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How to start with Azure at no cost? Where to learn and practice Azure? Which subscription is the best for me? Are there any services for free to use? I’m preparing for certification, are there any labs I can practice on? Those are typical questions asked by a lot of IT specialists every day. This article puts anyone on the right track.

Intro

Starting in Azure these days is a lot of fun and a great investment in everyone’s careers. With tremendous number of articles, videos, books and podcasts it might be confusing as to what is the best way to start. This article will cover available resources that I would recommend after 5 years of continuous learning.

This article will also cover what types of subscriptions are available to learn and develop on the platform.

Azure for FREE for everyone!

Contrary to what people think Azure has quite few services that can used for free, until some monthly quota is reached. Those services allow anyone to get started without investing anything in the platform. Services on this list are free regardless of what subscription type does anyone have.

Management and Governance

Services for automation and orchestration of processes and tasks.

  • Automation

    Azure Automation allows for orchestration and automation of processes using PowerShell or Python language. A powerful service that also has a free grant allowing for 500 minutes of script execution with 744 watcher hours. Usually this is enough for small automation tasks in many projects.

Web, API and Mobile

Services for web, API and mobile application hosting and management

  • Function Apps

    Azure Functions are heart of Azure Serverless processing. With free quota you can send 1,000,000 requests and consume 400,000 GB-s of memory for processing.

  • App Service

    App Service is simply said a web hosting platform. Azure has F1 which allows for hosting up to 10 applications (web, mobile or API apps). While free tier has a lot of limitations like only 60 minutes of CPU per day and 1 GB of memory and storage. It allows everyone to experience and test the platform for free. It could be enough for very small application.

  • Notification Hubs

    Notification Hubs are multi-platform scalable push notification service for applications. For free developers can send 1,000,000 notifications.

  • SignalR

    Real-time communication with web applications is possible using SignalR service. It is highly scalable service based on Web Socket, which allows pushing content updates to connected clients. Free quota provides developers with 20 concurrent connections per unit, 20,000 messages per day and 1 free unit.

Search Services

Services allowing to index context for searching purposes

  • Search

    If search capabilities over private, heterogenous content is required, Azure Search is here to help. This service has ability to consolidate searchable content with advanced syntax to cover broad range of scenarios. With Free tier developers get 50 MB of storage and 3 indexes per service.

Data

Services for data and asset management

  • Data Catalog

    Data Catalog is enterprise metadata catalog for self-service management and data asset discovery. Free grant offers 5,000 catalog objects and unlimited number of users.

Messaging and event routing

Services for pub/sub and real time message communication.

  • Event Grid

    Event grid is amazing service for event routing with pub/sub model. Free quota allows for 100,000 operations. That is around 3300 events per day, which is enough for most applications.

  • IoT Hub

    IoT Hub is Azure service for integrating IoT devices with the cloud. It allows to connect, monitor and control devices with great ease. With standard tier a free grant of 8,000 messages per day at 0.5 KB message size.

Monitoring

Services for monitoring applications and azure resources.

  • Application Insights

    Application Insights are part of bigger service called Azure Monitor. They are powerful Application Performance Management (APM) service for web developers. In short, their purpose is gathering application logs and traffic to allow for extensive analytics, diagnostic and reporting capability. With free grant developers can gather 5 GB of data per month and retain this for 90 days.

  • Log Analytics

    Log Analytics is another service that is part of Azure Monitor. With a powerful Kusto query language (KQL) anyone can drive insights from application logs. While application insights was focused on web applications, this service allows for consumption of logs from pretty much any service in Azure. Free quota allows for 5 GB of data per month and data retention for 31 days.

AI and Machine Learning

Azure services for analysis of images, text, context etc.

  • Face API

    Azure Cognitive Services Face API is a service that provides algorithms that detect, recognize, and analyze human faces in images. Free quota allows for 30,000 transactions per month with limit of 20 transactions per minute.

  • Text Translator API

    Azure Cognitive Text Translator API is simple REST API for machine translation service allowing for near real-time translation. For free it allows to translate up to 2,000,000 characters of data.

Identity Management

Services for centralized identity management.

  • Azure Active Directory

    Active Directory is identity management system in Azure for Business to Business (B2B) model. This allows for user sign in and access management to Azure resources and applications. Free quota allows for 500,000 objects and 10 apps registered per user. Note that default quota is 50,000 and to increase it, a support request is required.

  • Active Directory B2C

    Azure AD is directed for B2B but Azure AD B2C is directed at Business to Customer model. Azure AD B2C allows users to create and manage their accounts, sign in and manage access to applications. Free quota allows for 50,000 authentications per month.

Other

Other Azure limits that offer free grants

  • Bandwidth

    All transfer in and out of Azure Datacenter is metered. Free quota allows for 5 GB of outbound and unlimited inbound data. Outbound is any traffic coming from (upload) Azure Datacenter and Inbound is all incoming traffic (download).

  • Azure DevOps

    Powerful DevOps service for automation of infrastructure and applications. With free grant you have 5 free user licenses, 2 GB of artifacts, Unlimited private Git repositories, 1 Free Microsoft-hosted CI/CD, 1 Free Self-Hosted CI/CD.

Azure Subscriptions

Buying Azure really means buying Azure Subscription. A subscription is simply said an agreement with Microsoft that you pay for. There are several types of subscriptions but only free allow for free usage with limited or no restrictions.

Azure Free*

When buying Azure for the first time in Pay as you Go model everyone is given 12 services free for a year with 200$ credit for first 30 days. This is in addition to list of above services with free quota grants. Allowing for extended Azure use for free.

With this type of subscription has two important things should be noted

  • A debit cards or credit card is required to sign up
  • There is a spending limit of 200$ and if exceeded a notification email will be sent prompting to remove spending limit, if not removed no charges will be applied and all services will be stopped

For Azure Free you can sign up HERE.

Every month Azure Free grants

Azure for Visual Studio Professional subscribers

Visual Studio Professional subscriber or Test Visual Studio Professional subscriber can change their Pay as you Go subscription to 0059P or 0060P offer.

Every month this subscription grants

  • 50$ monthly credit to spend on Azure services.

Considering how many free services there are this is already a lot to play around with every month with no investment.

Click here to activate

Azure for MSDN Platform subscribers

MSDN subscriber can change their Pay as you Go subscription to 0062P offer.

Every month this subscription grants

  • 100$ monthly credit to spend on Azure services.

Click here to activate

Azure for Visual Studio Enterprise subscribers

Visual Studio Enterprise subscriber can change their Pay as you Go subscription to 0063P offer.

Every month this subscription grants

  • 150$ monthly credit to spend on Azure services.

Cool thing about this offer is that if you are part of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN) you will be granted 5 of those license for your organization for free for non-revenue based activities. This means you have 150$ (130 EUR) every month to learn and experiment with Azure.

Also, if you will continue to grow and get silver and gold competencies you can increase this up to 75 licenses for your company. This means 11,250$ per month for 75 users, which means 135,000$ a year to learn Azure completely free!

Click here to activate

Azure Sponsorship Offer

Lastly, if you cooperate with Microsoft you might want to check with your local partner if you are eligible to for Microsoft Azure Sponsorship offer (0036P). This offer is simply pre-paid Azure subscription which you can spend to develop Azure solutions. This is great offer usually given to startups.

Every month this subscription grants

  • X$ of credit to spend on Azure services.

Click here to activate

Learning Azure

Anyone who finally decided to start learning Azure quickly finds out that there is tremendous amount of knowledge available to hand. There is so many books, videos, podcasts, webinars and blogs. Some services are paid some are free. With this many way to learn is it actually very hard to decide where to start.

Even though this article focuses on no investment I will prioritize best “value for money” services because everyone’s time also costs. So, if there is a 10$ training but delivers much better quality than free one in shorter time, then it should be everyone’s choice to go for. Spend extra time on something more productive, or just enjoy free time.

Documentation (aka. MSDN)

Happily, the best learning service of all is also free. This is Microsoft’s documentation (MSDN). I can’t stress enough how good it really is. It has probably over 80% questions you might have about Azure.

Just a few examples of what this documentation has

  • Description of every single service in Azure
  • Use cases of Azure Services
  • Samples and scenarios thoroughly explained
  • Pricing information
  • Detailed description for every programming language
  • Long step by step tutorials
  • Even videos for some services
  • Good references

Some very important sites are

Hands on Labs

Learning is not only reading and watching but also practicing. Even before buying Azure Subscription everyone can start practicing Azure for free with some limitations. Microsoft’s hands on Labs is a great place to do so. At the time of writing there are 39 labs prepared for Azure. Each lab gives you limited time (2 hours) access to Azure and tasks to perform.

This is a great way to start for free. Only requirement is Microsoft Live ID account which you can set up for free at Live.com

By Navigating to Self-paced labs and typing Azure you are ready to go.

Online Courses

This is usually the hardest choice when starting to learn Azure. With great number of online services like Pluralsight, Udemy, Cloud Guru, Linux Academy or many others, people often forget that there are also free alternatives which are not any worse. Heck… I will even go as far as to say that there are plenty of free courses that are much better than paid ones.

Just don’t get me wrong here. There is also good number of good courses on those sites by great trainers. I just don’t think they are a MUST when learning Azure. I also have some good ones that I like on those sites.

But when it comes to free Microsoft recently released fantastic site called Azure Learn. This site is full of hundreds of hours of videos from all aspects of Azure. They even give you sandbox environment to practice some of the topics for free.

I personally use this site often when learning new services, I also recommend anyone at my company to start with Azure Fundamentals training. Which is awesome source of knowledge for anyone who is just starting.

Code Samples

Developers will always have their hands full, but thanks to Microsoft there is plenty of samples available for Azure on their Github. Just by typing Azure Github Samples in google we are presented with plentiful of options.

The best sites are

Certifications

One thing I can say about certifications themselves, is that they should not be the primary goal. They can be very specific so best way to look at them is to verify your skillset rather than aim to be your first goal. In my opinion only Azure Fundamentals is well rounded, so that I can serve is roadmap for learning.

Azure Fundamentals

Prove that you understand cloud concepts, core Azure Services, Azure pricing and support, and the fundamentals of cloud security, privacy, compliance, and trust.

Obtained by passing exam

  • AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals

Recommended labs

Azure Administrator Associate

Azure Administrators implement, monitor, and maintain Microsoft Azure solutions, including major services related to compute, storage, network, and security

Obtained by passing exam

  • AZ-103 Microsoft Azure Administrator

Recommended labs

Azure Developer Associate

Microsoft Azure Developers design, build, test, and maintain cloud solutions, such as applications and services, partnering with cloud solution architects, cloud DBAs, cloud administrators, and clients to implement these solutions.

Obtained by passing exam

  • AZ-203 Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure

Recommended labs

Azure Solutions Architect Expert

Microsoft Azure Solutions Architects must have expertise in compute, network, storage, and security so that they can design solutions that run on Azure.

Obtained by passing exam

  • AZ-300 Microsoft Azure Architect Technologies
  • AZ-301 Microsoft Azure Architect Design

Recommended labs

Azure DevOps Engineer Expert

Azure DevOps professionals combine people, process, and technologies to continuously deliver valuable products and services that meet end user needs and business objectives.

Obtained by passing exam

  • AZ-400 Microsoft Azure DevOps Solutions

Required certificates

  • Azure Administrator Associate
  • Azure Developer Associate

Azure Security Engineer Associate

Azure Security Engineers implement security controls and threat protection, manage identity and access, and protect data, applications, and networks in cloud and hybrid environments as part of end-to-end infrastructure.

Obtained by passing exam

  • AZ-500 Microsoft Azure Security Technologies

Azure Data Engineer Associate

Azure Data Engineers design and implement the management, monitoring, security, and privacy of data using the full stack of Azure data services to satisfy business needs.

Obtained by passing exam

  • Exam DP-200: Implementing an Azure Data Solution
  • Exam DP-201: Designing an Azure Data Solution

Recommended labs

Azure AI Engineer Associate

Azure AI Engineers use Cognitive Services, Machine Learning, and Knowledge Mining to architect and implement Microsoft AI solutions involving natural language processing, speech, computer vision, bots, and agents.

Obtained by passing exam

  • Exam AI-100: Designing and Implementing an Azure AI Solution

Recommended labs

Azure Data Scientist Associate

Azure Data Scientists apply Azure’s machine learning techniques to train, evaluate, and deploy models that solve business problems.

Obtained by passing exam

  • Exam DP-100: Designing and Implementing a Data Science Solution on Azure

Recommended labs

See all role-based Certifications

Certification Labs

Anyone who is preparing for Microsoft Azure certifications will be happy to find out that there is also Microsoft Learning Github repository. This repository consists of most exams with practice labs that are part of the certification. Just download the code and follow through. This is also quite often updated which is another undervalued aspect of this.

List of recommended certification labs

Conclusion

Microsoft did pretty good job delivering huge source of knowledge and samples for Azure. Making sure that information is available, but what is most important also up to date. Anyone can quickly notice that I did not recommend the books. This is mostly due to fact that, the time it takes to write and publish the book is so long that usually services in Azure could already change multiple times. The only books for cloud that I recommend are about principles of cloud development rather than specific technology.

In the end those are just my impressions after learning Azure for over 5 years now. I will see what future will bring, but I’m very happy with the resources available for every single one of us.

Hope this is will be a help for anyone starting their career with Azure.

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