10 tools of the trade for your #windowsazure environment

051313_0924_Didyouknowh1.pngWe all love the platform and we all know it comes pretty complete when talking features. But when it comes to management we sometimes need that little extra in flexibility, ease of use or just even single point of management. Although the Windows Azure Management Portal team is doing a great job in adding features to the portal itself, some people still prefer additional “fat client” applcations or other means of “warfare” when doing day to day operations. Here included you’ll find my favourite ten tools of the trade for aiding you in your day 2 day devops business.

I do have to give some credit to my MVP peer Magnus Martensson (@noopman), cause he gave me the idea to create this little top ten. So hands up for Magnus!

10.    Azure Ticker

To start of this top 10, I’ll kick off with a small app which allows you to monitor your Azure Bill. Since this is always managed through the portal some devs created an app to monitor your bill from the Windows 8 desktop: http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/en-us/app/azure-ticker/bb2d4576-1b2c-4d65-8a86-b146d17a4f05

9.    zud.io

A fellow mvp created an online service to manage your storage. It allows you to manage your blobs, queues and tables. Some of the cool features of the tool are Copy blobs, including between accounts; Set blob metadata and properties;Import blobs from the web and Upload entire folders as ZIP archives. This is not a free tooling but the price is ok compared to what features you get (so enough bang for buck ). More info? Check it out here: http://zud.io or read my review from February : “It’s a #windowsazure storage manager but not as we know it: Introducing ZUD.IO by @markrendle”


8.    The System Center Family

Good tooling has its price. Hence why this tool only made it 8th place … not everyone is capable of spending a lot of money on tooling or complex infrastructure. The System Center Family doesn’t come cheap when you’re an ISV or small SMB, but when you’re managing your own private and or public cloud this is the tool of the trade, period! Of course this tool does more than that alone, it can manage your virtual infrastructure, manage your VDI environment and even deployment and monitoring of your applications (either on –prem or for Windows Azure). If that’s not enough then the integrated failsafe feature from SC DPM will add additional value in backup and DRP . Also in combination with Windows Azure Backup Vault and Hyper-V Recovery Vault this system will save you from many sleepless nights


Want to know more? Get to the System Center Family Homepage here : http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/system-center/default.aspx

7.    Free storage apps : Neudesic Storage Explorer, Azure Studio and Azure Storage Monitor

Actually number 7 is more than one app, but I do feel the need to put them all in here. The thing I like most about these apps: they are free. Storage Explorer started of as a Codeplex project and it stays free. This a windows desktop client (instead of an app) and does what is says: it allows you to manage and explore you storage.

Another cool one but then in a real Win8 app form is Azure Studio:

Additional advantages here are file previews, and when downloading or uploading there’s a operational status check.

As an addition to these tools: if you want to monitor usage of your storage account is Azure Storage Monitor:

Actually if you like these kind of tools, there’s stil an extensive list available here : http://blogs.msdn.com/b/windowsazurestorage/archive/2010/04/17/windows-azure-storage-explorers.aspx It’s an older list but most still comply J. Small side note to the windows azure storage apps: the last months the storage API and assemblies/SDK have changed a lot so do note that some apps might not function well anymore when they might have stopped development on these!!

To find all above tools just follow these links :

6.    Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio

You will probably wonder now: what does SSMS have to do with Windows Azure J. Well when managing SQL Server Workload or even Windows Azure SQL Databases, this tool can provide in many great things. Since SQL Server 2012 CU2 we have full support for SQL Backups to Azure storage for instance. Next to that we can manage SQL Databases completely on levels of security, Linked Servers (I know … not everyone’s favorite SQL Server feature, but sometimes you just have to … you know… right?) and it keeps getting better … Because in SQL Server 2014 we now have the ability to move SQL Server workload from within SSMS to a Windows Azure Virtual Machine, with just one click of the mouse (ok perhaps a few more but then again … who’s counting J) This is extremely handy when you want to either create Dev-Test envs without to much hassle or even for performance and scaling reasons.

Showing the Azure integration in SQL Server 2014 SSMS … wanna testdrive? Activate your MSDN Subscription and run one in the cloud ;-) : http://bit.ly/140uB31 (through MSDN you get a lot of free running instances for you testing purposes)

5.    Enzo Cloud Backup

Windows Azure SQL Databases still need a lot of side management tools, that’s for sure. Although there’s improved automated backups nowadays (see : Windows Azure July Updates: SQL Database, Traffic Manager, AutoScale, Virtual Machines for more info) But if you want a tool to combine your SQL Database backups and your SQL Server Backups, then this one is real good. It allows flexible scheduling, history, scripts, and so on and so on.

If you want a more detailed walkthrough of the tool then check out a review I’ve done last year: SQL Database Backups Made easy on #WindowsAzure

4.    Red-Gate SQL Toolbelt and Cloud Services

Red-Gate is probably (next to Microsoft itself of course) the best know tooling company in this setoff vendors. With the SQL Toolbelt, you get a tool belt of tooling applications, amongst a couple which allow you to manage SQL Related matter in Windows Azure. Tools in the belt with Azure support are:

  • SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare :to synchronize, backup and compare data and schemas
  • SQL Backup
  • SQL Packager
  • SQL Prompt
  • Deployment Manager : to ease your deployments (this is a pure dbadevops thing and definitely worthwhile looking at it)

The cool thing about the toolbelt is that you get a lot more then just the above mentioned tools. There’s a total of 16 tools with aid in your daily business with SQL Server and Windows Azure (where applicable). Again this is big bang for buck!! find it here : http://www.red-gate.com/products/sql-development/sql-toolbelt/

sqltoolbelt

Next to that you’ve got an online service Called RedGate Cloud Services. This allows you to backup all SQL Databases and also table and blob storage (in a similar way)

I will do a full review soon on this tool. If you want to try it yourself : http://cloudservices.red-gate.com

3.    Visual Studio with Windows Azure SDK 2.1

Our top 3 opens with a Microsoft home brew toolset. This tooling was the first available set of tools available for the platform (if you don’t provide the tools then no one will use your product, right?) The SDK has gone through a large evolution since it’s first conception. Where it started of as a set of developer assemblies to access the platform and develop specifically for the platform (with only 2 emulators available) and a publishing mechanism available from within Visual Studio, it now contains an extensive set in the Server Explorer and other Azure goodness:

  • In Server Explorer, instantly view information about running cloud services, storage accounts, virtual machines, and service bus resources.
  • Also in Server Explorer, filter your view of resources by subscription, region, or both to show only the information that you care about right now.
  • Manage Windows Azure Virtual Machines from Server Explorer. Also, start a remote desktop (RDP) session directly from a virtual machine or a cloud service in the Server Explorer window of Visual Studio.
  • Create tables in Windows Azure storage, and edit table data.
  • Easily work with storage account resources from Server Explorer. View, upload, and edit blobs in your storage accounts. Create Windows Azure queues, and send messages to them, all without writing any code.
  • Automatically download storage account information from your subscription.
  • Publish to a Windows Azure appliance directly from the Windows Azure Publish Wizard.
  • Explore workflow in worker roles by using service bus tasks and queues in Server Explorer. Also, create worker roles that use service bus queues.
  • Deploy cloud services more quickly
  • Commandline tools for packaging
  • And much much more….

The only thing is that for using most features you need Visual Studio. Luckily enough Express editions are also supported. Small note : the upcoming versions of the SDK WILL NO LONGER SUPPORT VS2010

All can be easily installed with the Web Platform Installer tool provided by Microsoft

2.    PowerShell and Cli Tools

Cross platform and scripting go hand in hand. When a couple of years ago Microsoft decided on creating a new shell environment with powerfull scripting/development capabilities, they made the correct choice. PowerShell is everywhere and has a tight integration with everything in management (hence every Microsoft Management Console is basically run through PowerShell and just functions as a GUI around PowerShell) Microsoft has modules for almost everyone of it’s products and also for managing Windows Azure. This can be installed through either the WPI, through a standalone installer or by forking the latest sources from the GitHub repo (to be found here: https://github.com/WindowsAzure/azure-sdk-tools hence there’s even git support in powershell for that matter)

Now Powershell is only supporterd on Windows… but what if you also work with Mac’s, xNix distro’s , etc …. Will you be left out in the cold? No! MSFT created a similar experience just for that, namely the xPlatform Client Tools (or cli tools for short). These are based on Node.js and can, just as the Powershell tools/cmdlets, be found on any of the 3 installation sources mentioned above.

Note: for now not every aspect is already available in the toolbox, but the team makes a great effort on continuously delivering new versions. For that fact alone this definitely deserves the number 2 spot on my list.

  1. Cerebrata Azure Management Studio

    Or rather Red-Gate Azure Management Studio, since Red-Gate bought Cerebrata a while back. This is by far the most complete client tool on the market. With hooks to almost every available management API these guys rule cloud tooling list miles ahead from all it’s competition (Hey those guys even provide a set of cmdlets avant-la-lettre for PowerShell). They provide some stuf like inter subscription blob copying (possible since sdk 1.7) through their interface as wel as monitoring and management of cloud services and so on.

    Here’s a small grasp of the available features:

  • Move blobs between storage accounts
  • Copy blobs between storage accounts
  • Create tables from
    • CSV
    • XML
    • Relational database
  • Peek and get messages
  • Insert messages
  • Update messages
  • Event, Trace and Infrastructure Logs
  • IIS, Failed Request and Crash Dump Logs
  • View historical performance counters
  • View live performance counters
  • Highly configurable dashboard
  • Views logs and performance counters side by side
  • Track your application’s health
  • And so on and so on

For a full list : http://www.cerebrata.com/products/azure-management-studio/features and if that’s not enough they are highly open to new feature requests!!!! The only “disadvantage” of the tool is the price when you’re a solo dev. But for an Enterprise this is bang for buck (an then the price is really peanuts!) Want check it out for yourself? Find a free trial here : http://www.cerebrata.com/products/azure-management-studio/introduction

[update 26/08/2013] I forgot to mention something: one of the guys who made this possible was Gaurav Mantri, yet another Windows Azure MVP worth mentioning!

As you can see there’s a lot of great tools on the market, but the list goes way further than this alone. Tight integrated DevOps tools, monitoring , etc the list is extensive and thus mine is far from complete. I do want to mention another one as a bonus (although it isn’t really a tool that does a lot, but still …. ). If you would like to know which datacenter is best for your deployments then check out this website (hosted on Windows Azure of course) http://azurespeedtest.azurewebsites.net , written by fellow MVP Richard Astbury ( @richorama ).

I hope you get to like these tools as wel as I like’em and I sincerely hope they can help you out!!!

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