Mastering Azure with Cloud Shell

Mastering Azure with Cloud Shell

There are multiple ways to interact and manage resources in Microsoft Azure. You can use the Azure Portal or command line tools like the Azure PowerShell module or the Azure CLI, which you can install on your local machine. However, to set up a cloud management workstation for administrators and developers can be quite a lot of work. Especially if you have multiple machines, keeping consistency between these machines can be challenging. Another challenge is keeping the environment secure and all the tools up to date. This any many more things are addressed by the Cloud Shell.

Cloud Shell is not brand new, Microsoft announced Cloud Shell at Build 2017. This blog post is about how you can master Azure with Cloud Shell and to give you an overview about the possibilities of Cloud Shell.

What is Cloud Shell

Cloud Shell Azure Portal

Cloud Shell offers a browser-accessible, pre-configured shell experience for managing Azure resources without the overhead of installing, versioning, and maintaining a machine yourself. Azure Cloud Shell is assigned per unique user account and automatically authenticated with each session. This makes it a private and secure environment.

You get a modern web-based command line experience which can be accessed from several end points like the Azure Portal, and the Azure mobile app, Visual Studio Code or directly in the Azure docs.

In the backend Azure uses containers and automatically attaches an Azure File Share to the container. You can store the data on it, so your data is persistent. This persist your data across different Cloud Shell sessions.

Cloud Shell Bash and PowerShell

You can choose your preferred shell experience. Cloud Shell supports Bash and PowerShell and included your favorite third party tools and common tools and languages. If something like a module is missing, you can simply add it.

Azure PowerShell vs Azure CLI

A lot of questions I get from customers is, what Azure command line option should we use, Azure PowerShell or Azure CLI. To be honest, it all comes down to personal preferences. Both options have dedicated and growing development teams. Yes, there are currently some inconsistencies between the two option, where some commands are not available in the CLI, but they are available in PowerShell. Microsoft is working with the feature teams on the consistency. In addition both shells are open source and you can find them on GitHub (Azure PowerShell and Azure CLI).

I am obviously more of an Azure PowerShell guys, since I am coming from the Windows world. However, since the new Az PowerShell module is based on PowerShell Core, both shells work on all platforms like Windows, macOS and Linux. I still prefer the object model of PowerShell versus the text streams of the CLI.

Getting started with Cloud Shell

Getting Started with Azure Cloud Shell

To start with, if you haven’t used Cloud Shell before, you will need to setup it up for the first time. When you open the shell for the first time in the Azure portal, the dedicated Cloud Shell site or even in Visual Studio Code, you will be prompted to configure the storage and the resource group where Cloud Shell will be hosted.

Setting up Cloud Shell

If you just want to have a quick look at it, I recommend clicking on the advanced settings link. This will allow you to set the name for the resource group, the storage account as well as for the Azure File Share.

You can always remove the Cloud Shell by deleting the Azure resource group, which you used during that setup process.

Cloud Shell Management

Cloud Shell Management and Export-File

You cannot only configure the shell experience by choosing which shell you want to use, you can also configure the font and font size. You can also upload and download files and if needed restart the container.

Files can also upload using drag and drop directly into the browser.

In the PowerShell experience, you also get the cmdlet Export-File, which allows you to quickly download a file.

SSH in Cloud Shell

Cloud Shell SSH

One of the great features of Cloud Shell, is that you will find many tools already installed, one of them is SSH. If you want to connect to your VM directly from the Azure portal using SSH, you can simply fire up Cloud Shell and do so. This makes managing Linux much easier. You can create and deploy and manage virtual machines directly from your web browser.

Cloud Shell Persistent Storage

Cloud Shell CloudDrive

There are two way to persists files in the following methods:

  • There is a disk image created for your $HOME directory to persist all data and contents within the directory. This disk image is saved on the Azure File Share as acc_<username>.img (example acc_thomas.img) under the following path: https://<storageaccountname><filesharename>/.cloudconsole/acc_<User>.img
  • Cloud Shell attaches an Azure Files share to persist your data. On first use, it will prompt to create a file share in Azure Files (or attach an existing one) to persist your data across sessions, and Cloud Shell will automatically re-attach it for subsequent sessions. This means all your configuration and files you want to keep, you should store on that persistent share. Per default it mounts clouddrive in your $HOME directory which means it maps /Home/<User>/clouddrive to https://<storageaccount><filesharename>

Manage CloudDrive in Cloud Shell


In the bash experience you have a command called “clouddrive” to manage your CloudDrive, in the PowerShell you have the cmdlets Get-CloudDrive and Dismount-CloudDrive.

Cloud Shell Editor

Cloud Shell Editor

Cloud Shell comes with common editors like nano and vi, but even cooler is the build in Cloud Shell editor, which will give you a great editor. it is an editor based on the Visual Studio Code open-source project Monaco. Monaco is the same web-standards based editor that powers Visual Studio Code, and the editor is now integrated directly into Cloud Shell. To open the editor, you can simply type “code” or use the button in the menu.

As you can see, you also get syntax highlighting with various languages and ARM templates.

Manage Azure VMs from Cloud Shell – AzVM Remoting

Cloud Shell Az VM Remoting

PowerShell in Cloud Shell has some remoting command lets built-in in the PSCloudShellUtility module. These modules allow you to quickly setup remoting into Linux and Windows virtual machines running on Azure.

You can run the Enable-AzVMPSRemoting cmdlet to enable remoting for a specific VM. This will setup and configure the remoting and NSGs in Azure.

With the Invoke-AzVMCommand, you can simply send a command to the operating system.

The Enter-AzVM command allows you to have an interactive session with the virtual machine.

For Linux virtual machines you can use password or certificate authentication.

PowerShell Azure Drive

PowerShell Azure Drive

The Azure PowerShell based Cloud Shell, has something called the Azure Drive. Azure Drive is based on a PowerShell provider called ShiPS. The Azure Drive lets you navigate through Azure resources just like a file system.

A PowerShell provider allows any data store to be exposed like a file system as if it were a mounted drive. In other words, the data in your data store can be treated like files and directories so that a user can navigate data via cd or dir. SHiPS is a PowerShell provider. To be more precise it’s a provider utility that simplifies developing PowerShell providers.

Tools in Cloud Shell

There are not just Microsoft tool preinstalled in the Cloud Shell. Not only do you have multiple alternatives to the Cloud Shell editor, like emacs, Nano or vi installed. There are multiple third-party applications like Git, Terraform, Ansible, Docker, Kubectl and many more third-party tools and languages installed.

Here is a short list of different tools, pre-installed and ready for you to use.

Linux toolsbash
Azure toolsAzure CLI
Service Fabric CLI
Batch Shipyard
Text editorsvim
Source controlgit
Build toolsmake
ContainersDocker Machine
DatabasesMySQL clinet
PostgreSql client
sqlcmd utility
othersiPython client
Cloud Foundry CLI
Chef InSpec
PowerShell modulesAz
AzureAD (Preview)
Exchange Online (In development)

On the Microsoft docs, you can find a current and full list of tools.

Cloud Shell in VS Code

Cloud Shell in Visual Studio Code

If you are working on your device in Visual Studio Code, you can directly open and use Cloud Shell in the Visual Studio Code terminal. This allows you to keep consistency, even if you are working directly in the editor on your device. You can run your scripts and commands directly out of Visual Studio Code. To do that, you will need to install the Azure Account extension for VS Code.

  1. Press CTRL+SHIFT+P
  2. Sign in to Microsoft Azure, by typing Azure: Sign In
  3. A browser window will open to login to Azure
  4. Press CTRL+ SHIFT+P
  5. Type Open PowerShell in Cloud Shell or Open Bash in Cloud Shell
  6. This will connect you directly to your Cloud Shell running in Azure.

Manage additional Microsoft services

PowerShell Modules

As mentioned before, Cloud Shell has a lot of third-party tools installed. It also has some extra Microsoft PowerShell modules and tools to manage not only Azure, but also other Microsoft services. This means it becomes a real Microsoft Cloud Shell to manage all sorts of services, servers, applications and tools.

As of today, you get the following PowerShell modules:

  • Azure AD Management (Preview)
  • Exchange Online (In development)
  • MicrosoftPowerBIMgmt
  • SqlServer

Use Git repositories in Cloud Shell

Cloud Shell Git Repo

In the beginning of this blog post I showed you how you can upload and download files. This is great if you want to run a quick script, but if you want to work a little bit more serious you might have a Git repository, where you store your files. I store my personal scripts in an Azure DevOps repository. Cloud Shell comes with Git per installed and you can simply clone a repo to your cloud drive.

Obviously, you can also use GitHub or any other repository as long as it is reachable from Azure.

To clone a Git repository, you need to create a personal access token and use it as the username. You can clone the repo like this:

Azure mobile app

Cloud Shell on Azure mobile app

If you have the Azure mobile app for iOS or Android, you can manage your Azure resources directly from your mobile. If you look closer, you will also find the option to run Cloud Shell within the Azure mobile app, which gives you basically access to the shell from anywhere.

Integration with Microsoft Docs

Cloud Shell in Azure Docs

Another great thing is the direct integration into the Microsoft docs pages. If you are opening the Azure documentation, you will not only find the information, you have a “try it” button, which directly opens up Cloud Shell in the documentation page.

Microsoft Learn

Microsoft Learn Sandbox

If you want to learn more about Cloud Shell or other Microsoft services, check out the Microsoft Learn platform. This is not only a guide which shows you how to use the specific services, it directly integrates into Microsoft Learn. You can use the following links to learn about Azure PowerShell and Azure CLI:

Costs and Pricing

Cloud Shell is basically free, the costs behind it are coming from the Azure File Share and the storage you consume. Billing is based only on the Azure Files share used to persist your data. Your total costs depend on how much you store, the volume and type of storage transactions and outbound data transfers, and which data redundancy option you choose.

I hope this was useful and that you learned more about Cloud Shell. Go try it and if you have any questions, let me know!