Which subscription option should I choose to get started with Microsoft Azure?

Which subscription option should I choose to get started with Microsoft Azure?

April 15, 2020 0 By Cezary Oltuszyk

Microsoft Azure subscription is required to use the Azure environment. The main question for every Azure user is which subscription is the right choice for what you are trying to achieve. A careful needs analysis of the right subscription is useful so as to make the most cost effective choice.

Every resource that you create in Azure resides in an Azure subscription, so you are secure in the knowledge that you are only billed for particular Azure Resources. This way you can easily keep control of costs for the service.

Let’s imagine the analogy of an Azure Subscription as a box, and Azure Resource as a toy.  Whenever you pick up a toy (the Azure Resource) you have to put it into a box (the Azure subscription). This box has its own billing name and cost summary for all the toys in it. At the end of the billing period you get a bill for each box, so you only pay for the toys that you use.

The key difference between using Azure as a single subscription, and working with the Azure platform multi-subscription options (that are designed for business use), is the much larger IT infrastructure available in the second, and the much greater need for cost management.

To extend the analogy of boxes and toys, we can imagine the different realities between children playing at home, and the toy manufacturer.

This article describes some basic options about Azure subscription choices and my comments on their use.

Single Subscription

This subscription model is the simplest option, but not a recommended set up for commercial and business use. All resources are located in one single subscription. This option is easy to work with , but very restricted in management options.

Finding answers for questions like “What is the monthly cost of the production environment?” is time consuming however with a single subscription.  When the user searches for answers to more complicated queries, this becomes even more troublesome. This subscription is not designed for multi-business use. I include it here as a starter option, potentially for getting accustomed to using the Azure platform – but it doesn’t have full options for planning commercial strategy.

Production & Non-Production

The Production and Non-Production subscription is likely to be the most popular option going forward. Using separate subscriptions for your production and non-production environment makes the management of your resources simpler and safer.

With this approach the answer to “What is the monthly cost of the production environment?” is very straightforward. You just go to a subscription cost analysis report from Azure Portal and you are done!

Some other benefits of having production and non-production subscriptions are:

  • Cost prediction. You can use Azure Policy to prevent users from creating some types of resources in different subscriptions. No more problems with creating overly complex test machines! 
  • Cost savings. Azure has specific Dev/Test subscription offerings for non-production workload, which provides discounted rates for Azure services and software licensing.
  • Security. You can separate user roles on each subscription. Registering for a test subscription doesn’t allow the user to access production subcription.  The two production and test environments require separate signing in.

Sandbox Subscriptions

When we are familiar with the Production & Non-Production subscription system, and are looking for more functional options, we can extend the two by using Sandbox Subscriptions. As shown on the screenshot below, additional subscriptions can be added:

Sandbox subscriptions are kept separate from your production and non-production environments. Usually for Sandbox subscription the Azure Dev/Test subscription user has the option of discounted signup from within the platform via their Visual Studio account. Each Visual Studio user has his own subscription and can easily experiment with Azure capabilities.

Multiple Production

Multiple Production option is another variant of Production & Non-Production. With this option we can have many separate individual client production subscriptions.

Because we treat each client separately, we can very precisely manage the costs of service, together with all the benefits of cost prediction, cost savings and security separation.

Shared Services

A 3-subscription package: production, non-production and shared-service.

The key benefit of including all shared resources in the new subscription is having a separate policy and separate billing for them.

As an example, we could imagine a company that wishes to create a few hundred virtual machines for employees. The company does not need to take into account whether those machines are production machines or not. There will be always one machine for one employee with stated specifications. If you want to stipulate a machines’ specifications, and have separate billing, the best option is to create a new subscription, and attach a specific policy to this subscription (for example, when considering the number of machines, or processing power).


This is a basic review of Microsoft Azure subscriptions patterns and their usefulness. I hope this encourages you to think about which choice best suits your business needs. Adopting the appropriate model is vital when considering the best entry point for cost management and analysis. You need to choose the right option, to protect your content and to maximise the efficiency of your business operation.

I would be happy to hear your comments and opinions on different subscriptions and their usefulness. If you have found particular combinations of subscriptions to be valuble, it would be great if you could share as a comment for further discussion.