Tag Archives: Azure

PowerShell.org’s Azure Journey: Part 2


I had no idea Azure gives MSDN subscribers a huge free monthly credit – $200 for the first month, and then on the Ultimate subscription level (which is what I get as an MVP) you get  $175 per month thereafter. That starts to really justify the MSDN pricing. You want a lab in the cloud? Free Azure!

Given the free-ness of it, I decided to set up a PowerShell.org in the sky to see how it went. Configuring dual CentOS VMs was a bit of an all-day affair; I have less experience with RHEL (which is what CentOS is based on) and it took me a while to figure out that the built-in firewall was causing all my grief. Fixed now.

Microsoft publishes some pretty good guides for getting a LAMP stack running on CentOS in Azure. Not great guides, but good. They lack a decent guide on getting Passive FTP working – and it’s a PITA because Azure only lets you configure incoming ports on a one-at-a-time basis (not ranges), and you can only have 25. So that’s kind of a pain. But I got it working, got MySQL installed and working, and I’m presently waiting on VaultPress to smush up our latest site backup and spew it onto the Azure server. Remember: you don’t pay for bandwidth going into Azure, so I can load the backup in as many times as I want without incurring bandwidth.

This VaultPress thing is neat, if it works. It continually pulls changes from our WordPress installation and backs them up, timestamped, a la Apple Time Machine. Allegedly, if you give them the FTP info on you new server, and you have a base WordPress install working on the new server, they can “push” your whole site down to the new server. Given my fits and starts with FTP on CentOS today, we’ll see how well it works, but I’m optimistic. Dunno. It’s been saying “Testing Connection” for a long time now. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m starting both VMs in extra-small instances. Part of what I want to play with is whether or not I can upgrade those to bigger instances without breaking the universe. Depends on how CentOS behaves when it suddenly finds itself running on “new hardware.” We shall see! If it works, then it’ll truly be killer in terms of scaling. I also want to see if we get more “juice” running two load-balanced extra-small instances vs. a small instance (which is technically twice as big as an extra-small). Common logic suggests that more, smaller servers is better – a la every web farm, ever. But it’ll be fun to test.

Question: anyone have any Web site load-testing software they’re fond of? Mac or Windows is fine, or even both. I’ll enlist some folks to help with that, since I know my DSL line’s upstream side will chokepoint long before the Azure server does. Ooo, maybe we can have a PowerShell.org botnet that I could control… bwaa haa haa!

Meantime, Eric Courville, our new volunteer Webmaster, is setting up a similar Azure-based VM set with his own MSDN subscription. In addition to documenting the setup process, we’re going to try and do some load-testing and see what kind of instances we need to run in to get solid performance out of the site. PowerShell.org currently peaks at fewer than 50-60 concurrent connections (and even that day was a rare peak), so we’ll load test to that number.

Stay tuned!

PowerShell.org’s Azure Journey, Part 1


When we started PowerShell.org, my company (Concentrated Tech) donated shared hosting space to get the site up and running. We knew it wouldn’t be a permanent solution, but it let us start out for free. We’re coming to the point where a move to dedicated hosting will be desirable, and we’re looking at the options. Azure and Amazon Web Services are priced roughly the same for what we need, so as a Microsoft-centric community Azure’s obviously the way to go.

Azure Technical Fellow Mark Russinovich is having someone on his team connect with me to discuss some of the models in which we could use Azure. What makes the discussion interesting is that PowerShell.org runs on a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack. We’re not looking to change that; WordPress requires PHP, and the Windows builds of PHP typically lack some of the key PHP extensions we use. I’m not interested in compiling my own PHP build, either – I want off-the-shelf. WordPress more or less requires MySQL; while there’s a SQL Server adapter available, it can’t handle plugins that don’t use WordPress’ database abstraction layer, and I just don’t want to take the chance of needing such a plugin at some point and not being able to use it.

What’s neat about Azure is that it doesn’t care. I adore Microsoft for selling a service and not caring what I do with it. Azure runs Linux just fine. Huzzah!

So, we’ve got two basic models that could work for us. Model 1 is to just buy virtual machines in Azure. We’re planning one for the database and another for the Web site itself, so that we can scale-out the Web end if we want to in the future. We’re not going to do an availability set; that means we risk some short downtime if Azure experiences hardware problems and needs to move our VM, but we’re fine with that because right now we can’t afford better availability. We’d probably build CentOS machines using Azure’s provided base image (again, adore Microsoft for making this easy for Linux hosting and not just Windows). We know we tend to top out at 250GB of bandwidth a month, and that we need about 1GB of disk space for the Web site. 500MB of space for the database will last us a long time, but we’d probably get 1GB for that, too. It’s only like $3 a month. We could probably start with Small VM instances and upgrade later if needed. All-in, we’re probably looking at about $125/mo, less any prepay discounts.

Model 2 is to just run a Website. We still get to pick the kind of instance that hosts our site, so if we went with Small and a single instance, we’d be at about $110 including bandwidth and storage. That doesn’t include MySQL, though. Interestingly, Microsoft doesn’t host MySQL themselves as they do with SQL Azure. Instead, they outsource to ClearDB.com, which provides an Azure-like service for hosted MySQL. Unfortunately, the Azure price calculator doesn’t cover the resold ClearDB service. Looking at ClearDB’s own pricing, it’d probably push us to about $120-$125 a month – or about the same as having our own virtual machines. The difference is that, with Model 2, Microsoft can float our Web site to whatever virtual hosts they need to at the time to balance performance; with Model 1, they can potentially move our entire VM – although they’re unlikely to do so routinely, since it’d involve taking us offline for a brief period. A super-neat part of this model is its integration with Git: I can run a local test version of the site, and as I make changes and commit them to our GitHub repository, Azure can execute a pull and get the latest version of the site code right from Git. Awesome and automated. I love automated.

An appeal of Model 1 is that I can build out the proposed CentOS environment on my own Hyper-V server, hit it with some test traffic loads, and size the machine appropriately. I can then deploy the VHDs right to Azure, knowing that the instance size I picked will be suitable for the traffic we need to handle. It also give me an opportunity to validate the fact that a dedicated VM will be faster than our current shared hosting system, and to play around with the more advanced caching and optimization options available on a dedicated VM. I can get everything dialed in perfectly, and then deploy.

Azure has other usage models, but these are the two applicable to us. I think it’s great that we get these options, and that the pricing is more or less the same regardless. And again, I think it’s pure genius that Azure’s in the business of making money for Microsoft, and that they’re happy to do so running whatever OS I want them to.

I’ll continue this series of posts as we move through the process, just for the benefit of anyone who’s interested in seeing Azure-ification from start to finish. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback!

State of the Org: Website, Games, Summit, and More


I wanted to share a quick update on PowerShell.org, Inc.

First, a couple of Web designer friends of mine have volunteered to do a visual re-theme of the site. Below is some of their early work, and you’re welcome to comment; I’ll just remind you that they’re volunteers and doing this as a favor. So be nice! You’ll notice that one of these reflects the layout a smartphone would use, which trims much of the “chrome” in favor of the content. They haven’t tackled the forums yet – that’s harder, and will probably come last.

3-001 3-002 3-003

 

Second, in the last quarter of the year we’re planning a move from our current shared hosting plan (my company is actually hosting the site for free) to a more dedicated plan – likely in Azure, since that offers us redundancy without the need to actually pay for two servers. We’ll set up a 2-server system with one server dedicated to the database, and the other the Web site, which reflects what we have now under the shared plan. We’ll remain on the current LAMP stack, just running inside Azure. That takes a lot of work to set up and test, and the schedule will depend largely on our volunteers’ time, but it’s in the works. The move should help a bit with some of the performance. It’s crazy expensive compared to “free” (around $3600/year max, although obviously it’s based on usage so that’s kind of a worst-case guess), but we’re growing to the point where we need it and it isn’t any more expensive than a dedicated server. I love that the Azure folks are smart enough to offer a LAMP stack. Own the back end, who cares what people do with it!

Third, we’ve disabled a few site features that were really eating up page load times. Most you won’t notice, but the “badges” functionality is presently turned off. We haven’t deleted any data, so we can bring that back, but for right now it’s unavailable.

Fourth… and off of the Web site… the PowerShell Summit North America 2014 is about 12% sold out. As of today, our 2013 alumni and shareholders no longer have a reserved block; our TechLetter subscribers still have a reserved block through September 15th, at which point everything goes on sale to the public. The velocity of sales has been good, and we should be able to hit our next scheduled payment to the event venue. We are still holding back about 50 slots for 2014Q1, for those of you who can’t register until next year. But I wouldn’t hold out for those if you don’t have to. It does not look, at present, like we’ll have many (if any) additional discounted memberships – in order to hit our numbers, it’s likely everything will hold to full price. If we do offer any discounts, it’ll be absolutely last-minute. Also, our team is getting going on content, and you should see a Call for Topics real soon, now.

Fifth, the PowerShell Summit Europe 2014 is coming along, but not really going anywhere. Ha! By that, I mean we’re simply too far out (more than a year) for venues to be able to talk to us. So we’re holding tight until September and October this year, when we can start checking pricing and availability. Madrid snuck on to our short-list of cities, along with Munich, Milan, and Amsterdam, due to the presence of a large MS conference facility there. If anyone lives in Europe and speaks Spanish, and wants to be our liaison to communicate with MS Madrid, please contact me (via the Site Info menu above). It’d be nice to have someone local who can contact the office and see what we can do there, or at least put us in touch with an evangelist over there who could work on our behalf.

Sixth, don’t forget that Mark Schill has announced PowerShell Saturday 005 for Atlanta. Mark’s also been tasked to help one or two other organizations put on their own PowerShell Saturday, so if you think you’d be interested, please contact him. Having done this four times already, he’s got a good grip on how to go about it.

Seventh, we’ve got some great new guys acting as editors for the TechLetter, and the September issue will be their first go at it. Wish them luck and give them your support! We’re also looking to launch free online TechSession webinars next month; I’ll probably run the first one, and there will be a required (and free) registration process, and it may be bumpy. But we’re going to try and do those monthly. They’ll supplement the new MVA offerings from MS, and get back to the days with TechNet did a whole series of different free webinars. Once we start, please help spread the word – if we’re not getting good attendance or recording views, we won’t keep doing it.

Eighth, I’m unsure if we’ll be doing a Winter Games event or not. We had someone volunteer to coordinate it, but I haven’t heard any details from them, and I’m kinda getting overbooked on my end, which will make it tough to do up whatever Web site they might need. We’re going to play this one by ear.

Ninth… and before I make it to a full strike… I want to express my deep gratitude for everyone that’s helping make this community work. The Forums are obviously a big piece, and it’s been fantastic to see so many of you jumping in and volunteering your time to help answer questions. Truly, I feel that this whole thing is finally taking off and that it’s a real community. Along those lines, in Q4 this year, we’re going to announce (so start thinking about it) a PowerShell Heroes award. This will be for folks who have not already received some kind of recognition (like MVP) for helping out in the community, so that we can formally offer them a thank-you. Awards will be by nomination, and will carry no benefits whatsoever (grin). But start thinking of who you’d like to thank, and why.

OK – that’s probably enough for the morning. Thanks for coming along for the ride, and have a great rest of the week!

Don

Follow Up Survey About Azure Access Control Service


Vittorio, our guest from show 149, has asked that PowerScripting listeners please fill out this very short survey about Windows Azure Access Control  Service. Everybody who fills out the survey wins, absolutely free, one unit of good karma! Seriously, it’s super-short. Please go do that real quick, won’t take long, we swear!

Up Next: Vittorio Bertocci will talk about AppFabric cmdlets


On this week’s show (6/8/11 @ 9:30pm EST right here on Ustream!), we’ll be talking to Vittorio Bertocci about Azure, AppFabric, and his Access Control Service cmdlets. Be sure to drop by the chatroom Wednesday so that you can post questions to Vittorio and interact with your fellow PowerShellers!