Understanding the Hierarchy: Can Azure Subscriptions Be Nested?

Exploring Azure’s Scope Hierarchy

Understanding Management Groups and Subscriptions

When it comes to organizing your Azure environment, understanding the relationship between management groups and subscriptions is crucial. Management groups offer a level of hierarchy above subscriptions, allowing for more granular control and organization of resources. A management group can contain multiple subscriptions, but subscriptions themselves cannot be nested within each other.

Azure management groups help you organize your resources and subscriptions, providing a structured method to manage access, policies, and compliance across multiple subscriptions. Here’s a simple breakdown of the hierarchy:

  • Management Group
    • Subscription
      • Resource Group
        • Resource

This structure ensures that policies and access permissions are inherited from the top-level management group down to the individual resources. It’s important to note that while management groups can be nested, creating a flexible and scalable framework, subscriptions remain at a single level within this hierarchy.

The Role of Resource Groups and Resources

In Azure, resource groups serve as the fundamental building blocks for organizing and managing your resources. Think of them as folders on your computer where you can group related files together; however, in Azure, these ‘files’ are your cloud resources. Each resource can only be a member of one resource group, ensuring a clear and unambiguous structure.

Resource groups are not just for organizational neatness—they play a crucial role in access management. By applying role-based access control (RBAC) policies at the resource group level, you can streamline permissions and maintain a tight grip on who can do what within your environment. It’s important to note that resource groups cannot be nested, but they can be part of a broader management group hierarchy, which allows for more granular control over resources.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to remember about resource groups:

  • They contain related Azure resources.
  • Resources are exclusive to one group.
  • RBAC can be applied to manage access.
  • Resource groups cannot be nested but can link to management groups.

While resource groups can’t be nested, understanding how to effectively use them within the scope of management groups is key to an organized Azure architecture.

Comparing Scope Levels Across Azure, GCP, and AWS

When managing cloud resources, understanding the scope hierarchy is crucial for effective governance. Azure scopes include Management Groups, Subscriptions, Resource Groups, and individual Resources, with Management Groups being uniquely nestable. GCP mirrors this with its own levels: Organization, Folders, Projects, and Resources, where Folders can also be nested. AWS, on the other hand, uses a different approach with Organizational Units (OUs) and management policies that act as guardrails.

The role-based access control (RBAC) models in Azure and GCP are similar, with roles being decoupled from resources and only becoming effective when assigned to a scope or level.

In Azure, policy inheritance is a key feature, ensuring that access permissions are consistently applied across the hierarchy. This is paralleled in GCP, while AWS focuses on management policies for specific use cases like AI services opt-out and backup policies. Here’s a quick comparison:

Cloud ProviderHighest LevelNesting CapabilitiesPolicy Inheritance
AzureManagement GroupYesYes
AWSOULimitedSpecific Use Cases

Understanding these differences is essential, especially for Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) who may leverage a multi-cloud architecture for various reasons.

The Myth of Nested Subscriptions in Azure

Clarifying the Structure of Azure Subscriptions

When it comes to organizing and managing cloud resources, understanding the structure of Azure subscriptions is crucial. A common question that arises is: can azure subscriptions be nested? The answer is straightforward: Azure subscriptions cannot be nested. Instead, they exist at a single level within the Azure hierarchy.

Azure’s hierarchy is designed to provide a clear and scalable structure for resource management. Here’s a breakdown of the scope levels:

  • Management groups (can be nested)
  • Subscription
  • Resource group
  • Resource

Each level serves a specific purpose in the organization of resources, with management groups at the top, allowing for broad policy application and billing management. Subscriptions are the containers for resources, and within them, resource groups act as non-nested subdivisions to further organize resources.

Clarify your organization’s billing by viewing costs for a group of resources sharing the same tag. This approach helps in understanding the four levels of scope in Azure, ensuring that resources are managed efficiently and effectively.

Common Misconceptions About Resource Group Nesting

One of the most persistent myths in Azure architecture is the idea that resource groups can be nested within one another. This is simply not the case. Resource groups serve as logical containers to organize and manage resources, but they exist at a single level within the Azure hierarchy. Each resource can only belong to one resource group, and while these groups can be associated with broader management groups, they cannot contain other resource groups themselves.

It’s important to understand the limitations and capabilities of resource groups to avoid confusion. Here’s a quick rundown of what you should know:

  • Resources are confined to a single resource group.
  • Role-based access control (RBAC) can be applied to resource groups.
  • Resource groups cannot be nested, but can be part of a management group structure.

Misunderstanding these aspects can lead to inefficient resource management and flawed access control strategies. By recognizing that resource groups are not nestable, you can better plan your Azure environment’s architecture and governance.

Policy Inheritance and Access Control Implications

When it comes to managing access in Azure, policy inheritance plays a crucial role. Policies created with non-empty parent policies inherit all rule collections from the parent policy. This mechanism ensures that base security measures are consistently applied across different levels of the hierarchy. However, it’s essential to understand the implications of such inheritance for access control.

The ability to assign roles at multiple scopes may inadvertently grant broader access than intended. This is a common pitfall that can lead to security vulnerabilities.

In Azure, as with other cloud providers, attaching roles to both individual users and user-groups can complicate the tracking of a user’s effective access. The use of nested groups further complicates this landscape, making it challenging to ensure that only appropriate access is granted. Here’s a quick rundown of the potential issues:

  • Prevention: Assigning roles across multiple levels may result in unintended access.
  • Detection: It can be difficult to identify access that should be removed or was granted by mistake.

The Azure PowerShell module Az is essential for Azure management, particularly when configuring the context object for authentication or creating a container for uploading data to Azure Blob storage efficiently. Understanding and managing these aspects are key to maintaining a secure and well-governed Azure environment.

Best Practices for Organizing Azure Resources

Utilizing Management Groups for Efficient Administration

Management groups in Azure provide a level of organization above subscriptions, allowing for a structured hierarchy that simplifies governance and access management across multiple subscriptions. By grouping subscriptions under a management group, administrators can apply policies and access controls at a higher level, ensuring consistency and compliance throughout the organization.

Management groups are pivotal in optimizing the administration of Azure resources. They enable the application of governance conditions such as Azure Policy and Azure Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) across multiple subscriptions. This hierarchical structure is not to be confused with nested subscriptions, which Azure does not support. Instead, management groups offer a flexible and efficient way to manage resources and access at scale.

When planning your Azure architecture, consider the use of management groups to streamline operations and enforce policies more effectively.

Here are some best practices for using management groups:

  • Define a clear naming convention for management groups and subscriptions.
  • Organize subscriptions by department, environment, or application to align with organizational structures.
  • Implement inheritance of policies and access controls to reduce management overhead.
  • Regularly review and adjust the hierarchy to reflect changes in the organization.

Leveraging Resource Groups for Simplified Management

Resource groups in Azure serve as a fundamental organizational tool, allowing you to manage, monitor, and secure your resources effectively. Each resource can only be part of a single resource group, ensuring clarity and preventing overlap. This exclusivity is crucial for maintaining a structured environment where resources are logically grouped based on their lifecycle, purpose, or other criteria.

Resource groups are not just containers; they are also scope boundaries for applying access control. By assigning RBAC policies at the resource group level, you can streamline permissions management across multiple resources. This simplifies the process of granting access to a group of users or services, making it easier to enforce security and compliance.

While resource groups cannot be nested, they can be part of a broader management group hierarchy. This allows for a flexible yet controlled structure, where policies and access can be inherited and managed at different levels.

Here’s a quick checklist to ensure you’re leveraging resource groups effectively:

  • Group related resources that share the same lifecycle.
  • Apply consistent naming conventions for ease of identification.
  • Assign RBAC policies to manage permissions efficiently.
  • Use tags to further categorize and manage resources.

Key Groupings and Labels in Azure App Configuration

When managing configurations in Azure, App Configuration serves as a centralized hub for handling application settings and feature flags. Key groupings and labels are fundamental to organizing these configurations efficiently. Utilizing key prefixes allows you to categorize settings based on their functionality or module, while labels enable you to manage variations across different environments, such as development, staging, or production.

For instance, you might structure your configuration keys using a hierarchical naming convention with prefixes, such as Service1:Database:ConnectionString. To handle environment-specific configurations, labels come into play, allowing you to tag keys with identifiers like Production or Development.

It’s essential to understand the synergy between key prefixes and labels to maximize the effectiveness of Azure App Configuration.

Here’s a simple example of how to apply labels in your code:

configBuilder.AddAzureAppConfiguration(options => {
           .Select(KeyFilter.Any, LabelFilter.Null)
           .Select(KeyFilter.Any, "Development");

Remember, the choice between using key prefixes, labels, or a combination of both depends on your application’s specific needs and the complexity of your environment configurations.

Managing Access and Permissions in Azure

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) Explained

Azure’s Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is a cornerstone of its security and permissions management. RBAC allows fine-grained access management to Azure resources, enabling you to grant users only the access that they need. With Azure RBAC, you can assign roles to users, groups, service principals, and managed identities at various scope levels, such as management groups, subscriptions, resource groups, or individual resources.

One of the key features of Azure RBAC is the concept of built-in roles. These predefined roles are designed to help you quickly assign permissions that align with common use cases and tasks. For example, a ‘Reader’ role might allow a user to view resources, but not modify them, while a ‘Contributor’ role can create and manage resources but can’t grant access to others.

It’s important to understand the implications of role assignments at different scopes. Assigning a role at a higher scope level, like a subscription, grants those permissions across all resources within that subscription.

Here’s a quick rundown of some common Azure built-in roles:

  • Owner: Full access to all resources including the right to delegate access.
  • Contributor: Can create and manage all types of Azure resources but cannot grant access to others.
  • Reader: Can view existing Azure resources.
  • User Access Administrator: Can manage user access to Azure resources.

Granting Access to Groups of Users and Resources

In the realm of cloud services, granting access to resources is a critical aspect of security and management. Azure simplifies this process through the use of scopes, which include management groups, subscriptions, resource groups, and individual resources. These scopes allow for a hierarchical structure where access permissions can cascade down from higher levels, ensuring that users have the appropriate access rights.

When it comes to users, Azure supports the attachment of roles to both individual users and user groups. This flexibility, however, can make tracking a user’s effective access more complex. Azure’s support for nested groups adds another layer to consider when managing access permissions.

  • Management Group (can be nested)
  • Subscription
  • Resource Group (cannot be nested)
  • Resource

It’s essential to understand the implications of policy inheritance and role assignments at different levels to prevent unauthorized access and detect configuration drifts.

Remember, each resource can only belong to one resource group, and while resource groups themselves cannot be nested, they can be part of a management group hierarchy. This structure plays a significant role in how access is granted and managed across the Azure environment.

Understanding Nested Groups and Their Impact on Security

In Azure, nested groups can significantly complicate access management and security. Nested groups allow for a hierarchy where groups contain other groups, which can streamline permissions but also obscure the effective permissions a user has. For instance, if users or groups are a member of over 2048 groups, their access may be blocked due to Azure’s limitations on group memberships, which includes both direct and nested group membership.

It’s crucial to understand the implications of nested groups on security policies. Nested groups can lead to unintended access if not managed carefully, as policy inheritance can inadvertently extend permissions beyond intended scopes.

Here’s a quick comparison of how Azure handles nested groups compared to other cloud providers:

  • Azure supports nested groups, which can affect Conditional Access policies and complicate access reviews.
  • AWS allows policies to be attached to organizational units (OUs) but does not support nested groups in the same way.
  • GCP also supports nested groups and has similar complexities in managing access at scale.

To mitigate risks associated with nested groups, it’s essential to regularly review and update access controls, ensuring that only necessary permissions are granted and that policy inheritance is clearly understood and managed.

Azure DevOps and Configuration Management

Navigating Azure DevOps Services and Server Differences

When diving into Azure DevOps, it’s crucial to understand the distinctions between Azure DevOps Services and Azure DevOps Server. Azure DevOps Services is the cloud-based offering, providing a scalable, reliable, and globally available hosted service. On the other hand, Azure DevOps Server is the on-premises version, giving organizations control over their data and server management.

Azure DevOps has evolved significantly over time, with features like stages, dependencies, and conditions enhancing the pipeline’s capabilities. For instance, stages in Azure DevOps allow for grouping actions such as building the app, running tests, or deploying to various environments. These stages can be dependent on one another, with the ability to specify conditions for their execution.

It’s important to note that support for stages and YAML was added in Azure DevOps Server 2019.1, marking a significant update from earlier versions like TFS 2018, which used different terminology and lacked YAML support.

Here’s a quick comparison of key terms across versions:

Azure DevOps ServicesAzure DevOps Server 2019.1TFS 2018
Service connectionsService endpointsService endpoints

Remember, whether you’re using Azure DevOps Services or Server, there are tools for modifying configuration files, auditing security, generating reports, optimizing performance, handling special file types, and organizing scripts in PowerShell scripts. These tools are essential for maintaining an efficient DevOps workflow.

Assigning Device Groups in Cloud Console

When managing devices in Azure, the ability to organize and assign device groups within the Cloud Console is crucial for streamlined operations. To override the group assignment, you can move a synched device group to a cloud console group. This is particularly useful for excluding certain devices from Active Directory (AD) synchronization by selecting them individually and using the Add to Device Group option.

It’s important to note that there are limitations to this flexibility. For instance, an AD synched device group cannot be assigned to a cloud console group nested more than eight levels deep. If you encounter this, the system will provide a prompt indicating the restriction.

Additionally, once a device or group is moved to the cloud console, it cannot be manually moved back to the AD hierarchy. To revert to synchronization, the device group must be deleted from the ICDm group. For unmanaged devices, they will reappear in the AD hierarchy after the next sync. Managed devices, however, will require device re-enrollment upon the next inventory to reappear in the AD hierarchy.

Stages, Dependencies, and Conditions in Azure Pipelines

In Azure DevOps, stages represent a crucial organizational element, defining a logical boundary within the pipeline. They are essential for structuring the software development lifecycle into manageable phases, such as building the application, running tests, or deploying to various environments. Each stage can encompass multiple jobs, and by default, they execute sequentially unless dependencies are specified.

Dependencies in Azure Pipelines are expressed through the dependsOn keyword, allowing stages to run based on the completion of others. This creates a flexible workflow where stages can be conditional upon the success or failure of preceding ones. For instance, a deployment stage might only trigger if the testing stage passes.

Conditions further refine this process by dictating when a stage should run. They can be as simple as checking the success of a previous stage or as complex as evaluating custom expressions involving variables and branch names. Here’s a brief example of how stages and conditions might be configured in YAML:

- stage: Build
- stage: Test
  condition: succeeded('Build')
- stage: Deploy
  - Build
  - Test
  condition: and(succeeded(), eq(variables['build.sourceBranch'], 'refs/heads/main'))

Remember, even if you don’t explicitly define any stages, your pipeline will have at least one by default. The arrangement of stages into a dependency graph not only streamlines the workflow but also ensures that resources are utilized efficiently, respecting the limit of 256 jobs per stage.


In wrapping up our exploration of Azure’s structure, we’ve learned that while Azure does support a hierarchical organization of resources, subscriptions themselves cannot be nested. This is a crucial distinction for architects and administrators to understand when designing and managing Azure environments. Policy inheritance and role-based access control are pivotal in maintaining order and security across management groups, subscriptions, and resource groups. However, it’s important to note that while management groups can be nested to create a structured policy application, resource groups remain non-nestable entities. As we’ve seen, understanding these nuances is essential for effective Azure governance and ensuring that resources are appropriately isolated and accessible. Remember, while Azure’s hierarchy may seem complex, it’s designed to provide flexibility and control, enabling you to tailor your cloud environment to your organization’s specific needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Azure subscriptions be nested within each other?

No, Azure subscriptions cannot be nested. The Azure hierarchy allows for management groups to contain subscriptions, but subscriptions themselves cannot contain other subscriptions.

How is policy inheritance structured in Azure?

Policy inheritance in Azure is structured across four levels: management groups, subscriptions, resource groups, and resources. Policies assigned at higher levels will apply to all contained lower levels.

Can resource groups be nested in Azure?

No, resource groups in Azure cannot be nested. Each resource can only be a member of one resource group, and resource groups exist at a single level within a subscription.

How do Azure management groups help with resource organization?

Azure management groups allow for the efficient administration of policies and compliance across multiple subscriptions. Management groups can be nested, providing a hierarchical structure for organizing subscriptions and applying governance controls.

What are the implications of nested groups for security in Azure?

Nested groups in Azure can complicate the understanding of effective access permissions. It’s important to carefully manage nested groups to ensure appropriate access is maintained and to prevent security risks.

What are key groupings and labels in Azure App Configuration?

In Azure App Configuration, key groupings can be achieved using key prefixes or labels, which help organize and manage configuration settings. Labels are particularly useful for managing settings across different environments, like development, testing, and production.

Nilesh Kamble is Certified in Microsoft & GCP, having 13+ Years of Experience in IT Industry. As a Senior IT Employee, having vast experience on Windows Server, Windows Client, Powershell, Cloud Technologies. Passionate about Laptop, Mobiles & Other emerging Technologies.