To create a Windows Azure Infrastructure-as-a-Service Virtual Machine you have several options. You can simply select an image from a “Gallery” which includes Windows or Linux operating systems, or even a Windows Server with pre-installed software like SQL Server.
One of the advantages to Windows Azure Virtual Machines is that it is stored in a standard Hyper-V format – with the base hard-disk as a VHD. That means you can move a Virtual Machine from on-premises to Windows Azure, and then move it back again. You can even use a simple series of PowerShell scripts to do the move, or automate it with other methods.
And this then leads to another very interesting option for deploying systems: you can create a server VHD, configure it with the software you want, and then run the “SYSPREP” process on it. SYSPREP is a Windows utility that essentially strips the identity from a system, and when you re-start that system it asks a few details on what you want to call it and so on. By doing this, you can essentially create your own gallery of systems, either for testing, development servers, demo systems and more. You can learn more about how to do that here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsazure/gg465407.aspx
But there is a small issue you can run into that I wanted to make you aware of. Whenever you deploy a system to Windows Azure Virtual Machines, you must meet certain password complexity requirements. However, when you build the machine locally and SYSPREP it, you might not choose a strong password for the account you use to Remote Desktop to the machine. In that case, you might not be able to reach the system after you deploy it.
Once again, the key here is reading through the instructions before you start. Check out the link I showed above, and this link: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc264456.aspx to make sure you understand what you want to deploy.
One of the more popular topics here on my technical blog doesn't have to do with technology, per-se - it's about the choice I made to go to a stand-up desk work environment. If you're interested in the history of those, check here:
Stand-Up Desk Part One
Stand-Up Desk Part Two
I have made some changes and I was asked to post those here.Yes, I'm still standing - I think the experiment has worked well, so I'm continuing to work this way. I've become so used to it that I notice when I sit for a long time. If I'm flying, or driving a long way, or have long meetings, I take breaks to stand up and move around.
That being said, I don't stand as much as I did. I started out by standing the entire day - which did not end well. As you can read in my second post, I found that sitting down for a few minutes each hour worked out much better. And over time I would say that I now stand about 70-80% of the day, depending on the day. Some days I don't even notice I'm standing, so I don't sit as often. Other days I find that I really tire quickly - so I sit more often. But in both cases, I stand more than I sit.
In the first post you can read about how I used a simple coffee-table from Ikea to elevate my desktop to the right height. I then adjusted the height where I stand by using a small plastic square and some carpet. Over time I found this did not work as well as I'd like. The primary reason is that the front of these are at the same depth - so my knees would hit the desk or table when I sat down. Also, the desk was at a certain height, and I had to adjust, rather than the other way around. Also, I like a lot of surface area on top of a desk - almost more of a table. Routing cables and wiring was a pain, and of course moving it was out of the question.
So I've changed what I use. I found a perfect solution for what I was looking for - industrial wire shelving:
I bought one, built only half of it (for the right height I wanted) and arranged the shelves the way I wanted. I then got a 5'x4' piece of wood from Lowes, and mounted it to where the top was balanced, but had an over-hang I could get my knees under easily.My wife sewed a piece of fake-leather for the top.
This arrangement provides the following benefits:
- Very strong
- Rolls easily, wheels can lock to prevent rolling
- Long, wide shelves
- Wire-frame allows me to route any kind of wiring and other things all over the desk
I plugged in my UPS and ran it's longer power-cable to the wall outlet. I then ran the router's LAN connection along that wire, and covered both with a large insulation sleeve. I then plugged in everything to the UPS, and routed all the wiring. I can now roll the desk almost anywhere in the room so that I can record, look out the window, get closer to or farther away from the door and more. I put a few boxes on the shelves as "drawers" and tidied that part up. Even my printer fits on a shelf.
Laser-dog not included - some assembly required
In the second post you can read about the bar-stool I purchased from Target for the desk.
I cheaped-out on this one, and it proved to be a bad choice. Because I had to raise it so high, and was constantly sitting on it and then standing up, the gas-cylinder in it just gave out. So it became a very short stool that I ended up getting rid of. In the end, this one from Ikea proved to be a better choice:
And so this arrangement is working out perfectly. I'm finding myself VERY productive this way.
I hope these posts help you if you decide to try working at a stand-up desk. Although I was skeptical at first, I've found it to be a very healthy, easy way to code, design and especially present over a web-cam. It's natural to stand to speak when you're presenting, and it feels more energetic than sitting down to talk to others.
Last week I blogged about developing a High-Availability plan. The specifics of a given plan aren't as simple as "Step 1, then Step 2" because in a hybrid environment (which most of us have) the situation changes the requirements. There are those that look for simple "template" solutions, but unless you settle on a single vendor and a single way of doing things, that's not really viable.
The same holds true for support. As I've mentioned before, I'm not fond of the term "cloud", and would rather use the tem "Distributed Computing". That being said, more people understand the former, so I'll just use that for now. What I mean by Distributed Computing is leveraging another system or setup to perform all or some of a computing function. If this definition holds true, then you're essentially creating a partnership with a vendor to run some of your IT - whether that be IaaS, PaaS or SaaS, or more often, a mix. In your on-premises systems, you're the first and sometimes only line of support. That changes when you bring in a Cloud vendor.
For Windows Azure, we have plans for support that you can pay for if you like. http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/support/plans/ You're not off the hook entirely, however. You still need to create a plan to support your users in their applications, especially for the parts you control. The last thing they want to hear is "That's vendor X's problem - you'll have to call them." I find that this is often the last thing the architects think about in a solution.
It's fine to put off the support question prior to deployment, but I would hold off on calling it "production" until you have that plan in place. There are lots of examples, like this one: http://www.va-interactive.com/inbusiness/editorial/sales/ibt/customer.html some of which are technology-specific.
Once again, this is an "it depends" kind of approach. While it would be nice if there was just something in a box we could buy, it just doesn't work that way in a hybrid system. You have to know your options and apply them appropriately.
Outages, natural disasters and unforeseen events have proved that even in a distributed architecture, you need to plan for High Availability (HA). In this entry I'll explain a few considerations for HA within Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). In a separate post I'll talk more about Disaster Recovery (DR), since each paradigm has a different way to handle that.
Planning for HA in IaaS
IaaS involves Virtual Machines - so in effect, an HA strategy here takes on many of the same characteristics as it would on-premises. The primary difference is that the vendor controls the hardware, so you need to verify what they do for things like local redundancy and so on from the hardware perspective.
As far as what you can control and plan for, the primary factors fall into three areas: multiple instances, geographical dispersion and task-switching.
In almost every cloud vendor I've studied, to ensure your application will be protected by any level of HA, you need to have at least two of the Instances (VM's) running. This makes sense, but you might assume that the vendor just takes care of that for you - they don't. If a single VM goes down (for whatever reason) then the access to it is lost. Depending on multiple factors, you might be able to recover the data, but you should assume that you can't. You should keep a sync to another location (perhaps the vendor's storage system in another geographic datacenter or to a local location) to ensure you can continue to serve your clients.
You'll also need to host the same VM's in another geographical location. Everything from a vendor outage to a network path problem could prevent your users from reaching the system, so you need to have multiple locations to handle this.
This means that you'll have to figure out how to manage state between the geo's. If the system goes down in the middle of a transaction, you need to figure out what part of the process the system was in, and then re-create or transfer that state to the second set of systems. If you didn't write the software yourself, this is non-trivial.
You'll also need a manual or automatic process to detect the failure and re-route the traffic to your secondary location. You could flip a DNS entry (if your application can tolerate that) or invoke another process to alias the first system to the second, such as load-balancing and so on. There are many options, but all of them involve coding the state into the application layer. If you've simply moved a state-ful application to VM's, you may not be able to easily implement an HA solution.
Planning for HA in PaaS
Implementing HA in PaaS is a bit simpler, since it's built on the concept of stateless applications deployment. Once again, you need at least two copies of each element in the solution (web roles, worker roles, etc.) to remain available in a single datacenter. Also, you need to deploy the application again in a separate geo, but the advantage here is that you could work out a "shared storage" model such that state is auto-balanced across the world. In fact, you don't have to maintain a "DR" site, the alternate location can be live and serving clients, and only take on extra load if the other site is not available. In Windows Azure, you can use the Traffic Manager service top route the requests as a type of auto balancer.
Even with these benefits, I recommend a second backup of storage in another geographic location. Storage is inexpensive; and that second copy can be used for not only HA but DR.
Planning for HA in SaaS
In Software-as-a-Service (such as Office 365, or Hadoop in Windows Azure) You have far less control over the HA solution, although you still maintain the responsibility to ensure you have it. Since each SaaS is different, check with the vendor on the solution for HA - and make sure you understand what they do and what you are responsible for. They may have no HA for that solution, or pin it to a particular geo, or perhaps they have a massive HA built in with automatic load balancing (which is often the case).
All of these options (with the exception of SaaS) involve higher costs for the design. Do not sacrifice reliability for cost - that will always cost you more in the end. Build in the redundancy and HA at the very outset of the project - if you try to tack it on later in the process the business will push back and potentially not implement HA.
References: http://www.bing.com/search?q=windows+azure+High+Availability (each type of implementation is different, so I'm routing you to a search on the topic - look for the "Patterns and Practices" results for the area in Azure you're interested in)
OK - you've been hearing about "cloud" (I really dislike that term, but whatever) for over two years. You've equated it with just throwing some VM's in some vendor's datacenter - which is certainly part of it, but not the whole story. There's a whole world of - wait for it - *coding* out there that you should be working on. If you're a developer, this is just a set of servers with operating systems and the runtime layer (like.NET, Java, PHP, etc.) that you can deploy code to and have it run. It can expand in a horizontal way, allowing massive - and I really, honestly mean massive, not just marketing talk kind of scale. We see this every day.
If you're not a developer, well, now's the time to learn. Explore a little. Try it.
We'll help you. There's a free conference you can attend in November, and you can sign up for it now. It's all on-line, and the tools you need to code are free.
Put down Facebook and Twitter for a minute - go sign up. Learn. Do. :)
See you there. http://www.windowsazureconf.net/
I deal with computing architectures by first laying out requirements, and then laying in any constraints for it's success. Only then do I bring in computing elements to apply to the system. As an example, a requirement might be "world-side availability" and a constraint might be "with less than 80ms response time and full HA" or something similar. Then I can choose from the best fit of technologies which range from full-up on-premises computing to IaaS, PaaS or SaaS.
I also deal in abstraction layers - on-premises systems are fully under your control, in IaaS the hardware is abstracted (but not the OS, scale, runtimes and so on), in PaaS the hardware and the OS is abstracted and you focus on code and data only, and in SaaS everything is abstracted - you merely purchase the function you want (like an e-mail server or some such) and simply use it.
When you think about solutions this way, the architecture moves to the primary factor in your decision. It's problem-first architecting, and then laying in whatever technology or vendor best fixes the problem.
To that end, most architects design a solution using a graphical tool (I use Visio) and then creating documents that let the rest of the team (and business) know what is required. It's the template, or recipe, for the solution. This is extremely easy to do for SaaS - you merely point out what the needs are, research the vendor and present the findings (and bill) to the business. IT might not even be involved there. In PaaS it's not much more complicated - you use the same Application Lifecycle Management and design tools you always have for code, such as Visual Studio or some other process and toolset, and you can "stamp out" the application in multiple locations, update it and so on.
IaaS is another story. Here you have multiple machines, operating systems, patches, virus scanning, run-times, scale-patterns and tools and much more that you have to deal with, since essentially it's just an in-house system being hosted by someone else. You can certainly automate builds of servers - we do this as technical professionals every day. From Windows to Linux, it's simple enough to create a "build script" that makes a system just like the one we made yesterday. What is more problematic is being able to tie those systems together in a coherent way (as a solution) and then stamp that out repeatedly, especially when you might want to deploy that solution on-premises, or in one cloud vendor or another.
Lately I've been working with a company called RightScale that does exactly this. I'll point you to their site for more info, but the general idea is that you document out your intent for a set of servers, and it will deploy them to on-premises private clouds, Windows Azure, and other public cloud providers all from the same script. In other words, it doesn't contain the images or anything like that - it contains the scripts to build them on-premises in private clouds or on a public cloud vendor like Microsoft.
Using a tool like this, you combine the steps of designing a system (all the way down to passwords and accounts if you wish) and then the document drives the distribution and implementation of that intent. As time goes on and more and more companies implement solutions on various providers (perhaps for HA and DR) then this becomes a compelling investigation.
The RightScale information is here, if you want to investigate it further. Yes, there are other methods I've found, but most are tied to a single kind of cloud, and I'm not into vendor lock-in.
Poppa Bear Level - Hands-on
Windows Azure Virtual Machines 3-tier Deployment - http://support.rightscale.com/09-Clouds/Azure/Tutorials/3_Tier_Deployment_with_Windows_Azure
Momma Bear Level - Just the Right level... ;0)
Baby Bear Level - Marketing
I hold the term “science” in very high esteem. I grew up on the Space Coast in Florida, and eventually worked at the Kennedy Space Center, surrounded by very intelligent people who worked in various scientific fields.
Recently a new term has entered the computing dialog – “Data Scientist”. Since it’s not a standard term, it has a lot of definitions, and in fact has been disputed as a correct term. After all, the reasoning goes, if there’s no such thing as “Data Science” then how can there be a Data Scientist?
This argument has been made before, albeit with a different term – “Computer Science”. In Peter Denning’s excellent article “Is Computer Science Science” (April 2005/Vol. 48, No. 4 COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM) there are many points that separate “science” from “engineering” and even “art”. I won’t repeat the content of that article here (I recommend you read it on your own) but will leverage the points he makes there.
Definition of Science
To ask the question “is data science ‘science’” then we need to start with a definition of terms. Various references put the definition into the same basic areas:
- Study of the physical world
- Systematic and/or disciplined study of a subject area
- ...and then they include the things studied, the bodies of knowledge and so on.
The word itself comes from Latin, and means merely “to know” or “to study to know”. Greek divides knowledge further into “truth” (episteme), and practical use or effects (tekhne). Normally computing falls into the second realm.
Definition of Data Science
And now a more controversial definition: Data Science. This term is so new and perhaps so niche that the major dictionaries haven’t yet picked it up (my OED reference is older – can’t afford to pop for the online registration at present).
Researching the term's general use I created an amalgam of the definitions this way:
“Studying and applying mathematical and other techniques to derive information from complex data sets.”
Using this definition, data science certainly seems to be science - it's learning about and studying some object or area using systematic methods. But implicit within the definition is the word “application”, which makes the process more akin to engineering or even technology than science. In fact, I find that using these techniques – and data itself – part of science, not science itself.
I leave out the concept of studying data patterns or algorithms as part of this discipline. That is actually a domain I see within research, mathematics or computer science. That of course is a type of science, but does not seek for practical applications.
As part of the argument against calling it “Data Science”, some point to the scientific method of creating a hypothesis, testing with controls, testing results against the hypothesis, and documenting for repeatability. These are not steps that we often take in working with data. We normally start with a question, and fit patterns and algorithms to predict outcomes and find correlations. In this way Data Science is more akin to statistics (and in fact makes heavy use of them) in the process rather than starting with an assumption and following on with it.
So, is Data Science “Science”? I’m uncertain – and I’m uncertain it matters. Even if we are facing rampant “title inflation” these days (does anyone introduce themselves as a secretary or supervisor anymore?) I can tolerate the term at least from the intent that we use data to study problems across a wide spectrum, rather than restricting it to a single domain. And I also understand those who have worked hard to achieve the very honorable title of “scientist” who have issues with those who borrow the term without asking.
What do you think? Science, or not? Does it matter?
I travel a lot. Not like some folks that are gone every week, mind you, although in the last month I’ve been to: Cambridge, UK; Anchorage, AK; San Jose, CA; Copenhagen, DK, Boston, MA; and I’m currently en-route to Anaheim, CA. While this many places in a month is a bit unusual for me, I would say I travel frequently. I’ve travelled most of my 28+ years in IT, and at one time was a consultant traveling weekly.
With that much time away from my primary work location, I have to find ways to stay productive. Some might say “just rest – take a nap!” – but I’m not able to do that. For one thing, I’m a very light sleeper and I’ve never slept on a plane - even a 30+ hour trip to New Zealand in Business Class - so that just isn’t option. I also am not always in the plane, of course. There’s the hotel, the taxi/bus/train, the airport and then all that over again when I arrive. Since my regular jobs have many demands, I have to get work done.
Note: No, I’m not always focused on work. I need downtime just like everyone else. Sometimes I just think, watch a movie or listen to tunes – and I give myself permission to do that anytime – sometimes the whole trip. I have too few
heartbeats left in life to only focus on work – it’s just not that important, and neither am I. Some of these tasks are letters to friends and family, or other personal things. What I’m talking about here is a plan, not some task list I have to follow. When I get to the location I’m traveling to, I always build in as much time as I can to ensure I enjoy those sights and the people I’m with. I would find traveling to be a waste if not for that.
The Unrealistic Expectation
As I would evaluate the trip I was taking – say a 6-8 hour flight – I would expect to get 10-12 hours of work done. After all, there’s the time at the airport, the taxi and so on, and then of course the time in the air with all of the room, power, internet and everything else I needed to get my work done. I would pile up tasks at home, pack my bags, and head happily to the magical land of the TSA.
On return from the trip, I had accomplished little, had more e-mails and other work that had piled up, and I was tired, hungry, and unorganized. This had to change.
So, I decided to do three things:
- Segment my work
- Set realistic expectations
- Plan accordingly
Segmenting By Available Resources
The first task was to decide what kind of work I could do in each location – if any. I found that I was dependent on a few things to get work done, such as power, the Internet, and a place to sit down.
Before I fly, I take some time at home to get all of the work I’d like to accomplish while away segmented into these areas, and print that out on paper, which goes in my suit-coat pocket along with a mechanical pencil. I print my tickets, and I’m all set for the adventure ahead. Then I simply do each kind of work whenever I’m in that situation.
There are certain times when I don’t have power available. But not only that, I might not even be able to use most of my electronics.
So I now schedule as many phone calls as I can for the taxi/bus/train ride and the airports as I can. I have a paper notebook (Moleskine, of course) and a pencil and I print out any notes or numbers I need prior to the trip.
Once I’m airborne or at the airport, I work on my laptop. I check and respond to e-mails, create slides, write code, do architecture, whatever I can.
If I can’t use any electronics, or once the power runs out, I schedule time for reading. I can read at the airport or anywhere, actually, even in-flight or any other transport. I “read with a pencil”, meaning I take a lot of notes, which I like
to put in OneNote, but since in most cases I don’t have power, I use the Moleskine to do that.
Speaking of which, sometimes as I’m thinking I come up with new topics, ideas, blog posts, or things to teach in my classes. Once again I take out the notebook and write it down. All of these notes get a check-mark when I get back to the office and transfer the writing to OneNote. I’ve tried those “smart pens” and so on to automate this, but it just never works out. Pencil and paper are just fine.
As I mentioned, sometime I just need to think. I’ll do nothing, and let my mind wander, thinking of nothing in particular, or some math problem or science question I’m interested in. My only issue with this is that I communicate to
think, and I don’t want to drive people crazy by being that guy that won’t shut up, so I think in a different way.
Power, but no Internet or Phone
If I have power but no Internet or phone, I focus on the laptop and the tablet as before, and I also recharge my other gadgets.
Power, Internet, Phone and a Place to Work
At first I thought that when I arrived at the hotel or event I could get the same amount of work done that I do at the office. Not so. There’s simply too many distractions, things you need, or other issues that allow this. Of course, I
can work on any device, read, think, write or whatever, but I am simply not as productive as I am in my home office.
So I plan for about 25-50% as much work getting done in this environment as I think I could really do. I’ve done some measurements, and this holds out to be true almost every time. The key is that I re-set my expectations (and my co-worker’s expectations as well) that this is the case. I use the Out-Of-Office notices to let people know that I’m just not going to be 100% at this time – it’s hard for everyone, but it’s more honest and realistic, and I’d rather they know that – and that I realize that – than to let them think I’m totally available. Because I’m not – I’m traveling. I don’t tend to put too much detail, because after all I don’t necessarily want to let people know when I’m not home :) but I do think it’s important to let people that depend on my know that I’ll get back with them later.
I hope this helps you think through your own methodology of staying productive when you travel. Or perhaps you just go offline, and don’t worry about any of this – good for you! That’s completely valid as well.
(Oh, and yes, I wrote this at 35K feet, on Alaska Airlines on a trip. :) Practice what you preach, Buck.)
I've written before (as have others) about the dangers of an "either/or" mentality with various technologies, including the "cloud". Companies are starting to understand this message - I've been traveling a lot this year from Alaska to California, from the UK to Copenhagen, Denmark, talking with companies that are implementing Hybrid systems, and giving presentations on how to implement one.
I'm doing another of these Monday of next week, in Boston here in the US. You can read about it and register here (it's a free event) and learn not only more about Hybrid systems using on-premises databases and Windows Azure, but more about SQL Server as well from other speakers.
In on-premises solutions we have the full range of options open for a given computing solution – but we don’t always take advantage of them, for multiple reasons. Data goes in a Relational Database Management System, files go on a share, and e-mail goes to the Exchange server.
Over time, vendors (including ourselves) add in functionality to one product that allow non-standard use of the platform. For example, SQL Server (and Oracle, and others) allow large binary storage in or through the system – something not originally intended for an RDBMS to handle. There are certainly times when this makes sense, of course, but often these platform hammers turn every problem into a nail. It can make us “lazy” in our design – we sometimes don’t take the time to learn another architecture because the one we’ve spent so much time with can handle what we want to do.
But there’s a distinct danger here. In nature, when a population shares too many of the same traits, it can cause a complete collapse if a situation exploits a weakness shared by that population. The same is true with not using the right
tool for the job in a computing environment. Your company or organization depends on your knowledge as a professional to select the best mix of supportable, flexible, cost-effective technologies to solve their problems, whether you’re in an architect role or not.
So take some time today to learn something new. The way I do this is to select a given problem, and try to solve it with a technology I’m not familiar with. For instance – create a Purchase Order system in Excel, then in Hadoop or MongoDB, or even in flat-files using PowerShell as an interface. No, I’m not suggesting any of these architectures are the proper way to solve the PO problem, but taking something concrete that you know well and applying that meta-knowledge to another platform will assist you in exercising the “little grey cells” and help you and your organization understand what is open to you.
And of course you can do all of this on-premises – but my recommendation is to check out a cloud platform (my suggestion would of course be Windows Azure :) ) and try it there. Most providers (including Microsoft) provide free time to do that.
Windows Azure is a platform that allows you to write software, run software, or use software that we've already written. We provide lots of resources to help you do that - many can be found right here in this blog series. There are two primary resources you can use, and it's important to understand what they are and what they do.
The Windows Azure Software Development Kit (SDK)
Actually, this isn't one resource. We have SDK's for multiple development environments, such as Visual Studio and also Eclipse, along with SDK's for iOS, Android and other environments. Windows Azure is a "back end", so almost any technology or front end system can use it to solve a problem.
The SDK's are primarily for development. In the case of Visual Studio, you'll get a runtime environment for Windows Azure which allows you to develop, test and even run code all locally - you do not have to be connected to Windows Azure at all, until you're ready to deploy.
You'll also get a few samples and codeblocks, along with all of the libraries you need to code with Windows Azure in .NET, PHP, Ruby, Java and more.
The SDK is updated frequently, so check this location to find the latest for your environment and language - just click the bar that corresponds to what you want:
The Windows Azure Training Kit (WATK)
Whether you're writing code, using Windows Azure Virtual Machines (VM's) or working with Hadoop, you can use the WATK to get examples, code, PowerShell scripts, PowerPoint decks, training videos and much more. This should be your second download after the SDK. This is all of the training you need to get started, and even beyond. The WATK is updated frequently - and you can find the latest one here:
There are many other resources - again, check the http://windowsazure.com site, the community newsletter (which introduces the latest features), and my blog for more.
It’s an interesting time in computing technology. At one point there was a dearth of information available for solving a given problem, or educating ourselves on broader topics so that we can solve problems in the future. With dozens, perhaps hundreds or thousands of web sites and content available (for free, in many cases) from vendors, peers, even colleges and universities, it seems like there is actually too much information. Who has the time to absorb all this information and training? Even if you had the inclination, where to start?
In fact, it seems so overwhelming that I often hear people saying that they can’t find the training they need, or that vendor X or Y “doesn’t help their users”. On questioning these folks, however, I often find that they – and sometimes I - haven’t put in the effort to learn what resources we have.
That’s where blogs, like this one, can help. If you follow a blog, either by checking it often or perhaps subscribing to the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed, you’ll be able to spread out the search or create a mental filter for the information you need.
But it’s not enough just read a blog or a web page. The creators need real feedback – what doesn’t work, and what does. Yes, you’re allowed to tell a vendor or writer “This helped me because…” so that you reinforce the positives. To be sure, bring up what doesn’t work as well – that’s fine. But be specific, and be constructive. You’d be surprised at how much it matters. I know for a fact at Microsoft we listen – there is a real live person that reads your comments. I’m sure this is true of other vendors, and I also know that most blog authors – yours truly most especially – wants to know what you think.
In this blog entry I’d to call your attention to three resources you have at your disposal, and how you can use them to help. I’ll try to bring up things like this from time to time that I find useful, and cover in them in more depth like this. Think of this as a synopsis of a longer set of resources that you can use to filter whether you want to research further, bookmark, or forward on to a circle of friends where you think it might help them.
Data Driven Design Concepts
I’ll start with a great site that walks you through the process of designing a solution from a data-first perspective. As you know, I believe all computing is merely re-arranging data. If you follow that logic as well, you’ll realize
that whenever you create a solution, you should start at the data-end of the application. This resource helps you do that. Even if you don’t use the specific technologies the instructions use, the concepts hold for almost any other technology that deals with data. This should be a definite bookmark for a developer, DBA, or Data Architect.
When I mentioned my admiration for this resource here at Microsoft, the team that created it contacted me and asked if I’d share an e-mail address to my readers so that you can comment on it. You’re guaranteed to be heard – you can suggest changes, talk about how useful – or not – it is, and so on. Here’s that address: email@example.com
End-to-End Example of a complete Hybrid Application – with Live Demo
I learn by example. I also like having ready-made, live, functional demos that show the completed solution at work. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how a complex, complete, hybrid application that bridges on-premises systems with cloud-based databases, code, functions and more, this is it. It’s a stock-trading simulator, and you can get everything from the design to the code itself, or you can just play with the application. It’s running on Windows Azure, the actual production servers we use for everything else.
Using a Cloud-Based Service
Along with that stock-trading application, you have a full demonstration and usable code sample of a web-based service available. If you’re a developer, this is a style of code you need to understand for everything from iPhone development to a full Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) environment.
So check out these resources. I’ll post more from time to time as I run across them. Hopefully they’ll be as useful to you as they are to me. Oh, and if you have a comment on any of the resources, let them know. And if you have any comments about these or any of my entries, feel free to post away.
To quote a famous TV Show: “Hello Seattle – I’m listening…”
I've written here a little about how I work during the day, including things like using a stand-up desk (still doing that, by the way). Inspired by a Twitter conversation yesterday, I thought I might explain how I set up my computing environment.
First, a couple of important points. I work in Cloud Computing, specifically (but not limited to) Windows Azure. Windows Azure has features to run a Virtual Machine (IaaS), run code without having to control a Virtual Machine (PaaS) and use databases, video streaming, Hadoop and more (a kind of SaaS for tech pros). As such, my designs run the gamut of on-premises, VM's in the Cloud, and software that I write for a platform.
I focus on data primarily, meaning that I design a lot of systems that use an RDBMS (like SQL Server or Windows Azure Databases) or a NoSQL approach (MongoDB on Azure or large-scale Key-Value Pairs in Table storage) and even Hadoop and R, and also Cloud Numerics in F#.
All that being said, those things inform my choices below.
I have a Lenovo X220 tablet/laptop which I really like a great deal - it's a light, tough, extremely fast system. When I travel, that's the system I take. It has 8GB of RAM, and an SSD drive. I sometimes use that to develop or work at a client's site, on the road, or in the living room when I'm not in my home office.
My main system is a GateWay DX430017 - I've maxed it out on RAM, and I have two 1TB drives in it. It's not only my workstation for work; I leave it on all the time and it streams our videos, music and books. I have about 3400 e-books, and I've just started using Calibre to stream the library. I run Windows 8 on it so I can set up Hyper-V images, since Windows Azure allows me to move regular Hyper-V disks back and forth to the Cloud. That's where all my "servers" are, when I have to use an IaaS approach.
The reason I use a desktop-style system rather than a laptop only approach is that a good part of my job is setting up architectures to solve really big, complex problems. That means I have to simulate entire networks on-premises, along with the Hybrid Cloud approach I use a lot. I need a lot of disk space and memory for that, and I use two huge monitors on my stand-up desk. I could probably use 10 monitors if I had the room for them. Also, since it's our home system as well, I leave it on all the time and it doesn't travel.
For the software for my systems, it's important to keep in mind that I not only write code, but I design databases, teach, present, and create Linux and other environments.
Windows 8 - While the jury is out for me on the new interface, the context-sensitive search, integrated everything, and speed is just hands-down the right choice. I've evaluated a server OS, Linux, even an Apple, but I just am not as efficient on those as I am with Windows 8.
Visual Studio Ultimate - I develop primarily in .NET (C# and F# mostly) and I use the Team Foundation Server in the cloud, and I'm asked to do everything from UI to Services, so I need everything.
Windows Azure SDK, Windows Azure Training Kit - I need the first to set up my Azure PaaS coding, and the second has all the info I need for PaaS, IaaS and SaaS. This is primarily how I get paid. :)
SQL Server Developer Edition - While I might install Oracle, MySQL and Postgres on my VM's, the "outside" environment is SQL Server for an RDBMS. I install the Developer Edition because it has the same features as Enterprise Edition, and comes with all the client tools and documentation.
Microsoft Office - Even if I didn't work here, this is what I would use. I've just grown too accustomed to doing business this way to change, so my advice is always "use what works", and this does. The parts I use are:
OneNote (and a Math Add-in) - I do almost everything - and I mean everything in OneNote. I can code, do high-end math, present, design, collaborate and more. All my notebooks are on my Skydrive. I can use them from any system, anywhere. If you take the time to learn this program, you'll be hooked.
Excel with PowerPivot - Don't make that face. Excel is the world's database, and every Data Scientist I know - even the ones where I teach at the University of Washington - know it, use it, and love it.
Outlook - Primary communications, CRM and contact tool. I have all of my social media hooked up to it, so when I get an e-mail from you, I see everything, see all the history we've had on e-mail, find you on a map and more.
Lync - I was fine with LiveMeeting, although it has it's moments. For me, the Lync client is tres-awesome. I use this throughout my day, present on it, stay in contact with colleagues and the folks on the dev team (who wish I didn't have it) and more.
PowerPoint - Once again, don't make that face. Whenever I see someone complaining about PowerPoint, I have 100% of the time found they don't know how to use it. If you suck at presenting or creating content, don't blame PowerPoint. Works great on my machine. :)
Zoomit - Magnifier - On Windows 7 (and 8 as well) there's a built-in magnifier, but I install Zoomit out of habit. It enlarges the screen. If you don't use one of these tools (or their equivalent on some other OS) then you're presenting/teaching wrong, and you should stop presenting/teaching until you get them and learn how to show people what you can see on your tiny, tiny monitor. :)
Cygwin - Unix for Windows. OK, that's not true, but it's mostly that. I grew up on mainframes and Unix (IBM and HP, thank you) and I can't imagine life without sed, awk, grep, vim, and bash. I also tend to take a lot of the "Science" and "Development" and "Database" packages in it as well.
PuTTY - Speaking of Unix, when I need to connect to my Linux VM's in Windows Azure, I want to do it securely. This is the tool for that.
Notepad++ - Somewhere between torturing myself in vim and luxuriating in OneNote is Notepad++. Everyone has a favorite text editor; this one is mine. Too many features to name, and it's free.
Browsers - I install Chrome, Firefox and of course IE. I know it's in vogue to rant on IE, but I tend to think for myself a great deal, and I've had few (none) problems with it. The others I have for the haterz that make sites that won't run in IE.
Visio - I've used a lot of design packages, but none have the extreme meta-data edit capabilities of Visio. I don't use this all the time - it can be rather heavy, but what it does it does really well. I also present this way when I'm not using PowerPoint. Yup, I just bring up Visio and diagram away as I'm chatting with clients. Depending on what we're covering, this can be the right tool for that.
Tweetdeck - The AIR one, not that new disaster they came out with. I live on social media, since you, dear readers, are my cube-mates. When I get tired of you all, I close Tweetdeck. When I need help or someone needs help from me, or if I want to see a picture of a cat while I'm coding, I bring it up. It's up most all day and night.
Windows Media Player - I listen to Trance or Classical when I code, and I find music managers overbearing and extra. I just use what comes in the box, and it works great for me.
R - F# and Cloud Numerics now allows me to load in R libraries (yay!) and I use this for statistical work on big data loads.
Microsoft Math - One of the most amazing, free, rich, amazing, awesome, amazing calculators out there. I get the 64-bit version for quick math conversions, plots and formula-checks.
Python - I know, right? Who knew that the scientific community loved Python so much. But they do. I use 2.7; not as much runs with 3+. I also use IronPython in Visual Studio, or I edit in Notepad++
Camstudio recorder - Windows PSR - In much of my training, and all of my teaching at the UW, I need to show a process on a screen. Camstudio records screen and voice, and it's free. If I need to make static training, I use the Windows PSR tool that's built right in. It's ostensibly for problem duplication, but I use it to record for training.
OK - your turn. Post a link to your blog entry below, and tell me how you set your system up.
At one point in my life I would build my own computing system for home use. I wanted a particular video card, a certain set of drives, and a lot of memory. Not only could I not find those things in a vendor’s pre-built computer, but those were more expensive – by a lot. As time moved on and the computing industry matured, I actually find that I can buy a vendor’s system as cheaply – and in some cases far more cheaply – than I can build it myself.
This paradigm holds true for almost any product, even clothing and furniture. And it’s also held true for software…
If you need an office productivity package, you simply buy one or use open-sourced software for that. There’s really no need to write your own Word Processor – it’s kind of been done a thousand times over. Even if you need a full system for customer relationship management or other needs, you simply buy one.
But there is no “cloud solution in a box”. Sure, if you’re after “Software as a Service” – type solutions, like being able to process video (Windows Azure Media Services) or running a Pig or Hive job in Hadoop (Hadoop on Windows Azure) you can simply use one of those, or if you just want to deploy a Virtual Machine (Windows Azure Virtual Machines) you can get that, but if you’re looking for a solution to a problem your organization has, you may need to mix Software, Infrastructure, and perhaps even Platforms (such as Windows Azure Computing) to solve the issue.
It’s all about starting from the problem-end first. We’ve become so accustomed to looking for a box of software that will solve the problem, that we often start with the solution and try to fit it to the problem, rather than the other way around.
When I talk with my fellow architects at other companies, one of the hardest things to get them to do is to ignore the technology for a moment and describe what the issues are. It’s interesting to monitor the conversation and watch how many times we deviate from the problem into the solution.
So, in your work today, try a little experiment: watch how many times you go after a problem by starting with the solution. Tomorrow, make a conscious effort to reverse that. You might be surprised at the results.
When you create something in the cloud, it's real, and you're charged for it. There are free offerings, and you even get free resources with your Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscription, but there are limits within those. Creating a 1 GB database - even with nothing in it - is a 1 GB Database. If you create it, drop it, and create it again 2 minutes later, that's 2 GB of space you've used for the month. Wait - how do I develop in this kind of situation?
With Windows Azure, you can simply install the free Software Development Kit (SDK) and develop your entire application for free - you need never even log in to Windows Azure to code. Once you're done, you simply deploy the app and you start making money from the application as you're paying for it.
Windows Azure Databases (The Artist Formerly Known As SQL Azure) is a bit different. It's not emulated in the SDK - because it doesn't have to be. It's just SQL Server, with some differences in feature set. To develop in this environment, you can use SQL Server, any edition. Be aware of the feature differences, of course, but just develop away - even in the free "Express" or LocalDB flavors - and then right-click in SQL Server Management Studio to script objects. Script the database, but change the "Advanced" selection to the Engine Type of "SQL Azure". Bing.
Although most all T-SQL ports directly, one thing to keep in mind is that you need a Clustered Index on every table. Often the Primary Key (PK) is a good choice for that.