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Posts Tagged ‘Windows Azure

It is not a secret to anyone that you can add almost anything to Azure.

Virtual Machines are a new addition to the services provided by Windows Azure. VMs allow much easier and more flexible to transfer the local infrastructure in the cloud, or to create new software solutions that are critical persistent storage. Creating VMs in Windows Azure is easy and flexible because Windows Azure provides three different ways of provisioning one.

VMs in Windows Azure can be used by almost all types of applications that could be used in the local infrastructure: business applications, CRM, Active Directory, custom applications, allowing to combine local and cloud infrastructure, creating a hybrid solution.

The difference between VM and VM-role

After the demonstration of the new service there has arisen a question – how does it differ from what we’ve seen before, namely VM-role in Cloud Services role model?

Let’s imagine a situation: you downloaded several virtual machines and with one of the virtual machines something happened (let’s say, a hardware failure). Everything that was at the machine had been lost- all unique data stored on disk and in memory etc. The reason was that Windows Azure launched a new virtual machine in response to an error. It was like it is normal for a simple application, but then turned into a big problem – considering the impermanent repository you had to redesign your application in such a way as to take into account this feature.

So the differences are:

1) Type of the storage. Earlier the VM-role – a service with a virtual machine, it had no permanent storage – so with a hardware error you lost all the data from that machine. It is a bit different with virtual machines – now you can add the persistent storage in the form of a disk with data. In addition, the disk of your virtual machine is constantly replicated in three replicas.

2) Deployment types. You had to create your VHD locally and upload to the cloud, then you could use it. With the new service, you can create, upload a VHD and use it and any other available in the gallery of images as well.

3) Setting up the network. The settings for the VM-role had to do in the service model, while the new service of VMs, you can configure on Window Azure Management Portal, and even automate them using Powershell or scripting.

Benefits of using VMs in Windows Azure

- Runway to the cloud for existing applications – A virtual machine in Windows Azure stores operating system data. You can also attach a data disk to a virtual machine for storing application data. These features enable you to easily migrate your applications to Windows Azure as-is, without requiring any changes to the existing code.

- Storage of operating system data – Changes that you make to the configuration of the operating system are preserved in Windows Azure Storage for high durability of data.

- Single instance availability – In Windows Azure, operating system data for a virtual machine is stored for you, which means that customization of the virtual machine only applies to one running instance.

- Full control of the operating system – As an administrator, you can remotely access the virtual machine to perform maintenance and troubleshooting tasks

The ways of creating VMs

- Creating a VM from an image. Creating the virtual machine directly in the cloud using a number of images provided by Microsoft or partners. This is by far the easiest route to take to quickly spin up a new virtual machine.

- Creating from a Custom Image. Building your own custom images and provisioning virtual machines from the resulting image. This involves creating a new VM using a platform image, customize it with your own software and settings, and then generalize it using sysprep within Windows or waagent -deprovision+user on Linux. Once the VM is generalized and shut down you can then use the capture functionality to save the VM as a custom image.

- Bring your own VHD. Existing virtual machines in VHD format. This method also uses the csupload.exe utility. You can upload a generalized image or a non-generalized VHD. The generalized image can be used to provision new VMs in the cloud as a template and the non-generalized VHD can be used as an OS disk to boot from or just a data disk to mount as a data drive.

The process you choose for each of these creation methods is up to you. Windows Azure provides capabilities from a point and click web interface to full automation with PowerShell in addition to a REST based Service Management API.

As was mentioned at the beginning you could add almost anything to Azure. Now virtual machines store
fortune, just take an image of the disc and go into battle J

Elvira Golyak

Elvira Golyak
Elvira.Golyak@altabel.com
Skype ID: elviragolyak
Business Development Manager (LI page)
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Not long ago I had to answer one very hard question, at least to try finding the answer:-):What is better Windows Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) for cloud computing? Why can no other providers fit the bill? – may you ask, the thing is that most of them can’t provide the price points or size that Amazon or Azure can provide. In general , building up the operational capability to provide a service like AWS or Azure is a difficult proposition. Both AWS and Azure provide multiple locations and pay-by-the-hour capability. That’s actually really hard to do without massive capital behind it.

As it`s a long live debate(I mean Amazon vs Azure) it was really hard to find the answer. I`ve consulted with our technical specialists, googled this problem, asked Linkedin and Xing members to share their opinions on this question conducted some polls, etc. As you could imagine, there was no definite answer and a cure-all pill and the opinions differed.

Both AWS and Windows Azure are quite young: AWS “was born ” in 2006 and WA in 2008 however there services are used by the world-known corporations as NASA, Ericsson, Boeing, Xerox, etc and they both are considered to be the leaders of the today`s cloud sphere. The two platforms are very alike and have quite the same characteristics.

Among the two gorillas in the cloud space, some developers prefer Amazon, others think Azure is the best, but often the details are sparse as to why one option is better than the other. Among the reasons for choosing AWS/Azure, and not choosing the other they name cost, available resources, development tools and ecosystem.

Also to a great extent language support matters. AWS is platform agnostic while Azure is windows based. Getting stuck in a single framework like .NET where there is only one “provider” for .NET tools can be a huge hindrance in any future decisions you make as a company.

Microsoft (and Azure as default) seems to be all about lock-in. Lock-in on the operating system, lock-in on the language platform, as well as lock-in on the Azure services. Also, many companies do have to solve big compute problems that Java, unlike .NET, is well positioned for. While many larger companies don’t have to be as concerned with lock-in — this is a very scary thought for most start-ups that need a clearer longer-term cost structure.

Mostly the real choice is between IaaS and PaaS. Azure = PaaS and AWS is special in that it provides both IaaS and PaaS. One of the advantages of the AWS is that from AWS you can get the platform capabilities and the freedom to easily deploy brand new technologies before they become part of the platform. So people need to decide what is more important for them and how important cutting-edge is.

And what do you prefer personally: Amazon Web Services or Windows Azure? Feel free to share your opinions and considerations.

Best regards,
Anna Kozik
Business Development Manager
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Microsoft has officially rolled out Windows Server 2012, the server partner to the Windows 8 operating system it is launching on 6 October alongside the eagerly anticipated Surface tablet.

Unveiling the new offering on the 4th of September, Satya Nadella, president of Redmond’s Servers and Tools Business, has dubbed the new-gen system as the first “cloud OS.” In his keynote speech, Nadella described how Windows Server 2012 is a cornerstone of the Cloud OS, which provides one consistent platform across private, hosted and public clouds.

Windows Server 2012 is seen as a central part of Microsoft’s new enterprise ecosystem, which also features Windows Azure and System Center 2012 for customers to manage and deliver applications and services across private, hosted and public clouds.

The Microsoft Cloud OS provides enterprises with a highly elastic and scalable infrastructure with always-on, always-up services. Automated management, robust multitenant support, and self-service provisioning help enterprises transform their datacenters to support the coordination and management of pooled sets of shared resources at the datacenter level, replacing fragmented management of individual server nodes.

The new operating system provides a comprehensive set of capabilities across the enterprise private cloud datacenter, and public cloud datacenters.

• Agile Development Platform: The Microsoft Cloud OS allows enterprises to build applications they need using the tools they know, including Microsoft Visual Studio and .NET, or open-source technologies and languages, such as REST, JSON, PHP, and Java.

• Unified DevOps and Management: The Microsoft Cloud OS supports unified DevOps and unified application life-cycle management with common application frameworks across development and operations. With Microsoft System Center integration with development environments such as Visual Studio, enterprises can achieve quick time-to-solution and easy application troubleshooting and management.

• Common Identity: The Microsoft Cloud OS implements Active Directory as a powerful asset across environments to help enterprises extend to the cloud with Internet scale security using a single identity and to securely extend applications and data to devices.

• Integrated Virtualization: To help enterprises achieve the modern datacenter, the Microsoft Cloud OS includes an infrastructure which provides a generational leap in agility, leveraging virtualization to deliver a highly scalable and elastic infrastructure with always-on, always-up services across shared resources and supporting cloud service delivery models with more automated management and self-service provisioning. With Windows Server 2012, the Microsoft Cloud OS is engineered for the cloud from the metal up with virtualization built as an integrated element of the operating system, not layered onto the operating system.

• Complete Data Platform: The Microsoft Cloud OS fully supports large volumes of diverse data, advanced analytics, and enterprise BI life-cycle management, with a comprehensive set of technologies to manage petabytes of data in the cloud, to millions of transactions for the most mission-critical applications, to billions of rows of data in the hands of end users for predictive and ad-hoc analytics.

At the core of the Microsoft Cloud OS is Windows Server 2012. The software supports 320 logical processors and 4TB of physical memory per server, with 64 virtual processors per virtual machine. Virtual disks can scale up to 64TB apiece, according to the firm, or 32 times what it said the competition can offer at the moment, adding that Server 2012 is capable of virtualising 99 per cent of all SQL databases.

New features of Windows Server 2012 include a refreshed version of Hyper-V, including expanded network visualization capabilities to run multiple configurations on the same LAN. Also debuting is a new Resilient File System (ReFS), which improves reliability.

Appearance wise, Windows Server 2012 is built in the Modern UI-style, featuring a tile-based interface like that of Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Microsoft officials say that launch of Windows Server 2012 is perhaps the biggest release of their server products in history, bigger than NT. They also believe that Windows Server 2012 ushers in the era of the cloud operating system.

Do you believe the release of Windows Server 2012 is a breakthrough in the server industry? And do you think Microsoft Cloud OS will be the winner in the competition among emerging Cloud operating systems?

Thanks for sharing your opinion :)

Kind regards,
Aliona Kavalevich
Altabel Group – Professional software development

Cloud computing is not a buzzword, it has become reality for many companies from SMEs to large organizations: as analyst Quocirca reports in their Cloud findings this year: a substantial minority out of 900 business respondents see cloud computing either as a “passing fad” (8%) or as something that had “no place in the future of my organization’s plans” (11%).

The benefits of cloud computing have been discussed back and forth:
-With cloud services you gain mobility and real-time visibility of your metrics. Without the need for servers, hardware and software installation, data can be accessed from any location that has a Web browser and an Internet connection.
-Cloud-based business applications can be thoroughly and easily integrated with existing programs, such as Microsoft Outlook or Excel or Lotus Notes, and mobile devices like BlackBerrys, iPhones or other smartphones.
– For middle-size and large companies with a tree of various depts and units cloud services mean streamlined functionality across all departments and facilitation of interdepartmental communication.
– Small firms and start-ups couldn’t afford some services and software so far. With cloud services they can now get use and advantage of them as this costs less, the cost is fixed and predictable. Most cloud computing applications are pay as you go, and it can be purchased only necessary part of the cloud services package for a certain even short period of time.
– Cloud computing resources can be scaled up or down as required along with the organization’s size fluctuation or coping with the company’s occasional peaks in demand.
– By using of computing resources delivered over the internet, the business is able to save money, replacing hefty capex with predictable opex.
– Burden of day-to-day IT administering responsibilities is taken off the shoulders of the business in case of using public cloud services.

The good thing about cloud is that almost each company or organization can find the right one for themselves. To figure out what form of cloud suits the business you should start with an analysis of the existing state-of-play and an assessment of your future needs. Also what works for a particular organization will depend on the characteristics of that organization: how large it is, which vertical sector it’s in, what investment it’s already made in infrastructure and how complex its IT needs are. This initial piece of analytic job will be valuable by itself since it paves the way for a strategic approach to cloud resulting in long-term cost savings and greater agility.
For larger organizations who would like to develop a cloud strategy, the picture is more complicated. As statistics of 2011 shows 45% were already using cloud for sourcing some IT services, principally for cloud’s “speed of provisioning, flexible capacity and demand management benefits.” So they have already invested heavily in infrastructure, and the scale benefits will not be as easy to realize as for a smaller organization.

Basically there are several attractive options of moving to the cloud:
1/ a move to the public cloud, which provides economies of scale and a move from a capex to an opex payment model;
2/ development of a private cloud, which enables to save money by rationalizing infrastructure and providing services on a hosted basis;
3/ a hybrid model, in which the private cloud is used as the basic method of delivering applications and services, but mixed with functions and services from the public cloud, where it makes sense to do so (for example, if that function would be expensive or complicated to provision internally.)
4/for public sector organizations, it may be also collaboration with other organizations to adopt shared services. In UK the example of this model can be the emerging G-cloud.

Naturally all the models can co-exist within the same company or organization.

Public cloud is a standard cloud model in which a business hires its computing resources from a large provider such as Amazon.
As an alternative, private cloud may be adopted, run either in-house or by a third party. Although private clouds lack the scale benefits of a public cloud, they do provide organizations with greater control over their data. Private clouds also provide an opportunity for organizations to take a good look at their current software use and to take steps to manage it more effectively. “In some cases there’s a degree of transformation that needs to take place, and quite often investment in private cloud is the instigator for that transformation that needs to take place,” Ovum analyst says. “Very many organizations need to rationalize their applications footprint before since they are simply supporting too many applications, too many versions, too many releases, across the organization.”
In reality it need not be an either/or choice between public and private cloud. Some experts believe that a hybrid cloud model combining private and public clouds will be an increasingly popular and workable model in future.
There exist even more diverse choice for public sector organizations. One is shared services, in which different public sector organizations pool their IT resources to deliver back office functionality. Several shared services initiatives are already underway. There are currently about 200 shared services projects in operation in local UK government, for instance. One of them is NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), a joint venture between the Department of Health and Steria, that offers back office services such as finance & accounting and payroll & HR to NHS trusts.
Again in UK, the really big initiative in the public sector is the government’s £4.9m G-cloud program, which it expects to save £120m between 2014 and 2015. The G-cloud is a private, government-controlled cloud that will offer four categories of IT service (infrastructure, software, platform and specialist service) to central government departments, local authorities and other public sector organizations. Currently each government department has its own set of IT systems performing similar functions, so there is needless duplication of functionality and therefore it makes sense to develop or purchase a single application that can be scaled across multiple councils than for each council to buy its own application.

And what about your company – is cloud computing already your choice of the day? Then which cloud model do you get use of?

Interested to hear your thoughts :)

Thanks in advance,
Helen Boyarchuk
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

It is doubtless that both SharePoint and Windows Azure can each work well on their own, but when put together, the doors open for developers to extend the features of SharePoint by leveraging the infrastructure that is the Cloud.

So let’s have a look at the advantages of using these two technologies together and new opportunities for expansion.

Storage
SharePoint document libraries can store files. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should store all of your files, or every type of file. For example, a document library is not an ideal home for big video files. Such files are better suited for a hard drive or a file system. Further, the premise of document libraries in SharePoint is to share and as a result, the more users there are using SharePoint, the more they are sharing, and subsequently, the more files accumulate.

The more files that accumulate the more room they take up. Whether it is because of an accumulation of files or because files are large, you encounter a need to be able to store data on an infrastructure that can keep up with your growing data needs and shrink when files are removed. This need is easily serviced by Windows Azure’s Storage Services, specifically Blob Storage. Rather than using SharePoint to store files, Blob Storage can do the job, expanding and shrinking as your demand requires. Blob Storage is also ensuring that your files are stored secured and are replicated to another datacentre in the unlikely event of a datacentre disaster.

Large Data Sets
You can store and work with data in SharePoint using lists. But the more complex the data becomes, the more inefficient lists become as storage mechanisms and the more difficult it becomes to work with the data. With Windows Azure in the mix, you can outsource your data needs to Azure, specifically SQL Azure.

From a storage mechanism perspective, using SQL Azure gives you the power of SQL Server with the elasticity needed to keep databases growing with data and prevent performance degradation of your SharePoint cluster. From an ease of use perspective, using SQL Azure also allows you to work with the data as you would with SQL Server, no longer needing complicated code and interactions with SharePoint’s APIs to get at and work with the complex data. Once the data is in SQL Azure, you can connect it to your SharePoint solution either through direct calls to the SQL Azure database, or through a web service hosted in a Windows Azure Web Role connected to SharePoint via BCS.

Code Execution
Chances are your SharePoint environment is locked down pretty well in order for your IT folks to keep the environment highly performant, scalable, and secure. But being locked down can also limit the type of solutions you can build for SharePoint. Let’s say you wanted to build a solution that uses SharePoint as a front end, but then takes the actions and data from the user and goes off to do something else, or perhaps feed the information into different systems. That code needs to run somewhere. A natural inclination would be to have SharePoint run the code within a solution. However, if you’re environment is locked down, and let’s say you’re only able to deploy Sandboxed solutions, you’ll be constrained as to what you will be able to do.

Working with Windows Azure as a backend system also allows you to work with the restrictions imposed by sandboxed environments. To do so, you outsource the “work”, your code that does stuff, to a web or worker role in Windows Azure, have those instances run the code for you, and then expose the result via web services that can then be read back into SharePoint or SharePoint Online. Keep in mind that this can be two-way. By using SharePoint or SharePoint Online’s web services or client-side object model, you can reach into SharePoint to return or save data.

Integrating with SharePoint Online
There’s also a great story of SharePoint Online and Windows Azure working together to enable working with internal systems and/or protecting sensitive data that you don’t feel comfortable storing in SharePoint Online (but do feel comfortable having it in your own data centers). A hybrid solution is in order here. Have SharePoint Online as your front end. It will then talk to a Windows Azure service that will then communicate with your internal and securely transfer the result/information back to SharePoint Online.

Reach
When you see the cloud as a place to deploy applications, your reach naturally widens. For example, deploying your services and applications in Windows Azure, they are available to many SharePoint clients. By leveraging the Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket or deploying your own custom WCF services or ASP.NET applications, you not only are able to better monetize on optimization, but the opportunity to take advantage of your Windows Azure applications and services can be extended to your customers as well. This is a tremendous opportunity for you because it means you can write once, sell many times, and let Windows Azure worry about scale.

Reusability
The cloud is about reusing your existing skills and your existing code; it’s not all about reinvention and multiple code bases. With .NET, you are able to reuse already-built .NET applications in the cloud, or reuse your existing skills to build new ones. Further, the cloud provides the opportunity for service layers that enable cross-device (e.g. phone, web and PC) connectivity and cross-platform integration.

As you can see there’s a natural fit between the two technologies to fill in gaps and make better solutions possible.

Read more here.

Kind regards,
Aliona Kavalevich
Altabel Group – professional software development

Cloud technologies seem to be a modern trend-they are talked over at all the conferences, that are by some means connected with the Internet, are discussed in business press and on TV. It looks like another modern technological gimmick for Twitter, Facebook, various CRM and ERP systems, eAccountancy etc. Meanwhile, does cloud usage bring any benefit to business sites that do not provide hi-tech services?

In this article I will try to determine the benefits from using the cloud for the most popular business in the Internet – eCommerce. We will try to understand, if there is sense for a webstore owner to consider the possibility of transfer into the cloud.

In a classical data center there is possible such a situation, when there are no sufficient resources, which means the project loses the users who were not able to get access to it. It entails losing profit as well. On the other hand, when the load decreases, vacant resources stand idle, thus expenses for infrastructure support turn out to be wasted.

Let’s calculate lost profit for a hypothetic web-store. On the condition of having 10 customers per hour and average basket cost 100 dollars, one hour of down time will cost 1000 dollars. I’m not even talking about reputational risks – a consumer, who went to the rival during the down time, may never be back again. He also may lure his friends and acquaintances to another site.

Windows Azure allows developers to realize automatic addition and cutting off the resources, if necessary, through the special mechanism of resources management. It goes without saying that the owner of the site can add and cut off the resources manually using special portal of Windows Azure management.

Fatal failure, leading to the loss of all data or even a part of them, can entail eBusiness burst-up. Thus, reliability turns out to be even more important than lost profit from possible down times. In the cloud data duplicate automatically and store on different physical resources to secure the site owner from possible losses. Moreover, clouds allow storing the data even on geographically spaced sites. For example, Windows Azure automatically stores up to three data copies, at the same time it allows distributing data in Europe, America or Asia. It secures the data from serious failures.

When is it worth using the cloud?
1. Periodical load
In case the load happens at some definite time (working/off-hours), or definite days of the week (work days/ weekends), a site always faces the situation of resources idleness, when there are no load peaks. Consequently, it leads to extra expenses on unusable infrastructure.
2. Peaking load
Seasonal sales, holidays, promo actions lead to peaking site loads. Such loads are difficult to be predicted, while losses from possible down times or site irresponsiveness may be really huge.
3. Constant load growth
In case of constant load growth it is necessary to add resources. At the same time if load growth can not be precisely predicted, a site often lacks resources (site down time, failures), or there emerge lots of unusable resources (wasted expenses)

Cloud cost
For the most part of simple sites the cloud turns out to be more expensive than a usual hosting. At the same time cloud cost is explained by reliability of storing data, failures security, possibilityof elastic expansion and decrease of usable resources. Actual expenses depend on the site itself, its load characteristics, and can be calculated with the help of TCO Calculator.

Despite being more expensive, cloud hosting turns out to be more reasonable for most web shops, where constant availability and high quality service are really important.

Has anyone already transferred his/her site to the cloud? Please, share your experience and impressions, it would be really interesting to learn!

Thank you,

Nadya Klim

Nadya Klim
Nadya.Klim@altabel.com
Business Development Manager
Altabel Group – Professional Software Development

Microsoft started using an open development style with the Windows Azure SDK last year. It’s worked and worked well, so now they’re expanding the style to include some of the popular frameworks like ASP.NET.

At first Microsoft made the source code for ASP.NET MVC available under an open-source license. Now, the company has open-sourced another hearty chunk of its ASP.NET technology to the delight of some open-source players.

While the source for ASP.NET MVC has had source available since its inception, and converted to the MS-PL license in April of 2009, the developers didn’t take contributions from the community. While Microsoft was open source it was not “open source with takebacks.” Now ASP.NET MVC, Web API, Web Pages take contributions from the community.

Microsoft is open sourcing more of its ASP.NET programming-framework technologies and it allows developers outside of Microsoft to submit patches and code contributions for potential inclusion in these products. ASP.NET MVC 4, ASP.NET Web API and ASP.NET Web Pages v2 also known as Razor now all open source with contributions under the Apache 2.0 license. You can find the source on CodePlex.

Over the last four years at Microsoft developers have worked closely with the community to get feedback and voices heard by the developers. The goal of open-sourcing these technologies is to increase the feedback loop on the products even more and allow to deliver even better products. For instance, when having found a bug you can send a unit test of fix. If coverage seems not to be sufficient a developer can send a test unit. If community developers come up with a feature, they can get involved more deeply and help write it.

Like every large open source project, every check-in (open source or otherwise) are evaluated against the existing standards used by the developers. Even better, community managers get to see Microsoft developers’ checkins to the product out in the open.

Still it’s really important to remember that ASP.NET MVC, Razor, and Web API are fully supported Microsoft products and will still be staffed by the same developers that are building them today. The products will be backed by the same Microsoft support policy and will continue to ship with Visual Studio. Also, to be clear, Microsoft is maintaining the same level of development resources as always and actually, there are more Microsoft developers working on ASP.NET today than ever before.

Quite often the question about ASP.NET Web Forms arises, as it is not open sourced. The thing is the components that are being open sourced at this time are all components that are shipped independently of the core .NET framework, which means no OS components take dependencies on them. Web Forms is a part of System.Web.dll which parts of the Windows Server platform take a dependency on. Because of this dependency this code can’t easily be replaced with newer versions expect when updates to the .NET framework or the OS ships.

So Microsoft has reached the final stage in embracing open source—not only by opening up the code, but also by taking contributions. Do you think moving to an open development model, will make Microsoft products stronger?

Kind regards,
Aliona Kavalevich
Altabel Group – professional software development


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