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.

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 Remote Desktop Services

Great news for the Virtual Desktop Interface (VDI) types out there: as of July 1, Microsoft now allows Remote Desktop Services (formerly called Terminal Services) licenses in Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Prior to this licensing update, you were only allowed to connect to the console of your VM for administrative purposes, and only up to two users at a time. With this new licensing modification, customers can now connect as many users as they have system capacity, and of course, licenses.

For complete details about licensing, please see:

The short version:

  • RDS Client Access Licenses (CALs) that are part of a a VL agreement are NOT eligible for license mobility rights, per the FAQ.
  • Windows Client desktops (Windows 7 or Windows 8) are also not allowed in Windows Azure, or any other Service Provider (Amazon, Rackspace, etc.) as multi-tenant hosting is not covered by PUR.
  • To increase users beyond the two administrative sessions you need to purchase RDS Subscriber Access Licenses (SALs) through the Microsoft Services Provider Licensing Agreement (SPLA) for each concurrent user accessing the VM. SPLA licenses are obtained through SPLA Resellers.

Common use cases include:

  • Partner-Hosted Microsoft Office: running a VM with Microsoft Office installed.
  • Thick-client application hosting (common RDP scenarios for complex, client-side applications).
  • Demo, test and legacy environments.

This is a major benefit to cost- and maintenance-conscious IT professionals, and yet another reason to get 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.

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