Shaun Xu

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Shaun, the author of this blog is a semi-geek, clumsy developer, passionate speaker and incapable architect with about 10 years experience in .NET. He hopes to prove that software development is art rather than manufacturing. He's into cloud computing platform and technologies (Windows Azure, Aliyun) as well as WCF and ASP.NET MVC. Recently he's falling in love with JavaScript and Node.js.

Currently Shaun is working at IGT Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd. as the architect responsible for product framework design and development.

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With the MEET Windows Azure event on 7th June, there are many new features and updates in windows azure platform. In the coming several posts I will try to cover some of them. And in the first post here I would like to just have a quick walkthrough of the new preview developer portal.

 

History of the Developer Portal

If you have been working with windows azure since 2009 or 2010, you should remember the first version of the developer portal. It was built in HTML with very limited features. I have the impression when I was using is old one. The layout is not that attractive and you have very limited features.

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On November, 2010 alone with the SDK 1.3 release, the developer portal was getting a big jump. In order to give more usability and features this it turned to be built on Silverlight. Hence it runs like a desktop application with many windows, lists, commands and context menus.

From 2010 till now many features were involved into this portal, such as the remote desktop, co-admin, virtual connect, VM role, etc.. And the portal itself became more and more complicated.

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But it brought some problems by using the Silverlight. The first one is the browser capability. As you know in most mobile and tablet device the browser doesn’t allow the rich content plugin, such as Flash and Silverlight. This means people cannot open and configure their azure services from their iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone, etc., even though what they need may just be restart a hosted service, or view the status of their databases. Another problem is the performance. Silverlight provides rich experience to the users, but also needs more bandwidth.

So in this upgrade the preview developer portal will be back to use HTML, with JavaScript, as a mobile friendly, cross browser, interactively web site.

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Preview Portal vs. Silverlight Portal

Before I started to talk about the new preview portal I’d better highlight that, this preview portal is a PREVIEW version, which means even though you can do almost all features that already in the old one, as long as some cool new features I will mention in the coming several posts, there are something still under developed and migrated. So sometimes you need to switch back to the old one.

For example, in preview portal there is no co-admin manage function, no remote desktop function and the SQL database manage function will take you back to the old SQL Azure Manage Portal. But as Microsoft said these missing features will be moved in the preview portal in the couple of next few months.

Since the public URL of the developer portal, https://windows.azure.com/, had been changed to point to this preview one, you need to click to preview button on top of the page and click the “Take me to the previous portal” link.

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Overview

There are four parts in the preview portal. On the top is the header which shows the account you are currently logging in. If you click on the header it will show the top menu of windows azure, where you can navigate to the windows azure home page, the price information page, community and account, etc..

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The navigation bar is on the left hand side, with the categories listed below.

ALL ITEMS All items in your windows azure account, includes the web sites, services, databases, etc..
WEB SITES The web sites in your windows azure account. It will only show the web sites you have. The linked resources will be shown if you drill down into a web site.
VIRTUAL MACHINES The virtual machines that you had been deployed to azure.
CLOUD SERVICES All windows azure hosted services in your account.
SQL DATABASES All SQL databases (SQL Azure) in your account.
STORAGE All windows azure storage services in your account.
NETWORKS The virtual network (Windows Azure Connect) you had been created.

The available items will be listed in the main part of the page based on which category your currently selected. If there’s no item it will show the link to you to quick create.

At the bottom of the page there will be the command and information bar. Based on what is selected and what is performed by the user, it will show the related information and commands. For example, in the image below when I was creating a new web site, the information bar told me that my web site is being provisioned; and there are two commands in the command bar.

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And once it ready the command bar will show some commands that I can do to my new web site.

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The “Web Sites” is a new feature introduced alone with this upgrade. It gives us an easier and quicker way to establish a website from the scratch or from some existing library. I will introduce it more details in the coming next post.

Also in the command bar you can create a service by clicking the NEW button. It will slide the creation panel up to you.

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Where’s My Hosted Services

The Windows Azure Hosted Services had been renamed to the Cloud Services. Create a new service would be very easy. Just click the NEW button at the bottom of the page, and select the CLOUD SERVICE and QIUICK CREATE. This will create a blank hosted service without deployment and certificate. It just needs you to specify the service URL and the affinity/region.

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Then the service will be shown in the list.

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If you clicked the item all information will be shown in the main part. Since there’s no package deployed to this service so currently we cannot see any information about it. But we can upload the package by using the command at the bottom. And as you can see, we could manage the configuration, instances, certificates and we can scale up and down (change the VM size), in and out (increase and decrease the instance count) to our service.

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Assuming I had created an ASP.NET MVC 3 web role project in Visual Studio and completed the package. Then I can click the UPLOAD button in this page to deploy my package. In the popping up window I just specify my deployment name, package file and configure file. Also I can check the box below so that it will NOT warn me if only one instance of this deployment.

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Once we clicked the OK button our package will be uploaded and provisioned by the platform. After a while we can see the service was ready from the information bar.

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We can have the basic information about this service and deployment if we to the dashboard page. For example the usage overview diagram, status, URL, public IP address, etc..

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In the configure page we can view and change the CSCFG content such as the monitor setting, connection strings, OS family.

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In scale page we can increase and decrease the count of the instances. And in the instances page we can view all instances status.

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And, if your services is using some SQL databases and storages they will be shown as the linked resources under the linked resources page. And you can manage the certificates of this service as well under the certificates page.

 

How About My Storage Services

The storage service can be managed by clicking into the STORAGES link in the navigation bar. And we can create a new storage service from the NEW button. After specify the storage name and region it will be previsioned by the platform.

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If you want to copy or manage the storage key you can just click the Manage Keys button at the bottom, which is very easy. What I want to highlight here is that, you can monitor your storage service by enabling the monitor configuration. Click the storage item in the list and navigate to the configure page.

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As you can see in the page you can enable the monitoring for blob, table and queue. And you can also enable the logging when any requests come to the storage. But as the tooltip shown in the page, enabling the monitoring and logging will increase the usage of the storage, which means increase the bill of them. So make sure you enable them properly.

 

And My SQL Databases (SQL Azure)

The last thing I want to quick introduce is the SQL databases, which was formally named SQL Azure. You can create a new SQL Database Server and a new database by clicking the ADD button under the SQL Database navigation item.

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In the popping up windows just specify the database name, the edition, size, collation and the server. You can select an existing SQL Database Server if you have, or cerate a new one.

If you selected to create a new server, there will be another step you need to do, which is specify the server login, password and the region.

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Once it ready you can mange your databases as well as the servers in the portal.

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In a particular server you can update the firewall settings in its Configure page.

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So, What Else

There are some other area on the preview portal I didn’t cover, such as the virtual machines, virtual network and web sites. Regarding the virtual machines and web sites I will talk about them in the future separated post. Regarding the virtual network, it the Windows Azure Connect we are familiar with.

But as I mention in the beginning of this post, the preview portal is still under developed. Some features are not available here. For example, you cannot manage the co-admin of your subscriptions, you cannot open the remote desktop on your hosted services, and you cannot navigate to the Windows Azure Service Bus, Access Control and Caching, which formally named Windows Azure AppFabric directly. In these cases you need to navigate back to the old portal. So in the coming several months we might need to use both these two sites.

 

Summary

In this post I quick introduced the new windows azure developer portal. Since it had been rearranged and renamed I demonstrated some features that existing in the old portal, such as how to create and deploy a hosted service, how to provision a storage service and SQL database. All features in the old portal had been, is being and will be migrated into this new portal, but some of them were in a different category and page we need to figure out.

 

Hope this helps,

Shaun

All documents and related graphics, codes are provided "AS IS" without warranty of any kind.
Copyright © Shaun Ziyan Xu. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons License.

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