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.

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.

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.

Windows Azure at WPC

Finally taking a break, triple-tall-vanilla-soy-latte in hand and electrons flowing into my laptop. Windows Azure news from the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2013 in Houston:

  • The Windows Azure SQL Database will boast a premium offering shortly. As a shared database-as-a-service platform component, tenants can suffer from ‘noisy neighbors’, where other customers’ activities can impact your database performance. The premium offering will help manage this by assuring higher bandwidth and dedicated CPU capacity.
  • Windows Azure Active Directory integration will improve over time as well. Microsoft is working with several third-party SaaS vendors to integrate identify services with AD.
  • Limited previews of these updates will be made available in the coming weeks.

Autoscaling in Windows Azure

In better than 1/3 of my customer contacts, the term ‘autoscale’ comes up. This term (loosely defined) relates to increasing computing capacity to load levels (in non-fancy talk, it means you have enough servers to make sure you don’t tip over when too many users visit / interact with your site).

Companies are keen to ensure that they can take full advantage of the elastic aspects of the cloud: the ability to deploy more resources when they are needed, and take them down when they are not.

Some examples, you ask? There are more than a few application scenarios / patterns that present themselves. If your application fits any of these types of patterns:

    • On / Off application patterns: if you only need a system at definable intervals (payroll, training, accounting systems, and so on) .. the per-minute usage charges of Windows Azure go a long way toward cost savings and usage optimization.
    • Predictable burst activity pattern: maybe your site serves users around identifiable dates (Valentines’ day, Mothers’ day, the silly season, and so on). The elastic nature of Windows Azure Cloud Services enables you to supply additional capacity to manage your customer load requirements.
    • Unpredictable growth pattern: it is expensive and time-consuming to deploy server capacity before it is actually needed .. something startup companies deal with every day. PAYG and elasticity can help small companies grow on their own time, using current cash flow to support their capacity requirements.

Using an autoscaling scenario may meet your needs, optimizing usage / capacity considerations while balancing these against the ultimate cost. A few considerations:

  • Are you short on time and implementation skills, requiring an immediate and managed solution?
  • Do you have an experienced (or willing to learn .. my favorite) development / implementation staff?
  • Do you want something easy, inexpensive and unmanaged?

Depending on your scenario and competency:

    • If short on time and / or lacking implementation as a core competency, companies like RightScale offer managed (read: for a price) solutions to monitor and manage your capacity based on rules that you set. You can try RightScale at for free, but be mindful of ongoing costs and balance them against operational efficiencies.
    • If you have a bit more time and an able development staff, the Autoscaling Application Block is a component you can add to your code that will give you greater control over when and how your capacity will be increased. Ready to get started? Please check out How to use the Autoscaling Application Block from MSDN. Ready for a ‘geekend’? Here’s the Autoscaling Namespace.
    • For easy and unmanaged (well .. managed, but by you .. but not in real time), we’ve recently announced portal-controlled autoscaling options in preview. These features are available in the Windows Azure Portal for your cloud services.

On the third point above, Scott Guthrie posted an update to the platform from the Microsoft Build conference regarding GA for paid websites and mobile services AND autoscale support .. complete with screenshots (check out the “How to enable autoscale section”.

In short (too late!) options abound; at least one to meet the the technical requirements of your project, or the technical skills (and time allotted) to your dev team. Here we are: yet another way to improve and optimize our experiences in the Cloud!

I’ll see you there.

It Just Works: Excel 2010 to SSAS

It’s been a while since I posted a geeky article .. so, it’s well over time.

I have the pleasure of working with a talented data warehouse architect on my current project, and the need to connect Excel 2010 to SSAS became a reality this past week. The instructions to do so are easy enough:

  • Navigate to the Excel 2010 Data tab.
  • Click the ‘From Other Sources’ from the ‘Get External Data’ section of the ribbon.
  • Select ‘From Analysis Services’; you’re presented with a ‘server name’ and ‘credentials’ dialog. We are using a Windows Azure Virtual Machine for this project, so you may have to create an endpoint that maps to a obfuscated port number (write me for details). Fill out these fields, adding “: port number” after the server name and your local login information (ensure your local login information represents a local account with an SSAS role on the system).
  • Click “Next”, and here’s where it gets dodgy:

  • You should be presented with a “Select Database and Table” dialog box. Select the cube you want to use and click “Next”.
  • In the “Save Data Connection File” dialog, click “Authentication Settings”, and then “None”. Trust me on this: you won’t see all the screens you need unless you have the system force you to enter login information in another step.
  • Click “Finish”; you may be prompted to save the .odc file, replacing the old one (I did this many, many times).
  • You will then see the “Import Data” dialog, which lets you place the PivotTable in your current worksheet. Select the location and click “OK”.
  • Now the fun starts:

  • You may get an error dialog: “An error occurred in the transport layer”. Click “OK”. Because you selected “None” in the previous step, you’ll be presented with a new dialog, the “Multidimensional Connection”.
  • In the “Multidimensional Connection” dialog, select “Analysis Server”; you will see the server you identified earlier.
  • Your User ID should come over too .. enter your system password and click “Next”.
  • Select your database in the next screen and click “Finish”.
  • Your .odc file should now be set up properly; save your Excel sheet and re-open, you may see the “transport layer” error again, but after this, you’ll be prompted to re-enter your system password.

    Ideally, you should be able to cache this login information .. I’m looking into that and will update the post.

Geographic Replication in Windows Azure

Windows Azure had some downtime this past February 29th. Let’s get the news out of the way:

Then, the facts from the Windows Azure Blog:

    I did some tinkering on a few late-nights this past week, recognizing that a reliable solution that does not include dedicated hardware (who wants to buy hardware that you might never need?) would be to locate a customer site in a site that is geographically distant from another. While this is not perfect (there are always risks):
  • Some higher-level controller goes out (in the case of Azure, this could be authentication in the Fabric Controller).
  • Risk of CNAME or DNS update delays.
  • Physical connection to a data center or region.
    What to do, what to do?
    Enter the Windows Azure Traffic Manager. Way back when (in fact, I administered a test with this question): load-balancing in Windows Azure was completely automatic. With the Windows Azure Traffic Manager, you have control over how traffic is routed to your virtual machines:
  • Performance
  • Round Robin
  • Failover

The Windows Azure Traffic Manager allows you to manage traffic between multiple instances of Web Roles for scalability and uptime, based on the criteria above. Further, you can create routing policies to manage geo-routing of incoming user requests so they go to an instance closest to the user. You can set these two policies to enable geographical failover in short order.

  • The first thing you need is a deployed hosted service. Please see the deployment lab in the WATK for details on how to set this up. Select as the primary geographical datacenter the one that suits your needs.
  • Then, you need multiple instances of your roles .. note that you need this to ensure you receive the uptime SLAs anyway. You can deploy this in your Service Configuration when you deploy your project, or in the Windows Azure Portal at runtime.
  • With your application deployed in one data center, repeat the steps above by setting up a hosted instance in a different data center and deploying your code to it. Note that these will have different URL prefixes; but don’t let that bug you.

Verify your deployments in the Windows Azure Portal. You should see both deployments in different data centers. Then:

  • Run the Windows Azure Traffic Manager from the Windows Azure Portal.
  • Create a Traffic Manager Policy, selecting your subscription and the ‘Performance’ option under Load Balancing.
    • Select the two internal DNS names for your disparate services.

With this, your solution is complete. The Traffic Manager will talk with the Fabric Controller, and when performance or access is degraded on one set of instances, it will redirect traffic to the other instances. This should increase your stability in the Cloud!

I’ll see you there.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 727 other followers

%d bloggers like this: