Exercise - Deploy an N-tier architecture

Remember our scenario of migrating an application from on-premises to Azure. What might this architecture look like? Your organization has a non-critical application that is a good candidate try out. It's an application written to solve the all-too-common problem of picking what's for lunch.

Think of the last time you went out to lunch with a group of friends or colleagues. Did you find it easy to make a decision or did you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what everyone really meant when they said "I like everything"? Let's deploy an application based on a three-tier architecture that might help you solve this problem. This application that lets you make lunch suggestions and everyone can vote for their preferred choice.

We've created a template for this application that deploys each tier as Azure resources, then deploys the actual code. This is an ASP.NET Core MVC application deployed on Linux servers, but this architectural style can be used regardless of the underlying OS platforms or SDK.

Here's a high-level visualization of what is deployed with this template.

Visualization of the N-tier architecture to be deployed in this unit

Deploy an N-tier architecture

  1. Run the following command to start the deployment. The az deployment group create command starts a deployment into our sandbox resource group using the template file and parameters we specify. We also specify a random 32 character string generated from the head /dev/urandom | tr -dc A-Za-z0-9 | head -c 32 command as the password parameter.

    The deployment takes approximately 5 minutes to complete.

    az deployment group create \
      --resource-group <rgn>[sandbox resource group name]</rgn> \
      --template-uri  https://raw.githubusercontent.com/MicrosoftDocs/mslearn-n-tier-architecture/master/Deployment/azuredeploy.json \
      --parameters password="$(head /dev/urandom | tr -dc A-Za-z0-9 | head -c 32)"

View deployed resources and test the application

Once the deployment has completed, test the application. Run the following command, which will return the URL for the app.

az group deployment show \
  --output table \
  --resource-group <rgn>[sandbox resource group name]</rgn> \
  --name azuredeploy \
  --query properties.outputs.webSiteUrl

Open a web browser and visit the site. You see a box where you can add food choices. Once an option is added, clicking it adds a vote.

Screenshot of the sample voting application

Three tiers of "What's For Lunch?"

This application is intentionally minimal in its complexity. It's a fun application, but still demonstrates a three-tier architecture. The template creates two Virtual Machines (VMs), an Azure SQL database, and the resources needed to support these resources, such as disks, NICs, and virtual networks. It also deploys the code to run the application on each tier. The virtual network we've deployed has two subnets, one for the presentation tier and one for the application tier, providing a security boundary for each tier.

We also applied tags to the resources as part of the deployment to reflect the tier the resource is supporting (tier:presentation, tier:application, tier:data). Tags are a method of applying metadata to Azure resources, and in this case they allow us to easily filter the resources for each tier.

Let's look closer at each tier. Here's a detailed visualization of the resources we just deployed.

Visualization of the N-tier architecture to be deployed in this unit

Presentation tier

Run the following command to list out the presentation tier resources.

az resource list --tag tier=presentation --output table

In the three-tier architecture we've been referencing, this represents the presentation tier. The code responsible for the web interface was deployed on this tier, it presents the UI and directly handles user requests. This tier is only concerned with the presentation of the web site to the user. It doesn't have direct access to the data, and doesn't include business logic.

We've deployed a web server called demo-web-vm that is running the web site we're accessing. The server has a network interface, demo-web-vm-nic, that has a public IP address, demo-web-vm-nic-pip, associated with it, that being the IP address we retrieved earlier. It also has a network security group demo-web-nsg, that allows only port 80 (HTTP) traffic inbound from the internet. This restricts access to only the web site, and prevents access via unnecessary ports that could be used maliciously. This tier communicates with the presentation tier over HTTP to fulfill the request for the user.

Application tier

Run the following command to list the application tier resources.

az resource list --tag tier=application --output table

The application tier has been deployed on a virtual machine called demo-biz-vm that is running the business logic. It also has a network interface, demo-biz-vm-nic, but this network interface only has a private IP address, providing no mechanism for direct inbound connectivity to the server. It also has a network security group, demo-biz-nsg, that only allows access from the subnet of the presentation tier.

This tier is the conduit for the application to access the data. The code that exposes the API that the presentation tier calls is deployed on this server. No data is stored here, and users are not able to access this server directly. To access data and fulfill user requests, this tier communicates with the data tier through T-SQL commands.

There is a simple example of business logic incorporated in the application at this tier. There is server-side validation of the lunch suggestions, comparing them to a list of acceptable values. If you try to add something that isn't on this list, it's not accepted, and a message is returned with the valid lunch options.

Data tier

Run the following command to list out the data tier resources.

az resource list --tag tier=data --output table

The data tier is an Azure SQL Database server, demo-dbserver-abc123 (we add a random string to the server name for global uniqueness). This server stores the data for the application in a database called demo-sqldb. This tier of the application is solely concerned with the storage of data, and providing a method to access it, in this case through T-SQL the application executes against the database. We're not handling any business logic at this tier, nor are we doing any presentation of data back to the user.

This tier exposes connectivity over port 1433 through a VNet service endpoint. VNet service endpoints are a mechanism to connect PaaS services (such as Azure SQL Database) to a subnet and restrict connectivity to only the resources within that subnet.

This is also an example of using Platform as a Service (PaaS) services in place of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) virtual machines to run a tier of an application. N-tier applications are often thought of as VM-based applications, but that is not a requirement. By using PaaS services in place of VMs, you will lower your costs, increase security, and reduce administration requirements.