Yesterday, Microsoft announced the general availability of its offering of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). They join an already-crowded market of IaaS providers, but this offering gives all companies the ability to offload workloads that have traditionally run in a company data center to the cloud. Welcome, Microsoft — the water is fine.

This announcement also represents a major chunk of Microsoft’s family of Azure offerings…and in my opinion, a stepping stone many companies simply must take in moving out of the traditional data center and into the cloud.  The following diagram shows the stepping stones out of the traditional data center:

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Please be our guest at the next Azure ‘n’ Action Café online session on April 10th from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. This is a jump-start overview session, including demos and best practices focusing on Windows Azure Virtual Machines: IaaS “On Your Terms.” You will experience how easy it is to bring your own customized virtual machine images — or select from a gallery and retain full control of your images — and maintain them as your business requires. You’ll also be the first to see how to provision a brand-new SharePoint 2013 farm in Azure IaaS.

The Azure ‘n’ Action Café is a series of “lunch and learn” online sessions on a variety of topics related to the Windows Azure Platform. Please register for Windows Azure Virtual Machines: IaaS “On Your Terms” by clicking on the link below and adding the meeting to your calendar from the registration page.

Click here to register to secure your seat at the Café.

In a production Azure application, our Web roles were repeatedly running into an error in ELMAH that we found nearly impossible to reproduce. It never occurred running in local IIS, IIS Express or anything.

The exact error message was an ArgumentOutOfRangeException:

System.ArgumentOutOfRangeException: Specified argument was out of the range of valid values.
Parameter name: utcDate
     at System.Web.HttpCachePolicy.UtcSetLastModified(DateTime utcDate)
     at System.Web.HttpCachePolicy.SetLastModified(DateTime date)
     at System.Web.UI.Page.InitOutputCache(OutputCacheParameters cacheSettings)
     at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint)
     at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest()
     at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest(HttpContext context)
     at System.Web.Mvc.OutputCacheAttribute.OnResultExecuting(ResultExecutingContext filterContext)
     at System.Web.Mvc.ControllerActionInvoker.InvokeActionResultFilter(IResultFilter filter, ResultExecutingContext preContext, Func`1 continuation)
     at System.Web.Mvc.ControllerActionInvoker.InvokeActionResultFilter(IResultFilter filter, ResultExecutingContext preContext, Func`1 continuation)
     at System.Web.Mvc.ControllerActionInvoker.InvokeActionResultFilter(IResultFilter filter, ResultExecutingContext preContext, Func`1 continuation)
     at System.Web.Mvc.ControllerActionInvoker.InvokeActionResultWithFilters(ControllerContext controllerContext, IList`1 filters, ActionResult actionResult)
     at System.Web.Mvc.Async.AsyncControllerActionInvoker.<>c__DisplayClass27.b__24(IAsyncResult asyncResult)
     at System.Web.Mvc.AsyncController.<>c__DisplayClass19.b__14(IAsyncResult asyncResult)
     at System.Web.Mvc.Async.AsyncResultWrapper.<>c__DisplayClass4.b__3(IAsyncResult ar)
     at System.Web.Mvc.AsyncController.EndExecuteCore(IAsyncResult asyncResult)
     at System.Web.Mvc.Async.AsyncResultWrapper.<>c__DisplayClass4.b__3(IAsyncResult ar)
     at System.Web.Mvc.MvcHandler.<>c__DisplayClass6.<>c__DisplayClassb.b__4(IAsyncResult asyncResult)
     at System.Web.Mvc.Async.AsyncResultWrapper.<>c__DisplayClass4.b__3(IAsyncResult ar)
     at System.Web.HttpApplication.CallHandlerExecutionStep.System.Web.HttpApplication.IExecutionStep.Execute()
     at System.Web.HttpApplication.ExecuteStep(IExecutionStep step, Boolean& completedSynchronously

Notice anything missing?

Everything is in the “System.Web” namespace, meaning that all of this is framework code and not application code. This begs the question: Why is this happening?

Apparently, something in the framework (which was indirectly affected by our app) was causing this.

After many, many weeks of on again, off again debugging, I finally discovered the problem:

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When dealing with a web “farm” situation, there are various reasons a developer needs to identify which machine responded to a request, especially when dealing with particularly nefarious bugs.

Recently, an Azure production application I was monitoring was experiencing a problem with stale/old data showing up intermittently as users navigated the website. I began to suspect a single instance of the application did not have a properly updated cache on it. I needed to know which Web Role Instance was causing the problem so I could restart it. Obviously, there was a bug that would need to be tracked down in the future, but the immediate need was to stop the problem.

For lack of other information, I had to restart each instance of the web role individually, waiting for that one to come back up and move on to the next. I couldn’t trust the situation until every single instance was restarted.

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On Dec 6th, Brian Keller published an updated version of his very useful virtual machine and the corresponding hands-on-lab / demo scripts for Visual Studio 2012 Update 1.

This virtual machine includes existing (but upgraded) labs from 2010, as well as labs based on new features (see screenshot below).

I thought it would be nice to simply upload the VHD directly to Azure Blob Storage and provision an Azure PersistentVM based on it. This is surely the easiest way to try all the new ALM features.  And it almost worked! Except that the firewall on the virtual machine is turned on. As a result, I could not RDP into the Azure-based machine.

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Swiss army knife

Here at AIS, we’ve found Windows Azure Blob Storage to be an inexpensive, fast hosting solution for non-text or server-side loaded resources. But what if we want to use client-side JavaScript to load HTML fragments or JSON data directly from blobs? Under normal circumstances this is prevented by JavaScript’s Same Origin Policy; that is, you can’t load HTML fragments or JSON from another domain, subdomain, port or protocol.

One commonly used solution to this restriction is JSONP, but this is not available with Azure Blob Storage. Another modern option is Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS), but it is also unavailable on Azure Blob Storage and not supported in some legacy browsers.

We could consider a server-side solution, such as employing an Azure Web Role to read text-based content from blob storage and serve it up from the original server. But this approach can be both wasteful and performance inhibiting.

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I have been trying lots of new things since I got on board with AIS. From MDX to PowerShell to MVC. My newest endeavor was Azure. I was initially intimidated by the amount of time I would have to spend getting to know the setup before I could do something simple on it, but I have to say it was about the easiest thing I’ve tried so far. Congrats to the folks at Microsoft for creating something so useful that “just works,” even if you are the person who always tries to make things too difficult (me).

I got my first website up and running on Azure in about one hour, including migrating my database. It was so easy I had to share a simplified version of my experience.

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We recently started working on a new iOS project.  As part of this adventure, I asked the team if we could build a case study around XCode and TFSPreview.com. TFSPreview, if you’re not aware, is Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server 2012 as a service, hosted in Azure.

This isn’t your normal pairing.  Mac developers aren’t exactly flocking to the Microsoft stack and the Microsoft development tools haven’t exactly catered to the predominantly OSS community working on Macs.  In recent years, though, that has changed.  ASP.Net is now OSS, first class Azure tools ship for the Mac, even the Nodejs for Azure tutorials feature Chrome on a Mac.  It’s a brave new world out there!

Starting with this post and continuing over the next few months, I’m going to be sharing some of our experiences building iOS/XCode apps on TFSPreview using the cross-platform (yes, they used Java – who are these guys?!) git-tf plugin.

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In a previous blog post I discussed Windows Azure PaaS / IaaS hybrid scenarios. Together with my colleague Jack O’Connell (Infrastructure Specialist extraordinaire), we set up each of the four scenarios outlined in the previous post including:

  • Using Windows Azure Virtual Network to provision a VPN to connect our on-premised infrastructure with a Windows Azure datacenter.
  • Set up front-end and back-end subnets.
  • Provision a set of Azure IaaS Virtual Machines and Azure Web Roles.
  • Install System Center Monitoring Pack for Windows Azure Applications on Azure-based machines.
  • Install System Center Operations on-premises in order to manage Azure-based resources.

Watch the following video for a quick walkthrough of the scenarios in action: