November 15, 2010 jamescon 1 comment

Two weeks ago we held the Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Redmond.  Since we announced the PDC event in July, my team has been focused on building the keynote demos and identifying and reviewing the sessions for the Cloud Services and Framework & Tools.  This was my third PDC where I have been involved with different aspects of the event for the Windows Azure Platform.

This year for PDC I was also asked to deliver one of the demos in Bob Muglia’s keynote.  Bob focused his presentation exclusively on the Windows Azure Platform.   He announced several new features for Windows Azure (including VM Role, Admin mode, RDP, Full IIS, and the new portal experience) as well as several new and updated services (including SQL Azure Reporting, Access Control, and Caching).   You can view the full keynote online here:  akeK7Q.  My demo starts at 2 hrs 40 minutes in the video stream – or here is a bookmark to go directly to the demo.


In my demo I showed how we’re going to take the Platform as a Service (PaaS) approach with the Windows Azure Platform even further in the near future.  So you have the context, in the previous demo, Don Box and Jonathan Carter showed how they could quickly create an application that composed several new services to provide new functionality in the app.  They integrated the Access Control Service to support authentication with Facebook and Active Directory (via ADFS).  They showed how to use the new Windows Azure AppFabric Caching Service to cache data coming from a local SQL Azure database and an OData feed.   Finally, they showed how to use the new SQL Azure Reporting service to execute and embed reports in an ASP.NET application.

My demo focused on how we’re going make it easier to compose apps (like Don and Jonathan created) in the future.  I first showed how we’re going to provide a Visual Studio design tool for creating what we call a Composition Model.  The Composition Model is simply a declarative way of representing the relationships and metadata for the services your app uses.   Here’s a screenshot of the Composition Model for the app that Don and Jonathan created earlier in the keynote.

Composition Model

While creating the model I also introduced a new service we call the Container which provides a host for running workflows in the cloud.  I know many developers have been asking about running workflows since we introduce the functionality back in early 2008 and then pulled it later that year.  We decided not to provide workflow functionality at the time, since we wanted to use the .NET Framework 4.  The new workflow support in the cloud now uses the .NET Framework 4 workflow engine – in fact it’s the same runtime and same Visual Studio tools for creating and running the workflow.  What we introduced at PDC is that we’re going to manage the hosting of the workflows for you, so you don’t have to stand up your own persistence database, create your own tracking database, start the workflow host yourself, etc.

After creating the model in Visual Studio, I also showed a new service called a Composition Service that can automate the provisioning, configuration, and monitoring of all the services your app consumes by using the metadata from the Composition Model.  For instance, since the model indicated that we’re going to use a SQL Azure Database, the Access Control Service, and the Caching service – all of these services were turned on and configured for us.  In the initial release we will have a pool of pre-running Windows Azure instances to run your application code – so that you can quickly deploy your application and easily add and remove instances to your application without waiting on the instances to startup up.  These instances will also be managed by the Composition Service.   Consequently, I was able to show how we could deploy and run the app quickly using a pool of instances.

Finally, I showed how you will have the ability to monitor and manage the application from an online portal.   As you can see in the below screenshot, because the information about the application is represented in the Composition Model, the Composition Service running in the cloud can know what metrics to monitor to determine if your app is healthy.  It can also monitor the dependent services that you’re consuming.

It is important to understand that the the real value of the Composition Model and Composition Service is not a drag-and-drop designer in Visual Studio – instead the real value  will come from the automation that we can provide in the cloud because we know more about your app, such as auto-scaling out your application.

Composition Service

If you attended the PDC in 2009 or watched the keynote online, you may have noticed that we showed some similar concepts in Doug Purdy’s demo at PDC09.  The AppFabric team has been making a lot of great progress on delivering against the vision we first started showing in 2009.  We are planning to release the first CTP of the Composition Model and Composition Service in the first half of 2011.

In the meantime if you want to learn more about the Composition Model and Composition Service, check out Karandeep Anand’s session where he drills into more detail.  Also be sure to follow Wade Wegner’s blog.  Wade is the Technical Evangelist on my team for these services.  He led the development of the PDC keynote demo and I’m sure he’ll be sharing more about these services once the CTP is available.

New SaaS Sample–Fabrikam Shipping

October 11, 2010 jamescon Leave a comment

At TechEd North America in June during the keynote we showed a demo of an application called Fabrikam Shipping.  The demo was designed to show an example of an ISV application that used Windows Azure, SQL Azure, the AppFabric, and the .NET Framework 4 in the cloud.  The demo was a scenario that Vittorio came up with over a year before as an example of our identity technologies.

Since then Vittorio has been working on building out the demo to be an example of a SaaS ISV scenario, complete with provisioning and payment integration.  The sample is now available for download or you can also view the sample online and provision your own application instances!  There are a ton of features in this sample.  I’m not going to do it justice describing it here, so be sure to read Vittorio’s post and check out http://www.fabrikamshipping.com.


Technical Evangelist Opportunities at Microsoft

October 10, 2010 jamescon Leave a comment

I’m looking for some new evangelists to join my team.  We currently have a couple open positions for Technical Evangelists focusing on the future releases of Windows Azure and Visual Studio.  You can find the job postings here:

I’ll be straight forward.  These are challenging positions.  A Technical Evangelist position is not for everyone.  We’re looking for a blend of deep development, leadership, communication, and creative skills.  Great technical evangelists have a blend of these skills.  Many other evangelists in the community today don’t meet our bar.  These positions are for an elite few.  Does this mean you must already be a great “evangelist” to apply?  No – absolutely not.  But you do need to have the right foundational skills and the desire to learn and grow. 

If you have what it takes then Technical Evangelism can be an very exciting and rewarding position at Microsoft.  Technical Evangelism plays a central role with the engineering, marketing, and field organizations to help release new emerging technologies.  We ultimately are responsible for influencing Microsoft’s technical strategy.  Drew Robbins, the lead for Visual Studio and Web Evangelism on my team, has posted a great blog entry with more details about the Technical Evangelist role

Do you think you have what it takes to join the team of elite Technical Evangelists?   Do you want to play a central role in the next major releases of Windows Azure, Visual Studio, and the .NET Framework?   Then please contact me.

Windows Azure Platform Training Kit–September 2010 Update

October 5, 2010 jamescon Leave a comment

Last week my team put the finishing touches on some updates to the Windows Azure Platform Training Kit that we’ve had in the works for a few months.  The release went live on the Microsoft download center today.

You can download the updated Windows Azure Platform Training Kits from here.


If you’re not familiar with the Windows Azure Platform Training Kit, it is essentially a collection of hands-on labs, presentations, and demos that are designed to help you learn how to use the Windows Azure platform including Windows Azure, SQL Azure, and the Windows Azure AppFabric.  Our Technical Evangelism team at Microsoft builds training kits for almost every key technology including Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4, Windows Phone 7, Silverlight 4, SQL Server 2008 R2, and so on. 


What’s new in this release?

With this release of the Windows Azure Platform Training Kit we first decided to split up the training kit into two separate versions – one for Visual Studio 2010 and another for Visual Studio 2008.   We actually branched the kit back in mid August.  Moving forward we will only be updating content and building new content for Visual Studio 2010.   This decision was based on several factors including the size of the kits (combined they’re over 331MB compressed) and the test surface (we were testing 4 different combinations of languages, frameworks, and tools).

The September release is a huge update.   Here’s what’s new in the training kit:

  • Updated all of the presentations to provide content for delivering a 3 day training workshop on the Windows Azure Platform.
  • Updated all hands-on labs and demo scripts for Visual Studio 2010, the .NET Framework 4, and the Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio version 1.2 release.
  • Added three new hands-on labs including:
    • Introduction to the AppFabric Access Control Service (September 2010 Labs Release)
    • Debugging Applications in Windows Azure
    • Asynchronous Workload Handling
  • Added a new exercise to the "Deploying Applications in Windows Azure" hands-on lab to show how to use the new tools to directly deploy from Visual Studio 2010.
  • Added a new exercise to the "Introduction to the AppFabric Service Bus" hands-on lab to show how to connect a WCF Service in IIS 7.5 to the Service Bus
  • Updated the "Introduction to AppFabric Service Bus" hands-on lab based on feedback and split the lab into 2 parts
  • Updated the training kit navigation pages to include a 3 day agenda, a change log, and an improved setup process for hands-on labs.


    I hope you find this release helpful.  Is there someone else you would like to see in the training kit?  Are you using the training kit today to learn how to use the Windows Azure Platform?  Do you have other suggestions for improving the content?  We would love to hear from you.  Just leave me a comment or drop the team an email with your feedback.

Windows Azure Application Monitoring Management Pack–now available

October 4, 2010 jamescon Leave a comment

At the PDC conference last year we first announced that the System Center team was working on a management pack for Windows Azure.  On Friday they released the first version of the management pack to the download center.  You can download the management pack from here.

Having the ability to monitor Windows Azure applications from System Center Operations Manager is a key requirement that I’ve heard from many customers.  I haven’t played with the MP since we included it in the TechEd North America keynote demo.  It looks like the team added several key features to give more insight into the applications running in Windows Azure.   Here are the key features described in the readme:

  • Discover Windows Azure applications.
  • View the status of each role instance.
  • Collect and monitor performance information.
  • Collect and monitor Windows events.
  • Collect and monitor the .NET Framework trace messages from each role instance.
  • View performance, event, and the .NET Framework trace data from Windows Azure storage account.
  • Change the number of role instances.

I also encourage you to check out the Windows Azure MMC management tool and the Windows Azure Powershell cmdlets that Ryan Dunn created.  These are designed primarily for configuration instead of monitoring, however, they can be very helpful for automating and simplifying the management of your Windows Azure applications.

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Hello Again

September 4, 2010 jamescon 1 comment

Welcome to my new blog.  After being repeatedly asked “why don’t you blog”, I’ve finally decided to move off blogs.msdn.com and start a new blog after going silent for a few years. 

So who am I?  I’m a Senior Director at Microsoft in the corporate Developer & Platform Evangelism (DPE) group.  I lead a team of technical evangelist that focus on several key technologies including the Windows Azure Platform, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and the .NET Framework.  Basically my team is responsible for helping developers understand how to use new developer tools and technologies.  So if you’re going to PDC, downloading a training kit, or watching a Channel9 video for one of these technologies – chances our someone on my team is involved.  Over the last 2.5 years I’ve been focusing most of my time defining Microsoft’s technical strategy for the cloud, which has surfaced in keynotes at some of Microsoft’s major conferences such as PDC, TechEd, and Mix.  I plan to use this new blog to share more about the above technologies and to highlight some of the new resources coming from the evangelism team.  Stay tuned.

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