Simon May

Client and cloud

September, 2010

  • Twitter.com is an IE9 Web Application and so is Facebook (#IE9)

    facebook IE9 icontwitter as a web app in IE9

    It seems the good folks @twitter have jumped out of the starting blocks and enhanced twitter.com to take advantage of the pinning technology in IE9.  As a twitter addict (@simonster on there) I love this, genius.

    They aren’t the only ones Facebook have done something similar.  Be interesting to see if anyone else takes advantage of this functionality and more.

    This is what it looks like when you take advantage of the technology. In a few lines of simple code they just turned twitter.com into an app.

    Go to beautyoftheweb.com for more or watch my series of one minute videos on Internet Explorer 9 Beta

  • DNSSEC explained beautifully by Mark Minasi

    DNS security and the way to spoof and poison DNS is a pretty complicated area.  Luckily we have DNSSEC which can help to resolve the issues quite simply.  It’s an area that I needed to understand a bit more about and as I happened to be doing so I found this video with Mark Minasi.  Oh and yes, it’s another reason to move to Windows 7, as XP and Vista don’t support all the DNSSEC flags.  He’s got some other great background on why you should choose to go 64bit over 32 in your Windows 7 deployment.

    Mark Minasi at TechEd North America | Media | TechNet Edge

  • A Steady State for PCs that don’t change

    There are times when you don’t want things to change, things are setup just so and those pesky users keep changing things.  It could be when you need kiosk machines, say at en event or in an internet cafe or in a school classroom or lab.  In XP and Vista we had a tool called Steady Sate that made it easy to revert changes to before the users had used the PC.  Windows 7 doesn’t include this so we’ve created guidance to help use the tools at your disposal to provide a steady state, that’s group policy and other free tools.

    I’m not going to go through the white paper in depth but Stephen L Rose, who’s going to be in Reading November 1st for the Springboard tour, has the low down.  Check out his post for details but if you want the whitepaper immediately it’s here.

  • How we (Microsoft) are using Azure for internal apps

    One of things I love about working for Microsoft is that we use our own stuff, we really trust, we really deploy it, we really use it.  Not all our competitors do, you can tell because they don’t talk about it, they don’t run their own massive data centres for example.  We do and it gives us experience.  MSIT – our IT department, yes we do have an IT department too, has built and deployed SXP or Social eXperience Platform) on the Windows Azure platform – and more stuff is going that way too.

    image

    So what is SXP and what makes it special?  Well SXP runs on this site our video showcase and it is essentially a platform that allows us to manage and understand the social aspects of our content.  That content can be web pages, videos (as in the video show case site), blog posts, new stories, press releases…anything.  Essentially you could say it adds social context to anything and allows us to understand that context.  It’s a back end tool, it’s not doing the content hosting.

    The platform is built on Azure (one web server role running on 3 medium instances) and storage is taken care of by SQL Azure with each subside of Microsoft.com having it’s own database allowing customisation and isolation of problems, should there be one.  The user interfaces are delivered with Silverlight.

    There are some cool management things too, SCOM integration being handled by some custom code right now but the RC of the Azure Management pack is being run in parallel and that’s going to be something every IT Pro who’s managing Azure will love.  There’s also an interesting tool called “Keynote” running that checks that the web service is available from different points all over the globe and the tool the user facing tool for managing the workflow has been created in Silverlight and uses AD FS (Active Directory Federation Services) for authentication – meaning that once you’re signed into your desktop you’re signed into the app.

    This is obviously not new functionality to us, commenting and rating of videos has been with us for some time but the 3rd party solutions we had in place don’t seem to have been the most manageable.  On that point we get quite a lot of comment spam that has to be filtered away.  The service has been live for about 120 days now and MSIT tell us that they’ve saved about $14k PER MONTH! in management costs, upped availability by 8 fold and made provisioning a staggering 240 times faster!  That’s Azure for you.

    The team learnt some excellent lessons, which they’ve published here along with more detail on the above, but the lessons are really important and I want to call them out:

      • Pick the right application. The primary key to success in developing for Windows Azure is to pick the right application. Windows Azure is great for building a Web application or a compute-intensive application, but it is not yet a general-purpose application development platform. The SXP team started with a lower-risk customer-facing project to validate that everything worked as planned.
      • Prepare for the impact on operations. Operations is the biggest change when developing for Windows Azure. It is critical to understand the operations impact, get the operations team on board early, and design for operations. Because the SXP team knew that it faced an unknown operations environment, the team heavily instrumented its code so that it would know exactly how many transactions succeeded or failed. The team took advantage of the out-of-the-box Windows Azure Diagnostics to do the bulk of the work but also wrote some small custom tools.
      • Prepare early for security and integration. Security and integration are very important considerations. AD FS is a great security solution for authentication. Integration is challenging if there is data inside and outside the firewall. For projects that require integration, it is important to make sure that those problems can be solved before development starts.
      • Build in SQL Azure retries. SQL Azure moves databases to balance load. When a database is moved, the connection pool becomes invalid. If the service does not retry the SQL connection, the connect request fails, causing errors. So it is critical to build in SQL Azure retries. For examples of code that retries connections, see the blog entries at http://bit.ly/98Makv.
      • Conduct performance testing. Running performance and stress tests with Visual Studio and Windows Azure can be challenging. The problem is the wide area network (WAN) link between the client and the server. The results can become skewed, and the network can quickly become a bottleneck. The potential to accumulate bandwidth costs also exists. The SXP team solved this problem by creating a simple application that it deployed in Windows Azure in the same data centre, in order to test heavily on the same network. This testing provided feedback on real performance data.

    I have a bet with myself about what the first comment will be on this post…

  • Windows Intune install in under 4 minutes

    A couple of days ago I gave one of our customers a tour of Windows Intune and they were blown away with how simple it was to install and configure on clients.  By blown away I mean they kept me talking about it for about 15 minutes…which considering there’s nothing to talk about (it just works) was a feat.

    As this video I knocked up proves, there’s really nothing to the install.  It’s zero configuration.  Zero for the user to do wrong if they install it themselves.  Zero for the sleep deprived IT Pro to error on.

    Windows Intune installed in under 4 minutes