud PC concept, it gives you the flexibility to deliver pre-configured toolchains in a way that still allows developers to add their own favorite tools and plugins, while still taking care of them that you can manage and secure their Dev Boxes. Likewise, integrating their environment with the full Azure platform means you can quickly move from code to production, especially when working with cloud-native platforms like Kubernetes or Azure Functions.

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