Windows Azure Memory-Intensive Instance Options

There’s a FABULOUS, eye-catching headline, to be sure .. I’ll work on it.

It is exciting news though. Just as soon as Windows Azure announced support for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS, for short), IT folks came out of the woodwork seeking customized sizing options that were outside the original five instance sizes offered by the service.

Now, while the A5 and A7 IaaS instances have been out for a while, the recent update includes the addition of a A6 IaaS instance, plus Cloud Service versions of the same capacities. This allows developers to deploy their memory-intensive applications in the Platform as a Service paradigm and save the IT department from having to manage from the operating system ‘up’ as with IaaS.

Name CPU Cores RAM
A5 2 14
A6 4 28
A7 8 56

Large memory instances are also available for both the Linux and Windows operating systems.

Pricing? Always. The Cloud Service and IaaS pages are updated with the full set of instance sizes:

Larger memory instances give developers and IT professionals the means to move more of their applications and IT assets into the cloud than ever before, no longer impacted by high memory usage forcing refactoring or workarounds. All in all, another step in the great journey to the cloud!

I’ll see you there.

PowerShell: Must have Microsoft Online Services Sign-In Assistant

I posted “Office 365 and PowerShell” a few weeks back and since then have been digging into the various ways PowerShell helps manage Office 365 installations. You’ll find a robust command set that can automate a wide number of deployment and management operations.

Setup (was) pretty straightforward the last time I did it (a few months back): download and install the Microsoft Online Services Sign-In Assistant for IT Professionals Beta and the appropriate cmdlets (please see my prior article) and you’re ready to go.

Now, I’ve rebuilt my system since then, so it’s time to do it over again. However, this time, I had mixed results. I installed the RTW version of the Online Services Assistant with a reboot. Then, I ran the installation program for the cmdlets .. then I got this:

“In order to install Windows Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell, you must have Microsoft Online Services Sign-In Assistant version 7.0 or greater installed on this computer”

Huh? :: mutter ::  Didn’t I just do that?

So, after a lot of uninstalls, reinstalls, reboots and more reinstalls, I ascertained there is a system check between the Beta and RTW bits that is failing. Some Bing-ing, Google-ing and swear-ing .. I came across a social post on MSDN: “Cannot install Azure Active Directory Module for Windows PowerShell. MOSSIA is not installed”, installing the Beta and then the RTW, but with an added registry fix that increases one parameter to the later version to satisfy the system check.

The fix seems to work, and the author of the post provided two .reg files: one to make the change and the other to undo it. My suggestion (as Microsoft will certainly distribute newer versions) is to perform the Beta and RTW installs, then export the registry settings so you can revert, just in case.

HTH.

Windows Azure Cache Preview

Well, it’s actually a preview of the new, and IMPROVED Windows Azure Cache.

You may recall that Windows Azure featured two flavors of caching capabilities in the past:

  • Windows Azure Shared Caching: a multi-tenant memory space, separate from any instance. Connect via endpoints between any Windows Azure components. RAM-based, fixed size .. useful, but a bit pricey. This service will be decommissioned no later than August 2014.
  • Windows Azure In-Role Cache: comprised of RAM that you choose to carve out of Role Instances that you deploy, joined into a single Cache cluster you can consume. This is a spiffy model: if your application runs at CPU capacity, but under the total instance memory, you have ‘wasted’ RAM. The In-Role Cache gives you a way to get more for what you are already paying. This feature continues to be fully-supported, so take a peek at your deployments and see if you can take advantage of this asset.

The new Windows Azure Cache Service (in Preview) performs caching by creating an isolated and dedicated cache in Windows Azure. Cache performance is completely under your control, whereas multi-tenant cache and processor-bound RAM access can be impacted by other tenants or your own operations. You access the new Cache Service using a secure and publicly addressable endpoint. With this endpoint, you can:

  • Access the cache to speed performance for applications deployed on Windows Azure Websites and Virtual Machines.
  • Share data securely, quickly and easily across instances to improve data access and performance.
  • (As before): preserve ASP.Net Session State across multiple instances and workloads.

But that’s not all (thank you, Ron Popeil and Billy Mays). While I’m not able to double your offer if you respond now .. let’s talk about the new bits (from the site):

  • Support across Windows Azure: while not exactly new (you can grant access from any asset deployed in Windows Azure to any other asset), there is a nice How to: Configure a Cache Client for Windows Azure Cache Service article available for your review.
  • Eas(ier) Management: a new addition for Cache management (as the older Silverlight-based portal is being decommissioned), you can now create a cache, scale a cache, configure a cache, and monitor the health and performance of a cache directly from the Windows Azure Management Portal.
  • The new Cache is quota-, throttle- and tenant-free. You can rely (and gauge) your performance impact whilst using the Cache.
  • As with the other Windows Azure Cache offerings, the new Cache Service is memcached-compatible. If you haven’t migrated off MD servers onto Windows Azure Cache (variants), you can do so now with the same syntax.

Caching (in general) and the new Windows Azure Cache Service are solid and easily-deployable means to significantly improve the performance of your application while reducing impact on other components (especially your database) .. you should consider these in your Cloud or Hybrid architecture.

There’s more (there always is) .. write me if I may assist you in your journey to the Cloud.

I’ll see you there.

Office 365 and PowerShell

I’ve been getting back into the weeds of Office 365 of late, building out training materials and preparing for certification. It’s been a bit on the geeky-fun side, but not all the time .. there are a lot of moving parts, and not a lot of time to debug (I do have a real job).

That said, Office 365 Wave 15 (released back in February) has added massive functionality to the web-based administration user interface, bits and pieces that make user, group, security and application administration a (relative) breeze. Of course, there are times when a UI isn’t practical:

  • Lots of Users
  • Lots of Groups
  • Lots of Security settings

.. who needs to lather, rinse, repeat (and repeat, and repeat) when dealing in volumes? Well, no one. Of course, there are several customized administrative tasks you perform that you’ll perform multiple times .. suggesting an automated methodology that befits your organization. For that, there’s PowerShell. Windows PowerShell provides:

  • “Cmdlets” for performing common tasks, including access to system-level resources, the Registry, the file system the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) interfaces (and more!).
  • Task-based scripting language support for command-line tools.
  • Common syntax and naming conventions, allowing easy flow control between cmdlets: the output from one cmdlet can be used as the input to another cmdlet.
  • An extensible interface allowing for custom tools and utilities.

While someone could devote an entire series of articles on PowerShell (or a career!), I’m focusing more on getting PowerShell to streamline Office 365 administrative tasks. The good news: there are lots of cmdlets to perform common on- and off-premises Office 365 tasks from your IT Administrator workstation, but a bit of setup is required. For starts:

  • Download and install the Office 365 Sign-in Assistant.  Select the 32- or 64-bit version for your workstation.
  • Then, you need the Office 365 cmdlets. Select the 32-bit or 64-bit version for your workstation.
  • Managing Windows Azure Active Directory for your Office 365 installation? PowerShell can help there with the Windows Azure AD PowerShell Module. The best part? The commands therein are included with the Office 365 cmdlets, above.
     
  • From there, it’s time to do some learning .. here’s where I started:

Some cool recent releases to extend, and make you more productive:

Okay .. all these thoughts captured, it’s back to work for me. Enjoy your foray into PowerShell .. please drop me a note if you see / learn something interesting, or if I may assist.

Backup / Restore Windows System Disks in Windows Azure

As we all continue to embrace the Cloud (Windows Azure, in particular) as our machine-of-choice for commodity IT operations, the requirement to capture current-state VMs becomes a day-to-day reality for IT professionals. Let’s discuss some options to consider:

    Whether a developer or an IT Guy, the Cloud is a component of your toolbox you should consider. It’s a great journey!
    I’ll see you there.

Windows Phone 8 – Nokia Lumia 920

Okay, so not feeling that cutting edge with my Windows Phone 8 – Nokia Lumia 920 atm. I swapped out my beloved Motorola Atrix 2 (which I described fully in “My Shiny New Toy” in July 2012) for this device, and found a lot of things to be rockin’ with the WP8 device .. however, I’m writing this JUST as Microsoft and Nokia are releasing the Windows Phone 8 – Nokia Lumia 1020 (41-mp camera .. wowza!).

So .. feeling a tiny bit behind the times. That said, let’s cover what I found to be cool in my WP8 / Nokia experience:

  • LOVE the text-to-voice interface .. texts are read to me and I can respond in voice.
  • LOVE the Metro Tiles. Wonderful to be able to place the applications I use the most within easy reach for one-handed operation.
  • LOVE the ability to use Lync (meeting and collaboration software) while holding meetings on the Microsoft Corporate Network .. that was reason alone for me to switch.
  • 32GB RAM .. wahoo!

Some bits I found to be not-so-hot:

  • Metro tiles: not happy they are not more customizable. I have multiple email accounts, and there is only one icon (that I found) .. which is which?
  • Text-to-voice: there doesn’t appear to be reliable ‘learning’ in the device. It doesn’t recognize / remember various bits of slang that I use.
  • Text-to-voice: the TTV interface simply ‘gives up’ if I’m in a noisy environment, even on an earbud.
  • The Bluetooth stack is oddly unreliable .. multiple earbuds will simply ‘forget’ they are connected, which forces me to the handset to complete a call. When the earbud fails, it must be power-cycled to reconnect. Further, it doesn’t accept the first attempt to PC the device (this makes me think the earbud internal system needs a reboot after connecting with WP8).
  • The lack of applications. I cannot use Schwab, Alaska Airlines, Chase, BECU and so on (YMMV).
  • The lack of functionality in WP8 applications: missing hardware components (barcode scanner, audio) in apps that are available.
  • The lack of Google Maps. In my experience, Bing Maps and Nokia “Here” are very poor substitutes.

IMHO: the WP8 platform still has a way to go. Maybe some of these things are resolved in the 1020 .. let’s dig about and see what we find.

Windows Server 2008 “Stage 3 of 3” Fixes

Lots of chatter on the web about this .. of course, who uses Windows Server 2008 when Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012 have been released?

Well, unfortunately, I do .. if only for a little while longer (famous last words, for a production server).

Anyhow, these symptoms appear from a routine update operation:

  • You order a system restart.
  • The system displays the “Configuring Windows Updates – do not unplug .. “.
  • The system goes into POST operations.

From here, all is well, until it displays the message: “Configuring Windows Updates – Stage 3 of 3 0% Complete”, from which it never recovers.

There are several unrelated causes for this, per other aggrieved users .. your mileage may vary. However, you simply cannot fix issues with the system when it’s in the “3 of 3” state, so here’s how to get back to the console to debug:

  • Try pressing Control-Alt-Delete. In about half the cases, you will get the login screen, but it can take a few minutes to appear. If you can, log on and check your system logs for evidence of the hang (LSASS.EXE deadlock is a likely culprit .. try fixing that first).
  • If you cannot get into the system gracefully, hold down the power button until the system switches off. Restart the machine in normal mode.
  • If the system hangs at the “3 of 3” state, hold down the power button again until the system switches off. Restart the system in safe mode with networking.
  • Once restarted in safe mode, the system will likely show the “3 of 3” state, but this time, should get to 100%.
  • Navigate to C:\WINDOWS\WINSXS and look for a file called “pending.xml”. If you find it, delete it and restart the system in normal mode.

From here, you’re troubleshooting .. I like the deadlock reference above for starts. This condition was fixed in the hotfix referenced by KB2379016: “A computer that is running Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 stops responding and hangs at the "Applying User Settings" stage of the logon process”, I’d give that a try first.

Active Directory in Windows Azure ..

.. verry interesting.

It’s more than a Laugh-In reference, however. The Windows Azure Identity folks have built out an amazing way to federate identity across multiple platforms and locations, hybrid and cloud .. essentially arriving at confirming the proper person has arrived at the doorstep, requesting services. How would you like to:

    .. if these fit your use cases, please reach out. I’ll connect you to the proper folks.
    It’s a great journey to the Cloud!
    I’ll see you there.

Windows Azure SQL Database Premium Preview

As of today, Microsoft is offering access to a limited preview of the new Windows Azure SQL Database Premium service. As opposed to non-Premium, the new offering provides reserved instances for databases requiring higher performance capacity and predictable performance.

To sign up:

  • Visit the Preview Page and click the ‘Try it Now’ button.
  • When approved, visit the Windows Azure portal and request a Premium Database Quota assigned to your Cloud Services.

For the Preview, customers will be limited to one database per logical server, priced at 50% of the eventual GA pricing. Please see the Windows Azure SQL Database Premium page for more details and availability updates.

Windows Azure GA Update: Web Sites, SSL and Mobile Services

Wahoo .. Windows Azure Web Sites Standard Tier (Reserved are already in GA) are now released to General Availability, along with SSL support .. a big boon for folks seeking to deploy scalable, highly-available commerce-enabled web sites. If you’re ready to get started, sign up for a trial and check out:

Windows Azure Mobile Services are good to go in GA as well, sporting a high-availability SLA for services running in Standard and Premium tiers. Mobile Services makes it fast and easy to create a mobile backends for a number of devices, simplifying authentication and push paradigms .. why reinvent the wheel? Besides the services aspects, a number of native SDKs for devices and Windows Store are available today.Here are a few links to get you started:

For some of the latest bits, please navigate to the Build 2013 site held in June 2013 .. the session content is online and as fresh as it gets, speeding your way into the Cloud!

I’ll see you there.

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