Gary Pretty is the Deputy Head of Programming at Mando Group, a leading digital agency specialising in creating enterprise web sites and RIAs. Gary works with technologies across the Microsoft stack, including Windows Azure, Sharepoint, ASP.NET and Windows Phone. Gary can be found on twitter @GaryPretty
Using Windows Azure to create MicroFinance
We recently embarked on a proof of concept project to create a line of business web application using some of the latest technologies such as Windows Azure and HTML5 and see if we could combine these technologies with great design to produce an awesome experience for the end user. You can see the application itself, MicroFinance, at our web site at http://labs.mandogroup.com.
On the road to creating our MicroFinance application, there were some key technical requirements that we were aiming to achieve;
We wanted to see if Windows Azure could help us achieve the above objectives and how easy it would be to work with the Azure platform.
With this in mind we then set about splitting the planned application into several discreet components;
Now that we had the above separation we needed to decide how each of them could be implemented using the Azure platform.
For the data behind the application and how it is stored / accessed, we had a couple of options.
We decided to use Azure Table Storage as in the initial version of the application we are not storing hugely complex or massive amounts of data, meaning we could easily implement Table Storage for our data, perform joins on our data using LINQ once we have retrieved it from storage. We felt that SQL Azure was overkill for our requirements, but that’s not to say that it isn’t a good solution for many scenarios.
MSDN Magazine featured an article by Joseph Fultz which provides a detailed comparison of SQL Azure and Table Storage and I would highly recommend you read it if you are facing a similar decision.
The Web Application
The main web application which would be the primary method of accessing and managing the data for the end user needed to be responsive, reliable and scalable. As well as the core requirements, I wanted to be able to work with the technologies and tools I have always worked with (ASP.NET, C#, Visual Studio etc.). Happily for me, there is a great Windows Azure SDK Toolkit available with tools for Visual Studio, which makes creating applications and services that run in Azure an absolute snap.
Using the built in project templates that come with the Azure SDK and tools I was quickly able to create an Azure Web Role, used for hosting front end applications behind IIS, within which we could create the web application itself. From this point, where you have your Azure project created, it becomes business as usual from a development perspective, with the same old familiar ASP.NET pages and techniques you would always use, which meant that it was very easy for us to start writing the application even though it was to be hosted on a different platform than we would normally use.
The big advantage to hosting our application in Azure is the ability to scale at short notice. Should demand increase, you can simply log into your Management Portal and increase the number of instances of your application that are available to cope with the increased load. Should the demand drop back again, you can simply reduce the number of instances running back to a more suitable level. The notion of this rapid and responsive ‘spinning up’ and ‘spinning down’ within Azure is probably my favourite feature and the reason that Azure first grabbed my attention.
From a testing perspective, I only have more good things to say about the SDK and the tools. There is a set of very capable emulators that work with zero config within Visual Studio. This allowed us to run the application in a ‘cloud-like’ environment and ensure that the components were working together correctly. This was especially true with the storage emulator, which allowed testing of our code to create and access Azure Tables.
Deployment was my only real niggle with Azure development. There were a couple of routes available to me to get the solution into Azure. The first was to package the solution within Visual Studio, which produced two package files, and then to log into the Azure Management Portal and manually setup and upload these packages in order to deploy them. The second, more favourable option, is an automated deployment from within Visual Studio, however this option is only available to those with top-end Visual Studio editions (Ultimate I believe) and still require some manual configuration within your Management Portal. Therefore for many people I believe that the deployment procedure could be streamlined considerably. I also encountered an issue with the configuration of my application which was still configured to use local development storage whilst I was attempting to deploy and therefore causing the operation to fail. Unfortunately, the error message was incredibly vague and unhelpful, which could be improved.
Summary and What’s Next?
When all is said and done, the experience of developing an application to be hosted within Azure was on the whole a straight-forward and positive experience. I think that the small issues I encountered when deploying would not be enough to prevent me from recommending Azure to others.
At this point we now had a working core application running in the cloud, with the ability to serve data to a variety of platforms and scale when necessary. Next we needed to make it useable, look good and just more exciting for the end user in general and this will be discussed in a dedicated series of blog posts on MSDN starting with MicroFinance App, Creating the Front End.
We like to give our dedicated TechNet Readers a heads up on what we have planned, so here before anywhere else are details of some new events we have in the pipeline.
Along with Camwood, Citrix Systems and Quest Software we’re going to be running a series of Internet Explorer 6 Migration Roadshows to give you a full overview of why you should be migrating from IE6 and how it might not be quite as difficult as you might think. Throughout the day we’ll discuss the issues that many people come across when migrating their systems to a new browser, identifying where you might run into compatibility problems and how you might go about remediating those problems.
Being experts in app compat, we’re sure that these partners will provide valuable insights into the best ways to go about overcoming your challenges, be they in insolation or as part of a wider deployment of Windows 7.
Take a look at the dates below and be sure to book out some time in your diary. Further information and registration details for the days with Quest and Citrix are available by clicking the link, details for others will be available on the blog soon so keep your eyes peeled!
Tues 21st February Microsoft & Quest Software Manchester United Football Ground (Old Trafford) 09:30 – 14:00 (+Stadium Tour!)More Information & Registration Thurs 22nd March Microsoft & Citrix Systems (Including the newly acquired AppDNA)Chalfont St. Peter (Easy access via the M40 & M25 as well as rail)09:00 – 16:00More Information & Registration
Thurs 19th April Microsoft & Quest Software Reading Football Ground (Madejski Stadium) 09:30 – 14:00 (+Stadium Tour!)More Information & Registration
Thurs 3rd May Microsoft & Camwood Cote St Paul’s, London09:30 – 12:45More Information & Registration
A short while ago in Satya Nadella, Microsoft Server & Tools Business president and Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of the Management and Security Division hosted a live webcast, “Transforming IT with Microsoft Private Cloud,” for enterprise IT leaders. In this webcast they announced System Center 2012 is now available for download. System Center 2012 integrates eight previous products into one solution to simplify purchase, creation and deployment of private clouds with the best economics.
In a nutshell: System Center is now just one product, that comes in two editions, with many components. And the full-set of components come in the two product editions:
The key difference between Standard and Datacentre edition is the Virtual Machine licensing. If you are after more detailed licensing information take a look at the licensing datasheet. (pdf)
Why not give it a try and see what you can do with System Center 2012 RC by Downloading the Release Candidate here! It's a great opportunity to get your hands dirty and try out hybrid cloud and private cloud.
If you are looking for additional information on Private cloud then there is a book written by 4 MVP's called Microsoft Private Cloud Computing that is currently available by pre-ordering it on Amazon. (UK store). And if you just can't wait for that to come out then take a look at this Whitepaper. You will also find some useful learning resources on Private cloud on Microsoft Virtual Academy. Just select the System Center Virtual Machine track and voila!
TechEd is one of the biggest Microsoft conferences of the year in Europe and plays host to some of the brightest IT Professionals in the industry. The event is abuzz with exciting technologies, announcements and the big names in Microsoft Technology. The event is made for technology professionals involved in building, deploying or maintaining IT solutions using Microsoft technologies. The event offers four days of more than 1,000 education opportunities and hands-on training across the full range of Microsoft products and solutions.
You will learn in-depth about the latest technology trends and how you can leverage these effectively in your business. TechEd is the forum to gain the expertise, connections, and insights that will help you get the most from your existing IT investments. And that’s not all!
When you register for TechEd Europe you will get a subscription to TechNet! This is a great opportunity to get access to full versions of Microsoft’s OS, Application, Server and Dynamics software to evaluate and test for your organizational needs with no time bombs or feature limits. Compliment your TechEd learning experiences with access to courseware and priority support in the TechNet forums.
By arriving a day early Monday, 25 June and registering for the special Pre-Conference Seminars you can get in-depth training and insights on the Microsoft technologies and products that power their businesses. Each day-long seminar will be taught by industry experts, and will address specific technical topics that have been specifically chosen for our attendees.
Register by 31 March 2012 and receive €300 off your conference pass. Visit the conference website and learn more about being at the Center of IT!
Join TechEd Europe in Amsterdam and explore the latest products, get hands-on learning opportunities and connect with industry and Microsoft experts face-to-face, without the distractions of the office.
And finally look out for updates on the TechNet UK blog and Twitter Account for our TechEd Competition! It will be announced soon….
Are you a Cut The Rope addict? Then you’ll love this bit of Friday fun! Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of Cut the Rope it’s a game initially created for the mobile phone that has quite a following. basically you cut bits of rope to feed the funny green creature Omnom! It may sound odd but it’s totally addictive! Give it a go!
Microsoft announced at CES earlier this week that it has partnered with the Cut the Rope creators Zeptolab and has made the game available on all HTML5 enabled browsers including Internet Explorer 9. The game is entirely plugin free and will have you utterly addicted in no time.
We do have a little hint for you! Pin the game to your taskbar with IE9 and you will unlock 7 additional levels!
Microsoft Virtual Academy have a track dedicated to deploying Private Cloud scenario’s. The track covers:
During the 8 modules of this specialization, you will be introduced to all the elements of building the Microsoft private cloud. You’ll learn how to optimize and deploy the private cloud starting at the infrastructure layer. You’ll also be introduced to advanced virtualization management features and the concept and implementation of the System Center’s private cloud application service model.
After completing all of the modules you will have an understanding of:
Sign up to MVA and get started on this track now!
Last week was a busy one with the announcement of the System Center 2012 release candidate, the launch of tickets for TechEd Europe and the dates were released for the IE6 migration roadshow. On top of all this we had that awesome case study by Gary Pretty on how MicroFinance uses Windows Azure. The links to all of this news can be found below!
Hopefully this week will be just as eventful with more news and information coming your way! Remember to follow us on Twitter and if you haven’t already then sign up for our bi weekly newsletter to get all the latest information directly in your inbox!
This is the second of two case studies around Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center. The case study focuses on virtual infrastructure and business continuity and is worth spending a little time reading if you are looking to use these technologies.
The London-based practice needed a core infrastructure refresh to accommodate business growth, improve storage capacity, and ensure business continuity by virtualising its datacentres.
Zaha Hadid Architects deployed Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter with Hyper-V virtualisation software and Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 for automated management.
Hear what Zaha Hadid's Head of IT thought of the solution...
“Using Microsoft System Center tools to service requests for updated versions of computer-aided design software has reduced demand on the IT team and helped us ensure licensing compliance.” Simon Johns, Head of IT, Zaha Hadid Architects
Download the full case study here!
Time and time again TechNet Readers and the IT Pro community at large come to us with questions about how best to license Microsoft software and services in their organisation, and feedback we get suggests that challenges with licensing extend much further than just the people we speak to out on the road. This is something we’d like to change, so we’re on a mission to help people get to grips with how Microsoft licensing works to ensure that everyone is able to get the most out of the products and services they’re working with.
From System Center to Server and Virtualised Desktop, licensing guru Louise Ulrick will provide the perfect platform for you to get your questions answered. The day, run by LicensEase for Microsoft, will provide you with a good licensing overview to help you understand Microsoft product and programme licensing models.
The IT Pro Licensing Update will be held at Microsoft’s UK HQ in Thames Valley Park, Reading on the 28th March. Space is going to be tight, so we advise you get your registration in as soon as possible – you’ll need invite key 67BA7A.
Take a look below for a summary of the day. For those of you who hear ‘licensing’ and worry you might be caught falling asleep at the back, check out these comments from people who have attended Lousie’s sessions in the past few months:
“Excellent presenter, knew her stuff and delivered in a very impressive and interesting style which was remarkable given the dry subject”
“Enjoyed Louise’s approach to presenting – upbeat and keeps you engaged!”
Who knows, you could learn a hell of a lot and have some fun! We hope to see you there.
IT Pro Licensing Update Thames Valley Park, Reading 28th March 2012, 9:30 – 17:00
Agenda: - Application server licensing (Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, SQL) in both physical and virtual environments - Licensing a virtualised desktop (RDS, VDI, App-V) - Online Services licensing (Office 365) - System Center - Open surgery
Click Here to Register (Use Invite Key 67BA7A)
This is the first of two Hyper-V and System Center case studies that will provide some interesting insights into ways of making the most of Microsoft Technologies.
The Isle of Man Government wanted to save money and boost services by moving its infrastructure—including 1,000 applications—to a hybrid cloud environment.
It chose the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Hyper-V technology and the Microsoft System Center suite to improve manageability.]
Here's what the IOM Government had to say about their experience.
“Our boost in performance speaks for itself—an eight-fold improvement in data availability, 40 per cent more storage resources with no extra hardware needed, and a reduction of 15 per cent in operating costs.” Peter Clarke, Chief Technology Officer, Isle of Man Government
You can read the full case study here!