Recently, we were presented with the challenge to develop and deploy more than a dozen websites over a span of months within the Sitecore content management system. As we rolled out each new site, it was important to ensure that each one did not interfere with the ongoing activity of sites that had already gone live. We found the Sitecore Azure Edition to be an excellent solution to this particular challenge, though not without some drawbacks.

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Sitecore Azure Edition interface

Sitecore Azure Edition makes the task of transitioning a website from a development environment to staging and, ultimately, to production quite simple. And while the interface may not offer much more than what is possible in tools like Visual Studio or Azure PowerShell, Sitecore’s Azure Edition also removes opportunities for human error during environment transitioning tasks. This was especially important for our project, as we were frequently deploying large updates to a live system.

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Sitecore Azure Edition config patches settings

In addition to the simple deployment interface, Sitecore Azure Edition conveniently provides a wide array of additional controls to customize deployment options to suit the requirements of your application. For example, we found the config patches to be particularly useful; using the simple XSLT format, almost any configuration option can be modified automatically. This feature virtually eliminated the often heavy manual process of preparing a new deployment’s transition from a development environment with development settings to a production environment with production settings.

The Sitecore Azure interface does have its limitations, however. For some advanced scaling settings, endpoint configuration, monitoring, etc., we found that the only way to accomplish these tasks was through the Azure Management Portal. Fortunately, Sitecore will stay in sync with Azure, and any changes you make directly in the management portal are reflected accurately and instantly within Sitecore.

Another particularly unusual quirk we discovered was that the initial deployment using Sitecore Azure included content editing and content delivery farms under a single traffic manager. (It was difficult for us to imagine a scenario where you would direct the same traffic to both editing and delivery environments.) While this is easily corrected through the Azure Management Portal, as is customary with any application, we had to carefully review all the default settings. 

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A final challenge we encountered was troubleshooting. The deployment process is so automatic that it is easy to overlook the number of steps involved and the possible points of failure. The most common unexpected problem we encountered was Azure services undergoing maintenance or an outage in the Azure platform. (These outages never actually caused downtime or service interruption for the production system; however, they did occasionally prevent us from deploying updated packages.)

Every case is different, and what works for one application certainly won’t work all. Overall, the pros of the Sitecore Azure Edition certainly outweighed the cons. The solution was a good fit for the application our client requested, and we would definitely consider it as an option for future projects on a similar scale.

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Jon Bailer

About Jon Bailer

A technical lead at Liquid Interactive.  Jon has over a decade of experience implementing custom technology solutions for a wide variety of clients.

Published Sep 22, 2014