Azure: Virtual Machine, Machine Learning, IoT Event Ingestion, Mobile, SQL, Redis, SDK Improvements

This past month we’ve released a number of great enhancements to Microsoft Azure.  These include:

  • Virtual Machines: Preview Portal Support as well as SharePoint Farm Creation
  • Machine Learning: Public preview of the new Azure Machine Learning service
  • Event Hub: Public preview of new Azure Event Ingestion Service
  • Mobile Services: General Availability of .NET support, SignalR support
  • Notification Hubs: Price Reductions and New Features
  • SQL Database: New Geo-Restore, Geo-Replication and Auditing support
  • Redis Cache: Larger Cache Sizes
  • Storage: Support for Zone Redundant Storage
  • SDK: Tons of great VS and SDK improvements

All of these improvements are now available to use immediately (note that some features are still in preview).  Below are more details about them:

Virtual Machines: Support in the new Azure Preview portal

We previewed the new Azure Preview Portal at the //Build conference earlier this year.  It brings together all of your Azure resources in a single management portal, and makes it easy to build cloud applications on the Azure platform using our new Azure Resource Manager (which enables you to manage multiple Azure resources as a single application).  The initial preview of the portal supported Web Sites, SQL Databases, Storage, and Visual Studio Online resources.

This past month we’ve extended the preview portal to also now support Virtual Machines.  You can create standalone VMs using the portal, or group multiple VMs (and PaaS services) together into a Resource Group and manage them as a single logical entity. You can use the preview portal to get deep insights into billing and monitoring of these resources, and customize the portal to view the data however you want.  If you are an existing Azure customer you can start using the new portal today: http://portal.azure.com.

Below is a screen-shot of the new portal in action.  The service dashboard showing service/region health can be seen in the top-left of the portal, along with billing data about my subscriptions – both make it really easy for you to see the health and usage of your services in Azure.  In the screen-shot below I have a single VM running named “scottguvstest” – and clicking the tile for it displays a “blade” of additional details about it to the right – including integrated performance monitoring usage data:

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The initial “blade” for a VM provides a summary view of common metrics about it.  You can click any of the titles to get even more detailed information as well. 

For example, below I’ve clicked the CPU monitoring title in my VM, which brought up a Metric blade with even more details about CPU utilization over the last few days.  I’ve then clicked the “Add Alert” command within it to setup an automatic alert that will trigger (and send an email to me) any time the CPU of the VM goes above 95%:

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In the screen-shot below, I’ve clicked the “Usage” tile within the VM blade, which displays details about the different VM sizes available – and what each VM size provides in terms of CPU, memory, disk IOPS and other capabilities.  Changing the size of the VM being used is as simple as clicking another of the pricing tiles within the portal – no redeployment of the VM required:

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SharePoint Farm support via the Azure Gallery

Built-into the Azure Preview Portal is a new “Azure Gallery” that provides an easy way to deploy a wide variety of VM images and online services.  VM images in the Azure Gallery include Windows Server, SQL Server, SharePoint Server, Ubuntu, Oracle, Baracuda images. 

Last month, we also enabled a new “SharePoint Server Farm” gallery item.  It enables you to easily configure and deploy a highly-available SharePoint Server Farm consisting of multiple VM images (databases, web servers, domain controllers, etc) in only minutes.  It provides the easiest way to create and configure SharePoint farms anywhere:

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Over the next few months you’ll see even more items show up in the gallery – enabling a variety of additional new scenarios.  Try out the ones in the gallery today by visiting the new Azure portal: http://portal.azure.com/

Machine Learning: Preview of new Machine Learning Service for Azure

Last month we delivered the public preview of our new Microsoft Azure Machine Learning service, a game changing service that enables your applications and systems to significantly improve your organization’s understanding across vast amounts of data. Azure Machine Learning (Azure ML) is a fully managed cloud service with no software to install, no hardware to manage, and no OS versions or development environments to grapple with. Armed with nothing but a browser, data scientists can log into Azure and start developing Machine Learning models from any location, and from any device.

ML Studio, an integrated development environment for Machine Learning, lets you set up experiments as simple data flow graphs, with an easy to use drag, drop and connect paradigm. Data scientists can use it to avoid programming a large number of common tasks, allowing them to focus on experiment design and iteration. A collection of best of breed algorithms developed by Microsoft Research comes built-in, as is support for custom R code – and over 350 open source R packages can be used securely within Azure ML today.

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Azure ML also makes it simple to create production deployments at scale in the cloud. Pre-trained Machine Learning models can be incorporated into a scoring workflow and, with a few clicks, a new cloud-hosted REST API can be created.

Azure ML makes the incredible potential of Machine Learning accessible both to startups and large enterprises. Startups are now able to immediately apply machine learning to their applications. Larger enterprises are able to unleash the latent value in their big data to generate significantly more revenue and efficiencies. Above all, the speed of iteration and experimentation that is now possible will allow for rapid innovation and pave the way for intelligence in cloud-connected devices all around us.

Getting Started

Getting started with the Azure Machine Learning Service is easy.  Within the current Azure Portal simply choose New->Data Services->Machine Learning to create your first ML service today:

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Subscribe to the Machine Learning Team Blog to learn more about the Azure Machine Learning service.  And visit our Azure Machine Learning documentation center to watch videos and explore tutorials on how to get started immediately.

Event Hub: Preview of new Azure Event Ingestion Service

Today’s connected world is defined by big data.  Big data may originate from connected cars and thermostats that produce telemetry data every few minutes, application performance counters that generate events every second or mobile apps that capture telemetry for every user’s individual action. The rapid proliferation of connected devices raises challenges due to the variety of platforms and protocols involved.  Connecting these disparate data sources while handling the scale of the aggregate stream is a significant challenge. 

I’m happy to announce the public preview of a significant new Azure service: Event Hub. Event Hub is a highly scalable pub-sub ingestor capable of elastic scale to handle millions of events per second from millions of connected devices so that you can process and analyze the massive amounts of data produced by your connected devices and applications. With this new service, we now provide an easy way for you to provision capacity for ingesting events from a variety of sources, and over a variety of protocols in a secure manner. Event Hub supports a variety of partitioning modes to enable parallelism and scale in your downstream processing tier while preserving the order of events on a per device basis.

Creating an Event Hub

You can easily create a new instance of Event Hub from the Azure Management Portal by clicking New->App Services->Service Bus->Event Hub. During the Preview, Event Hub service is available in a limited number of regions (East US 2, West Europe, Southeast Asia) and requires that you first create a new Service Bus Namespace:

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Learn More

Try out the new Event Hub service and give us your feedback! For more information, visit the links below:

Mobile Services: General Availability of .NET Support, SignalR and Offline Sync

A few months ago I announced a preview of Mobile Services with .NET backend support. Today I am excited to announce the general availability of the Mobile Services .NET offering, which makes it an incredibly attractive choice for developers building mobile facing backend APIs using .NET.  Using Mobile Services you can now:

  • Quickly add a fully featured backend to your iOS, Android, Windows, Windows Phone, HTML or cross-platform Xamarin, Sencha, or PhoneGap app, leveraging ASP.NET Web API, Mobile Services, and corresponding Mobile Services client SDKs.
  • Publish any existing ASP.NET Web API to Azure and have Mobile Services monitor and manage your Web API controllers for you.
  • Take advantage of built-in mobile capabilities like push notifications, real-time notifications with SignalR, enterprise sign-on with Azure Active Directory, social auth, offline data sync for occasionally connected scenariosYou can also take full advantage of Web API features like OData controllers, and 3rd party Web API-based frameworks like Breeze.
  • Have your mobile app’s users login via Azure Active Directory and securely access enterprise assets such as SharePoint and Office 365. In addition, we've also enabled seamless connectivity to on-premises assets, so you can reach databases and web services that are not exposed to the Internet and behind your company’s firewall.
  • Build, test, and debug your Mobile Services .NET backend using Visual Studio running locally on your machine or remotely in Azure.

You can learn more about Mobile Services .NET from this blog post, and the Mobile Services documentation center.

Real-time Push with Mobile Services and SignalR

We recently released an update to our Mobile Services .NET backend support which enables you to use ASP.NET SignalR for real-time, bi-directional communications with your mobile applications. SignalR will use WebSockets under the covers when it's available, and fallback to other “techniques” (i.e. HTTP hacks) when it isn't. Regardless of the mode, your application code stays the same.

The SignalR integration with Azure Mobile Services includes:

  • Turnkey Web API Integration: Send messages to your connected SignalR applications from any Web API controller or scheduled job – we automatically give you access to SignalR Hubs from the ApiServices context.
  • Unified Authentication: Protect your SignalR Hubs the same way you protect any of your Mobile Service Web API controllers using a simple AuthorizeLevel attribute.
  • Automatic Scale-out: When scaling out your Azure Mobile Service using multiple front-ends, we automatically scale out SignalR using Azure Service Bus as the backplane for sync’ing between the front-ends. You don’t need to do anything to scale your SignalR Hubs.

Learn more about the SignalR capability in Mobile Services from Henrik’s blog.

Mobile Services Offline Sync support for Xamarin and native iOS apps

I've blogged earlier about the new Offline Sync feature in Mobile Services, which provides a lightweight, cross-platform way for applications to work with data even when they are offline / disconnected from the network. At that time we released Offline Sync support for Windows Phone and Windows Store apps.

Today we are also introducing a preview of Mobile Services Offline Sync for native iOS apps, as well as Xamarin.iOS, and Xamarin.Android.

Mobile Services Accelerators

I’m pleased to also introduce our new Mobile Services Accelerators, which are feature complete sample apps that demonstrate how to leverage the new enterprise features of the Mobile Services platform in an end-to-end scenario. We will have two accelerator apps for you today, available as a source code, as well as published in the app store.

These apps leverage the Mobile Services .NET backend support to handle authenticating employees with Azure Active Directory, store data securely, working with data offline, as well as get reminders via push notifications. We hope you will find these apps useful for your teams as a reference material. Stay tuned, as more accelerators are coming!

Notification Hubs: Price reductions and new features

The Azure Notification Hubs service enables large scale cross platform push notifications from any server backend running on-premise or in the cloud.  It supports a variety of mobile devices including iOS, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire, and Nokia X. I am excited to announce several great updates to Azure Notification Hubs today:

  • Price reduction. We are reducing the Notification Hubs price by up to 40x to accommodate a wider range of customer scenarios. With the new price (effective September 1st), customers can send 1 million mobile push notifications per month for free, and pay $1 per additional million pushes using our new Basic tier. Visit the Notification Hubs pricing page for more details.
  • Scheduled Push. You can now use Notification Hubs to schedule individual and broadcast push notifications at certain times of the day. For example, you can use this feature to schedule announcements to be delivered in the morning to your customers.  We include support to enable this no matter which time zone your customers are in.
  • Bulk Registration management. You can now send bulk jobs to create, update or export millions of mobile device registrations at a time with a single API call. This is useful if you are moving from an old push notification system to Notification Hubs, or to import user segments from a 3rd party analytics system.

You can learn more about Azure Notification Hubs at the developer center.

SQL Databases: New Geo-Restore, Geo-Replication and Auditing support

In April 2014, we first previewed our new SQL Database service tiers: Basic, Standard, and Premium. Today, I’m excited to announce the addition of more features to the preview:

  • Geo-restore: Designed for emergency data recovery when you need it most, geo-restore allows you to recover a database to any Azure region. Geo-restore uses geo-redundant Azure blob storage for automatic database backups and is available for Basic, Standard, and Premium databases in the Windows Azure Management Portal and REST APIs.
  • Geo-replication: You can now configure your SQL Databases to use our built-in geo-replication support that enables you to setup an asynchronously replicated secondary SQL Database that can be failed over to in the event of disaster.  Geo-replication is available for Standard and Premium databases, and can be configured via the Windows Azure Management portal and REST APIs. You can get more information about Azure SQL Database Business Continuity and geo-replication here and here.
  • Auditing: Our new auditing capability tracks and logs events that occur in your database and provides dashboard views and reports that enables you to get insights into these events. You can use auditing to streamline compliance-related activities, gain knowledge about what is happening in your database, and to identify trends, discrepancies and anomalies. Audit events are also written to an audit log which is stored in a user-designated Azure storage account.  Auditing is now available for all Basic, Standard, and Premium databases.

You can learn even more about these new features here.

Redis Cache: Large Cache Sizes, Six New Regions, Redis MaxMemory Policy Support

This past May, we launched the public preview of the new Azure Redis Cache service. This cache service gives you the ability to use a secure, dedicated Redis cache, managed as a service by Microsoft. Using the new Cache service, you get to leverage the rich feature set and ecosystem provided by Redis, and reliable hosting and monitoring from Microsoft.

Last month we updated the service with the following features:

  • Support for larger cache sizes. We now support the following sizes: 250 MB, 1 GB, 2.5 GB, 6 GB, 13 GB and 26 GB. 
  • Support for six new Azure Regions. The full list of supported regions can be found in the Azure Regions page.
  • Support for configuring Redis MaxMemory policy

For more information on the Azure Redis Cache, check out this blog post: Lap around Azure Redis Cache.

Storage: Support for Zone Redundant Storage

We are happy to introduce a new Azure Storage account offering: Zone Redundant Storage (ZRS).

ZRS replicates your data across 2 to 3 facilities either within a single Azure region or across two Azure regions. If your storage account has ZRS enabled, then your data is durable even in the case where one of the datacenter facilities hosting your data suffers a catastrophic issue. ZRS is also more cost efficient than the existing Global Redundant Storage (GRS) offering we have today.

You can create a ZRS storage account by simply choosing the ZRS option under the replication dropdown in the Azure Management Portal.

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You can find more information on pricing for ZRS at http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/storage/.

Azure SDK: WebSites, Mobile, Virtual Machines, Storage and Cloud Service Enhancements

Earlier today we released the Update 3 release of Visual Studio 2013 as well as the new Azure SDK 2.4 release.  These updates contain a ton of great new features that make it even easier to build solutions in the cloud using Azure.  Today’s updates include:

Visual Studio Update 3

  • Websites: Publish WebJobs from Console or Web projects.
  • Mobile Services: Create a Dev/Test environment in the cloud when creating Mobile Services projects. Use the Push Notification Wizard with .NET Mobile Services.
  • Notification Hubs: View and manage device registrations.

Azure SDK 2.4

  • Virtual Machines: Remote debug 32-bit Virtual Machines. Configure Virtual Machines, including installation & configuration of dynamic extensions (e.g. anti-malware, Puppet, Chef and custom script). Create Virtual Machine snapshots of the disk state.
  • Storage: View Storage activity logs for diagnostics. Provision Read-Access Geo-redundant Storage from Visual Studio.
  • Cloud Services: Emulator Express is the default option for new projects (Full Emulator is deprecated). Configure new networking capabilities in the service model.

You can learn all about the updates from the Azure team’s SDK announcement blog post.

Summary

This most recent release of Azure includes a bunch of great features that enable you to build even better cloud solutions.  If you don’t already have a Azure account, you can sign-up for a free trial and start using all of the above features today.  Then visit the Azure Developer Center to learn more about how to build apps with it.

Hope this helps,

Scott

P.S. In addition to blogging, I am also now using Twitter for quick updates and to share links. Follow me at: twitter.com/scottgu

24 Comments

  • Azure team is running at the speed of light. We can barely follow you.

  • lightning fast speed of development.
    One thing I want is, Azure SQL table-based collation setting. currently it's column based.

  • " SignalR will use WebSockets under the covers when it's available, and fallback to other “techniques” (i.e. HTTP hacks) when it isn't. Regardless of the mode, your application code stays the same."

    So does Mobile Services support WebSockets - and if not when are we likely to get it?
    Thanks

  • @JasonBSteele
    Yes, Mobile Services supports WebSockets. That's what SignalR uses.

  • SQL Azure Geo-replication looks like a killer feature, I can't wait to try it out. But on another note, I hope the new preview portal is not designed to replace the existing management portal. While it is very nice looking, it is very clumsy for day to day use.

  • I'm really disappointed in your SQL pricing. I currently host over 100 SQL db's (web edition) and it's working wonderfully. My entire use of Azure will have to be reconsidered as the performance of the Basic and S1 tiers are completely unacceptable. For me, that means I'd have to go from 9.95 / month web to a minimum of $100 / month S2 per database, and even that feels sluggish.

    Really, really disappointed.

  • Hey Craig, thanks for your feedback. We would love to understand your feedback on the management portal a bit better. Could you please contact me at cshankar @msft?

  • @ Matt. Matt, thanks for your feedback on SQL Database pricing. Can you please reach out to me directly at guyhay@microsoft.com. I'd love to understand more about your application and usage of SQL DB.

    Thanks Guy

  • Hi Matt.

    Regarding the SQL Database performance, I to was initially pretty worried. But I have migrated my SAAS to use a S1 database and performance has been just as good, if not better than before. From what I have been reading people have been mostly having problem when they are trying to do bulk data transfers, but for normal CRUD I have seen no problem.

  • Hi @Craig,

    I wish that were true for me. I setup a two databases and ran through a "normal" application procedure. Once on Web and once on S2. The web edition ran through the process in about 30 seconds. S2 took about 10 minutes. That's not going to fly.

    I'm now looking into just going straight to the SQL on a VM route.

    @Guy, thanks for the offer. I'll shoot you an email.

    --matt

  • Hello,YJ
    This is no concept of table collation on both SQL Server and Azure SQL database. Most of the people use database level collation, i.e., they choose the collation on database level and all columns use the same collation. Column level collation should only use for special cases, such as you want special sorting rule/case rules for that column only.

  • I currently host over 100 SQL db's (web edition) and it's working wonderfully. My entire use of Azure will have to be reconsidered as the performance of the Basic and S1 tiers are completely unacceptable.

  • So does Mobile Services support WebSockets - and if not when are we likely to get it?

  • Earlier today we released the Update 3 release of Visual Studio 2013 as well as the new Azure SDK 2.4 release.

  • Hi,

    I tried Mobile Services and Signalr, but my test console client uses Server Sent Events. When I try to force it using Websockets, connection fails :( SSE works fine though..

  • @vinamilk thanks for your feedback on SQL Database pricing. Microsoft understands that changing business models is complex and effects customers in many different ways. As you know Basic/Standard/Premium are in public preview and there are a number of changes that will land for GA. By design Web/Business will continue to be available after GA to allow ISVs to move at their own pace. You should know that Basic/Standard/Premium are a first step, and shouldn't be seen as the final step in business model evolution for SQL Database. I'd be happy to talk offline at guyhay@microsoft.com so that we can talk about your applications specific use of SQL DB.

  • I can also confirm that I am only getting Server Sent Event for Mobile SignalR and not WebSockets.

    Scott, can we have an update on when we will get WebSockets?

  • Cool features all of them <3 the SQL Auditing that will come in handy for our setup.

    Is there any news on Azure Storage Encryption @ ReST
    We are developing a application with the goal of making it HIPAA compliant, one of the requirements we have identified is that we would like to encrypt data stored in Azure blob storage but we would like not having to encrypt and manage encryption our self.

  • On the questions on SignalR and use of WebSockets, SignalR supports a variety of ways of accomplishing bi-directional flow and WebSockets is one of those. It prefers WebSockets when it can but it depends on the client. If the client can’t use Web Sockets then SignalR will use something else. The server side does support WebSockets but it requires both the client and server to support it before it kicks in.

    Hope this helps,

    Henrik

  • Henrik;
    So the problem is on SignalR .Net Client then? I'm running console client on Windows 8 and using .net 4.5 framework.

  • I wanted to follow up on my earlier comment(s). For starters, I'm a huge fan of both SQL Azure and Azure in general. So, my post was more like a scorned lover than a critic. That said, I wanted say thanks to @Guy from @Microsoft for reaching out. We had a good conversation and I'm confident that my choice of SQL Azure was the right one.

    I definitely understand the need to move toward a "predictable performance" model both from Microsoft's point of view and the clients. Of course on either side, one size rarely fits all and @Guy and Microsoft seem to be well aware of that and sound as though they've got more cool options coming.

  • My entire use of Azure will have to be reconsidered as the performance of the Basic and S1 tiers are completely unacceptable.

  • ^^ Seriously, you need to look into your spam filters / moderation ^^

  • Great and quick development! Will be looking forward to more from you! Virtual Machines are getting ahead very faster!!

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