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A software architect, Azure expert, and former Microsoft evangelist, Mike Benkovich dedicates huge amounts of his time to helping his fellow developers and burgeoning programmers learn about new technologies and platforms. Mike’s website equips developers with tips and resources to help them get to grips with technologies including cloud, data and devices, and he produces online courses covering areas like Azure enterprise development and serverless computing. Mike is also a chronic sharer of puns, so head over to his Twitter feed if you’re after a laugh (or a groan).

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CloudTip

CloudTip 15-Avoid a gotcha in naming projects with Mobile Services

@MikeBenkovich 12/15/2014

Short Answer – Don’t use special characters in a Mobile Service’s project name when you create it, the local SQL won’t be able to open the database and you may spend a lot of time figuring out why chasing down false leads…

The Long Answer…

In my last role at Microsoft as an Azure Evangelist I posted a series of cloud tips, which were intended to be quick tips for using the latest tools & services. This one is the next in that series, and focuses around some esoteric gotcha’s that come up when you’re following a convention for organizing your solution in Visual Studio. As you probably are aware you can have multiple projects in a solution, and one approach for keeping them organized is to follow a naming standard that uses a dot-syntax to keep related related things in their right spot.

For example if my project is a solution to a to-do list, I might create the solution called “TestData”, and within that solution have a project for the web called “TestData.web” and a shared project called “TestData.shared”. Following this convention it makes sense if I want to add a data service project I might call it “TestData.svc”, right? When I try this out and build it, I was finding an error that took longer to expose than I had planned, and that’s the focus of this post.

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I started with this solution and added some custom classes to the data tables to work with my TestData and found that I was getting  errors. The Mobile Services project type includes a testing page that allows me to try out the service and test the calls to my data, which is great. But I found that I was getting an error when I was running the project without adding or changing anything…Isn’t the stuff supposed to work “out of the box”? Instead I get the error - “The database name 'TR_TestData_svc]_TodoItems_InsertUpdateDelete' is invalid. Database names must be of the form [<schema_name>.]<object_name>”. What does this mean???

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Don’t do this…

It looks like something’s not right with EF, so I tried updating my NuGet’s to make sure I have the latest packages…Right click the project explorer and go to the NuGet page and try update packages…this is the wrong thing to do because the template was created using specific versions of specific packages, and while some can be updated others shouldn’t.

This time I get an error that the JWTSecurityTokenHandler is broken. After some digging I found a StackOverflow post that answers this.  In particular I find that EF is unhappy with the latest MobileServices entity versions so in the NuGet Package Manager I need to uninstall the WindowsAzure.MobileServices.Backend packages and install the specific version 1.0.342.

Do this…Don’t name your Mobile Service project with special characters in the name

The problem isn’t with EF or out of date packages, it has to do with the local database name not being recognizable with the dot-syntax naming convention (another StackOverflow post). In the web config you can fix it by removing the period in the names, or you can do what I did which is just recreate the project without the dot name and test to confirm it’s working, and then rename the services project in the solution.

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And it works! Time to go and write some code.


CloudTip #17-Build Connected Windows 8 Apps with Windows Azure

@MikeBenkovich 07/10/2012

imageYesterday in Dallas we had Scott Guthrie (@ScottGu) and the Azure team put on a great event at the Irving Convention Center to show off what’s new in the Microsoft Cloud story and to dive into getting started with the tools and services that make it work. Chris Koenig did a great job of coordinating the event and Adam Hoffman, Clint Edmonson and Brian Prince all pitched in with sessions about Virtual Machines, Web Sites and how to work with the services.

imageMy talk was on Building Connected Windows 8 Metro applications with Windows Azure, and we showed how to use the Camera UI to upload images to Blob Storage, Geolocation to add a point of interest to a SQL Azure database and then add a pin to a Bing Map, and finally add Notification Services to update the Live Tile. It was a lot of code and I promised to share it here, so if you’re looking for the link to download it is http://aka.ms/dfwWin8Az.

Here are some notes to be able to build out & deploy locally and then migrate the services to Azure…

image- This project is designed to run locally against the Azure Storage Emulator and SQL Express. It can easily be modified to run as a cloud service, see steps below.
- Do a CTRL+SHIFT+F to search for "TODO" to find all the places where you need to personalize settings
- I've included the script MsdnDB.sql which should be run against a local instance of SQL server, or against a cloud instance.
- You should download the Bing Map VSIX installer to add functionality for Metro. Download the latest from Visual Studio Gallery here
    http://visualstudiogallery.msdn.microsoft.com/0c341dfb-4584-4738-949c-daf55b82df58

- I used several packages to enable notifications. These included
    For MyApp  --> PM> Install-Package Windows8.Notifications

    For MySite --> PM> Install-Package WindowsAzure.Notifications

                   PM> Install-Package wnsrecipe

- To deploy to the Cloud
  1. Create an Azure Web Site from the Management console, then download the publish settings from the web site dashbaord
  2. Create a storage account and update the web.config of MySite with appropriate storage credentials
  3. Create a SQL Azure database
  4. Run the create script MsdnDB.SQL (included) against database
  5. Update credentials in web.config of MySite
  6. Change MyApp MainPage.xaml.cs URI's to point to your site instead of localhost:19480
  7. Run the NuGet Packages from Package Manager console
  8. Register your app for notifications on https://manage.dev.live.com/Build
     - update the Package Name reference in Package.appxmanifest
     - Add the SID and Client secret to the SendNotification method in LocationController.cs


Enjoy!
-mike

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CloudTip #16-Meet the new HTML based Windows Azure Management Portal

@MikeBenkovich 06/07/2012

Windows Azure has seen a number of upgrades. The latest announced today, along with a series of events to showcase and explore the features and capabilities of the Microsoft cloud platform (http://aka.ms/MeetAzMB), clearly shows the move towards simplicity, ease of use, and the speed to which you can get started with Azure. While I can’t cover it all in a single post, this is meant as an introduction to the new portal and in future posts I will explore various aspects and features that you can use for building scalable, durable and performant information solutions. A number of things were announced on the Azure blog (blog url) including some key ones around IaaS, Virtual Machines, Web Sites, and the Application Galleries.

HTML and AJAX Based Interface

The new portal runs on HTML and JavaScript, which means it can render on any browser that supports the core HTML functionality. This is great if you need to access it from a mobile device or tablet that doesn’t support plugins like Silverlight. The next thing you notice is that you get an at-a-glance view of all your running services, storage and networks.

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Easily Create New Services

Adding a new service is as easy as clicking “NEW” on the bottom left corner of the screen and then making a selection of what you want to create. In addition to Cloud Services (formerly called Hosted Services) and storage, you can also create Virtual Machines, Web Sites, and Networks. These generally include a quick creation option which provisions the service with minimal configuraiton, but both Web Sit4es and Virtual machines include a “From Gallery” option which allows you to select a starting point to build from. 

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This includes content management applications like Umbraco, DotNetNuke, Joomla, Das Blog, mojoPortal, and WordPress, or a Virtual Machines that already have SQL 2012 Eval, Windows Server 8 Beta, SUSE Linux, or Ubuntu installed and ready for your deployments. You can also save your own machines as starting points or upload your own VHD.

Yes, I did just say Linux. Running on Azure. In the Microsoft Cloud. Notice that the list of available images includes these as well as images I created!

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The new dialogs walk you thru all the steps collecting the needed information in an easy to follow logical order to get the selected services up and running. Quick and easy, but where can you see the status and updates on these configuration tasks? That’s where the notification area at the bottom of the screen comes to bat. It provides a comprehensive spot for seeing summary and optionally more detailed information about your changes as they happen.

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Monitoring and Diagnostics

Beyond the provisioning of new services and configuration tasks you also can get great monitoring information about resources used by your cloud instances. By selecting a provisioned instance, clicking the name takes you to a details page where you can get deployment and configuration settings including database connection strings and more. You can quickly see how much usage you’ve used out of the available allocation that is part of the subscription.

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You can easily get started today, just go out to http://windowsazure.com and try out the 90 Free Trial, or if you have an MSDN Subscription you can get compute time, storage and a lot more as part of your subscription benefits.

Enjoy!

-mike

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CloudTip #15-MEET Windows Azure

@MikeBenkovich 05/20/2012

imageThe Cloud comes in many flavors, types and shapes and the terminology can be daunting. You’ve got Public vs. Private. vs. Home grown. You’ve got compute, storage and database not to mention identity, caching, service bus and many more. Then there are the several players including Microsoft, Amazon, Rackspace, Force, and too many others to list them all.

That’s a lot to learn, but if you’re curious to see what’s been happening with the Microsoft Cloud and get a feel for the direction things are heading then you want to check out the recently announced Microsoft event “Meet Windows Azure” live in San Francisco on June 7, where the people who are in the drivers seat will take time to share their space.

While the details are sparse so far you can get more information on http://MeetWindowsAzure.com , as well as follow the happenings on twitter. It looks like an interesting event you won’t want to miss. With people like Scott Guthrie it’s sure to be full of great examples of what and how you can get started with Windows Azure and learn more about what you need to know to get started today.

Check it out today!

-mike


CloudTip #14-How do I get SQL Profiler info from SQL Azure?

@MikeBenkovich 05/18/2012

Your application is running slow. You need to find out what’s going on. If you’ve used SQL Profiler on a local database you might be familiar with how you can capture a trace of database activity and use it to figure out where your resources are going. The visibility makes it MUCH easier to tune a database than sorting thru a bunch of code. The question is, what do you do when you’re moving an app to the cloud?

If you’ve wondered how you can get Profile information from SQL Azure, the new online management portal for SQL Azure has been updated with design, deployment, administration and tuning features built in. The Overview screen provides quick links to the different areas of the portal, as well as easy links to help information from msdn online. You can get to the portal either by going to the Windows Azure management portal on http://windows.azure.com and after signing in going to the database section and clicking Manage, or simply browsing to your database name – https://<myserver>.database.windows.net where you substitute your database server’s name for <myserver>.

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When I log in I can see my databases and get information about size, usage as well as the ability dive into specific usage. From there I can go into designing the schema, functions and code around my database. If I swap over to the admin page though, I have visibility into not just database size and usage, but also a link to query performance. Clicking this takes me to where I can see profile data from queries.

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I can sort and see which calls to the database are most frequent as well as most expensive in terms of resource usage. Further I can select one and dive even deeper to see the execution plan and statistics around the calls. This information is key to making decisions on indexes and design of a well performing database.

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In the query plan I can look for table scans or other expensive operations and if it make sense determine whether additional indexes would be useful.

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Nice!

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CloudTip #13-What do you need to know to get started?

@MikeBenkovich 05/17/2012

imageThere are many ways to learn a new technology. Some of us prefer to read books, others like videos or screencasts, still others will choose to go to a training style event. In any case you need to have a reason to want to learn, whether it's a new project, something to put on the resume or just the challenge because it sounds cool. For me I learn best when I've got a real project that will stretch my knowledge to apply it in a new way. It also helps to have a deadline.

I've been working for a while now for Microsoft in a role that allows me to help people explore what's new and possible with the new releases of technology coming out at a rapid pace from client and web technologies like ASP.NET and Phone to user interface techniques like Silverlight and Ajax, to server and cloud platforms like SQL Server and Azure. The job has forced me to be abreast of how the technologies work, what you can do with them, and understanding how to explain the reasons for why and how they might fit into a project.


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In this post I'd like to provide a quick tour of where you can find content and events on Cloud Computing that should help you get started and find answers along the way.

Part 1 - Get Started with Cloud Computing and Windows Azure.
You've heard the buzz, your boss might even have talked about it. In this first webcast of the Soup to Nuts series we'll get started with Windows Azure and Cloud Computing. In it we will explore what Azure is and isn't and get started by building our first Cloud application. Fasten your seatbelts, we're ready to get started with Cloud Computing and Windows Azure.
Video; WMVMP4 Audio; WMA Slides: PPTX

Part 2 - Windows Azure Compute Services
The Cloud provides us with a number of services including storage, compute, networking and more. In this second session we take a look at how roles define what a service is. Beyond the different flavors of roles we show the RoleEntryPoint interface, and how we can plug code in the startup operations to make it easy to scale up instances. We will show how the Service Definition defines the role and provides hooks for customizing it to run the way we need it to.
Video; WMVMP4 Audio; WMA Slides: PPTX

Part 3 - Windows Azure Storage Options
The Cloud provides a scalable environment for compute but it needs somewhere common to store data. In this webcast we look at Windows Azure Storage and explore how to use the various types available to us including Blobs, Tables and Queues. We look at how it is durable, highly available and secured so that we can build applications that are able to leverage its strengths.
Video; WMVMP4 Audio; WMA Slides: PPTX

Part 4 - Intro to SQL Azure
While Windows Azure Storage provides basic storage often we need to work with Relational Data. In this weeks webcast we dive into SQL Azure and see how it is similar and different from on-premise SQL Server. From connecting from rich client as well as web apps to the management tools available for creating schema and moving data between instances in the cloud and on site we show you how it's done.
Video; WMVMP4 Audio; WMA Slides: PPTX

Part 5 - Access Control Services and Cloud Identity
Who are you? How do we know? Can you prove it? Identity in the cloud presents us with the same and different challenges from identity in person. Access Control Services is a modern identity selector service that makes it easy to work with existing islands of identity such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google. It is based on standards and works with claims to provide your application with the information it needs to make informed authorization decisions. Join this webcast to see ACS in action and learn how to put it to work in your application today.
Slides: PPTX

Part 6 - Diagnostics & Troubleshootingx
So you've built your Cloud application and now something goes wrong. What now? This weeks webcast is focused on looking at the options available for gaining insight to be able to find and solve problems. From working with Intellitrace to capture a run history to profiling options to configuring the diagnostics agent we will show you how to diagnose and troubleshoot your application.

Part 7 - Get Started with Windows Azure Caching Services with Brian Hitney (http://bit.ly/btlod-77)
How can you get the most performance and scalability from platform as a service? In this webcast, we take a look at caching and how you can integrate it in your application. Caching provides a distributed, in-memory application cache service for Windows Azure that provides performance by reducing the work needed to return a requested page.

Part 8 - Get Started with SQL Azure Reporting Services with Mike Benkovich (http://bit.ly/btlod-78)
Microsoft SQL Azure Reporting lets you easily build reporting capabilities into your Windows Azure application. The reports can be accessed easily from the Windows Azure portal, through a web browser, or directly from applications. With the cloud at your service, there's no need to manage or maintain your own reporting infrastructure. Join us as we dive into SQL Azure Reporting and the tools that are available to design connected reports that operate against disparate data sources. We look at what's provided from Windows Azure to support reporting and the available deployment options. We also see how to use this technology to build scalable reporting applications

Part 9 - Get Started working with Service Bus with Jim O'Neil (http://bit.ly/btlod-79)
No man is an island, and no cloud application stands alone! Now that you've conquered the core services of web roles, worker roles, storage, and Microsoft SQL Azure, it's time to learn how to bridge applications within the cloud and between the cloud and on premises. This is where the Service Bus comes in-providing connectivity for Windows Communication Foundation and other endpoints even behind firewalls. With both relay and brokered messaging capabilities, you can provide application-to-application communication as well as durable, asynchronous publication/subscription semantics. Come to this webcast ready to participate from your own computer to see how this technology all comes together in real time.

Enjoy!

-mike

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Cloud Tip #6-Encrypting the web.config with Visual Basic

@MikeBenkovich 04/03/2012

One of the great things about Windows Azure is that it is a platform that is for the most part agnostic about what frameworks and languages you want to use. While I tend to do most of my demos in C# there is no reason we couldn’t use VB, PHP, Node.js, Java or any other language. In fact the developer story for the Microsoft Cloud is that if it runs on Windows it can run in Windows Azure. All you need is to configure the machine appropriately (more on that in another post). You can learn more about the tools by checking out the Tools section of the Windows Azure site.

For this CloudTip I got a request for how to do the encryption of the web.config but this time in VB. The logic is about the same, although I found that in VB I had to add a line to the configuration to save the new settings. The code for this in vb.net (adding to the global.asax file in the "Session_Start" subroutine…

Sub Session_Start(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As EventArgs)

    ' Code that runs when a new session is started 

    EncryptSection("appSettings")

End Sub

Private Sub EncryptSection(ByVal sSection As String)

    Dim config = System.Web.Configuration.WebConfigurationManager.OpenWebConfiguration(Context.Request.ApplicationPath)

    Dim configSection As ConfigurationSection = config.GetSection(sSection)

    If configSection.SectionInformation.IsProtected = False Then

        configSection.SectionInformation.ProtectSection("DataProtectionConfigurationProvider")

        config.Save()

    End If

End Sub

If you have questions about Cloud that would make a great Cloud Tip topic send them to me at my email or comment on the post.

Thanks!


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