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Microsoft Build 2016 in a Nutshell

Two weeks ago, I had an amazing opportunity to be at Microsoft Build Conference in San Francisco and I would like to share my experience about the conference with you in this post by highlighting what has happened and giving you my personal takeaways.
2016-04-09 18:59
Tugberk Ugurlu


Two weeks ago, I had an amazing opportunity to be at Microsoft Build Conference in San Francisco as an attendee thanks to my amazing company Redgate. The experience was truly unique and amount of people I have met there was huge. A bit late but I would like to share my experience about the conference with you in this post by highlighting what has happened and giving you my personal takeaways. You can also check out my tweets for the Build conference.

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Announcements

There were bunch of big and small announcements throughout the conference from Microsoft. Some of these were highlighted during two keynotes and some other announcements were spread to three days. I tried to capture all of them here but it's very likely I missed some of them (mostly the small ones):

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Sessions

2016-03-31 15.28.14

Here is the list of sessions I have attended:

As much as I wanted to attend some other sessions, I missed some of them mostly due to clashes with other sessions. Luckily recordings for all Build 2016 sessions are available up on Channel 9. Here is my list of sessions to catch up:

There were also many good Channel 9 Live interviews. You can find them here. Here is a personal list of a few which are worth listening to:

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Personal Takeaways

All in all it has been a great conference and as stated, I am still catching up on the stuff that I have missed. Throughout the conference, I have picked up a few key points and I want to end the post with those:

  • I have seen more from Microsoft to make developers lives easier and more productive by enabling new tools (Bash on Ubuntu on Windows), supporting multiple platforms (Service Fabric to run on every environment including AWS, on-premises, Azure Stack and preview of Service Fabric on Linux), open sourcing more (some parts of Xamarin have gone open source) and making existing paid tools available for free (Xamarin is now free).
  • Microsoft is more focused on getting their existing services together and trying to give a cohesive ecosystem for developers. Service Fabric, Cognitive Services, Data Lake is a few examples of this.
  • .NET Core and CoreCLR is approaching to finalization for v1. After RC2, I don't suppose there will be much more features added or concepts changing.
  • I think this is the first time I have seen stabilization on client Apps story for Microsoft. Universal Windows Platform (UWP) was the focus on this area this year and it was the same on previous year.
  • I am absolutely happy to see Microsoft abandoning Windows Phone day by day. There was no direct sessions on it during the conference.
  • There were more steps towards making software to manage people's lives in a better way. Skype Bot Framework was one of these steps.
  • Microsoft (mostly Azure group) invests on IoT solutions heavily. Azure Functions and new updates on Azure IoT Suite are just a few signs of this.
  • Azure Resource Manager (ARM) and ARM templates are getting a lot of love from Microsoft and it's the way they push forward. They even build new services on Azure on top of this.

How Azure Web Apps Hosts an ASP.NET 5 Application

ASP.NET 5 application has totally a different directory structure when you try to publish it and it wasn't clear for me how Azure Web Apps is actually able to host an ASP.NET 5 application. If you are confused on this as well, the answer is here.
2015-04-12 10:13
Tugberk Ugurlu


I want to write this quick post because figuring out how an ASP.NET 5 application is hosted under Azure Web Apps was a big question for me. Some information is already there on this topic but the concept wasn’t crystal clear because when you look at the packed version of an ASP.NET 5 web application, it has the following structure on disk:

image

It will even get more interesting when you look inside the wwwroot folder:

image

We have the static files, bin folder which only contains AspNet.Loader.dll inside it and a web.config file. The most interesting bit here is the information inside the web.config file and this information will be read by Helios:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<configuration>
  <appSettings>
    <add key="bootstrapper-version" value="1.0.0-beta4-11526" />
    <add key="runtime-path" value="..\approot\packages" />
    <add key="dnx-version" value="" />
    <add key="dnx-clr" value="" />
    <add key="dnx-app-base" value="..\approot\src\ConfyConf.Client.Web" />
  </appSettings>
</configuration>

web.config file gives us enough evidence that the wwwroot is the directory that we need to point IIS to and then Helios will read these application settings information to figure out where the application actually is, where the dependencies and packages are, etc.. Let’s deploy the application using Visual Studio Publish feature. I created a brand new Azure Web App on the fly and hit publish:

image

When the deployment is completed, the web site is immediately up:

image

Let’s look at how the directory structure look like after the deployment:

image

Two interesting bits here are approot and wwwroot folders. The question here is that how Azure Web App knew to look into wwwroot folder. It was actually dead simple but it wasn’t obvious at the first glance. Before showing the answer, let’s have a look what IIS Express does to host an ASP.NET 5 application which will give us an hint on the answer.

I fired up the application through the Visual Studio to get IIS Express host my application. After the application is up, I dug into Task Manager to get the command line arguments for IIS Express:

iisexpress.exe    10736    Running    Tugberk    00     33,804 K    33    "C:\Program Files (x86)\IIS Express\iisexpress.exe"  /config:"C:\Users\Tugberk\Documents\IISExpress\config\applicationhost.config"  /site:"WebApplication10" /apppool:"Clr4IntegratedAppPool"    IIS Express Worker Process

This points us to applicationhost.config file and WebApplication10 site inside it. When you look at the site node for WebApplication10, you will see that some of the magic is actually happening there:

<site name="WebApplication10" id="77">
    <application path="/" applicationPool="Clr4IntegratedAppPool">
        <virtualDirectory path="/" physicalPath="D:\apps\WebApplication10\src\WebApplication10\wwwroot" />
    </application>
    <bindings>
        <binding protocol="http" bindingInformation="*:47112:localhost" />
    </bindings>
</site>

wwwroot is pointed as a virtual directory for the web application here for the root path. So, is this information helping us to see how Azure Web App is hosting our app? Absolutely! It gives us the information that something similar should be configured on Azure Web Apps side that it sees the wwwroot folder as the root. If you navigate to Configure section for your Azure Web App and scroll down to the bottom, you will see the virtual directory configuration there.

azure-aspnet5-virtual-directory

Clever! My guess is that this configuration was put there when I was publishing the Web Application through web deploy inside the Visual Studio. Digging into Web Publish Activity output could give us more information about when exactly this configuration is set.

Using Azure Storage Emulator Command-Line Tool: WAStorageEmulator.exe

Starting from version 3.0 of the emulator, a few things have changed and lots of people are not aware of this. When you launch the Storage Emulator now, you will see a command prompt pop up. I wanted to write this short blog post to just to give you a head start.
2014-09-15 09:28
Tugberk Ugurlu


When you download the Azure SDK for Visual Studio, it brings down bunch of stuff for you such as Azure Storage and Compute Emulator. With a worker or web role project in Visual Studio, we can get the both emulators up and running by simply firing up the project. However, if we are not working with a web or worker role, we need a way to fire up the storage emulator by ourselves and it is actually pretty easy. Starting from version 3.0 of the emulator, a few things have changed and lots of people are not aware of this. I wanted to write this short blog post to just to give you a head start.

When you launch the Storage Emulator now, you will see a command prompt pop up.

Screenshot (13)

image

This is WAStorageEmulator.exe and it is the storage emulator command line tool which allows you perform bunch of operations such as starting/stopping the emulator and querying the status of the emulator. You can either run this command prompt as I did above or you can navigate to c:\Program Files(x86)\Microsoft SDKs\Azure\Storage Emulator\ directory and find WAStorageEmulator.exe there. you can read up on Storage Emulator Command-Line Tool Reference on MSDN to find out what commands are available. What I would like to point out is the fact that you can now run the emulator inprocess through the command prompt which is quite nice:

image

The other thing is that you can now quite easily get the storage emulator up and running on your integration tests. You can even reset the whole storage account at the beginning of your test, start it and stop it at the end. Check out Using the Azure Storage Emulator for Development and Testing section on MSDN for further details.

A Gentle Introduction to Azure Search

Microsoft Azure team released Azure Search as a preview product a few days ago, an hosted search service solution by Microsoft. Azure Search is a suitable product if you are dealing with high volume of data (millions of records) and want to have efficient, complex and clever search on those chunk of data. In this post, I will try to lay out some fundamentals about this service with a very high level introduction.
2014-09-10 12:02
Tugberk Ugurlu


With many of the applications we build as software developers, we need our data to be exposed and we want that data to be in an easy reach so that the user of the application can find what they are looking for easily. This task is especially tricky if you have high amount of data (millions, even billions) in your system. At that point, the application needs to give user a great and flawless experience so that the user can filter down the results based on what they are actually looking for. Don't we have solutions to address this problems? Of course, we do and solutions such as Elasticsearch and Apache Solr are top notch problem solvers for this matter. However, hosting these products on your environment and making them scalable is completely another job.

To address these problems, Microsoft Azure team released Azure Search as a preview product a few days ago, an hosted search service solution by Microsoft. Azure Search is a suitable product if you are dealing with high volume of data (millions of records) and want to have efficient, complex and clever search on those chunk of data. If you have worked with a search engine product (such as Elasticsearch, Apache Solr, etc.) before, you will be too much comfortable with Azure Search as it has some many similar features. In fact, Azure Search is on top of Elasticsearch to provide its full-text search function. However, you shouldn't see this brand-new product as hosted Elasticsearch service on Azure because it has its completely different public interface.

In this post, I will try to lay out some fundamentals about this service with a very high level introduction. I’m hoping that it’s also going to be a starting point for me on Azure Search blog posts :)

Getting to Know Azure Search Service

When I look at Azure Search service, I see it as four pieces which gives us the whole experience:

  • Search Service
  • Search Unit
  • Index
  • Document

Search service is the highest level of the hierarchy and it contains Provisioned search unit(s). Also, a few concepts are targeting the search service such as authentication and scaling.

Search units allow for scaling of QPS (Queries per second), Document Count and Document Size. This also means that search units are the key concept for high availability and throughput. As a side note, high availability requires at least 3 replicas for the preview.

Index is the holder for a collection of documents based on a defined schema which specifies the capabilities of the Index (we will touch on this schema later). A search service can contain multiple indexes.

Lastly, Document is the actual holder for the data, based on the index schema, which the document itself lives in. A document has a key and this key needs to be unique within the index. A document also has fields to represent the data. Fields of a document contain attributes and those attributes define the capabilities of the field such as whether it can be used to filter the results, etc. Also note that number of documents an index can contain is limited based on the search units the service has.

Windows Azure Portal Experience

Let's first have a look at the portal experience and how we can get a search service ready for our use. Azure Search is not available through the current Microsoft Azure portal. It's only available through the preview portal. Inside the new portal, click the big plus sign at the bottom left and then click "Everything".

Screenshot 2014-09-06 11.55.45

This is going to get you to "Gallery". From there click "Data, storage, cache + backup" and then click "Search" from the new section.

Screenshot 2014-09-06 11.59.16

You will have a nice intro about the Microsoft Azure Search service within the new window. Hit "Create" there.

Keep in mind that service name must only contain lowercase letters, digits or dashes, cannot use dash as the first two or last one characters, cannot contain consecutive dashes, and is limited between 2 and 15 characters in length. Other naming conventions about the service has been laid out here under Naming Conventions section.

When you come to selecting the Pricing Tier, it's time to make a decision about your usage scenario.

Screenshot 2014-09-06 12.06.52

Now, there two options: Standard and Free. Free one should be considered as the sandbox experience because it's too limiting in terms of both performance and storage space. You shouldn't try to evaluate the Azure Search service with the free tier. It's, however, great for evaluating the HTTP API. You can create a free service and use this service to run your HTTP requests against.

The standard tier is the one you would like to choose for production use. It can be scaled both in terms of QPS (Queries per Second) and document size through shards and replicas. Head to "Configure Search in the Azure Preview portal" article for more in depth information about scaling.

When you are done setting up your service, you can now get the admin key or the query key from the portal and start hitting the Azure Search HTTP (or REST, if you want to call it that) API.

Azure Search HTTP API

Azure Search service is managed through its HTTP API and it's not hard to guess that even the Azure Portal is using its API to manage the service. It's a lightweight API which understands JSON as the content type. When we look at it, we can divide this HTTP API into three parts:

Index Management part of the API allows us managing the indexes with various operations such as creating, deleting and listing the indexes. It also allow us to see some index statistics. Creating the index is probably going to be the first operation you will perform and it has the following structure:

POST https://{search-service-name}.search.windows.net/indexes?api-version=2014-07-31-Preview HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: Fiddler
api-key: {your-api-key}
Content-Type: application/json
Host:{search-service-name}.search.windows.net

{
	"name": "employees",
	"fields": [{
		"name": "employeeId",
		"type": "Edm.String",
		"key": true,
		"searchable": false
	},
	{
		"name": "firstName",
		"type": "Edm.String"
	},
	{
		"name": "lastName",
		"type": "Edm.String"
	},
	{
		"name": "age",
		"type": "Edm.Int32"
	},
	{
		"name": "about",
		"type": "Edm.String",
		"filterable": false,
		"facetable": false
	},
	{
		"name": "interests",
		"type": "Collection(Edm.String)"
	}]
}

With the above request, you can also spot a few more things which are applied to every API call we make. There is a header we are sending with the request: api-key. This is where you are supposed to put your api-key. Also, we are passing the API version through a query string parameter called api-version. Have a look at the Azure Search REST API MSDN documentation for further detailed information.

With this request, we are specifying the schema of the index. Keep in mind that schema updates are limited at the time of this writing. Although existing fields cannot be changed or deleted, new fields can be added at any time. When a new field is added, all existing documents in the index will automatically have a null value for that field. No additional storage space will be consumed until new documents are added to the index. Have a look at the Update Index API documentation for further information on index schema update.

After you have your index schema defined, you can now start populating your index with Index Population API. Index Population API is a little bit different and I honestly don’t like it (I have a feeling that Darrel Miller won’t like it, too :)). The reason why I don’t like it is the way we define the operation. With this HTTP API, we can add new document, update and remove an existing one. However, we are defining the type of the operation inside the request body which is so weird if you ask me. The other weird thing about this API is that you can send multiple operations in one HTTP request by putting them inside a JSON array. The important fact here is that those operations don’t run in transaction which means that some of them may succeed and some of them may fail. So, how do we know which one actually failed? The response will contain a JSON array indicating each operation’s status. Nothing wrong with that but why do we reinvent the World? :) I would be more happy to send batch request using the multipart content-type. Anyway, enough bitching about the API :) Here is a sample request to add a new document to the index:

POST https://{search-service-name}.search.windows.net/indexes/employees/docs/index?api-version=2014-07-31-Preview HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: Fiddler
api-key: {your-api-key}
Content-Type: application/json
Host: {search-service-name}.search.windows.net

{
	"value": [{
		"@search.action": "upload",
		"employeeId": "1",
		"firstName": "Jane",
		"lastName": "Smith",
		"age": 32,
		"about": "I like to collect rock albums",
		"interests": ["music"]
	}]
}

As said, you can send the operations in batch:

POST https://{search-service-name}.search.windows.net/indexes/employees/docs/index?api-version=2014-07-31-Preview HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: Fiddler
api-key: {your-api-key}
Content-Type: application/json
Host: {search-service-name}.search.windows.net

{
	"value": [{
		"@search.action": "upload",
		"employeeId": "2",
		"firstName": "Douglas",
		"lastName": "Fir",
		"age": 35,
		"about": "I like to build cabinets",
		"interests": ["forestry"]
	},
	{
		"@search.action": "upload",
		"employeeId": "3",
		"firstName": "John",
		"lastName": "Fir",
		"age": 25,
		"about": "I love to go rock climbing",
		"interests": ["sports", "music"]
	}]
}

Check out the great documentation about index population API to learn about it more.

Lastly, there are query and lookup APIs where you can use OData 4.0 expression syntax to define your query. Go and check out its documentation as well.

Even if the service is so new, there are already great things happening around it. Sandrino Di Mattia has two cool open source projects on Azure Search. One is RedDog.Search .NET Client and the other is the RedDog Search Portal which is a web based UI tool to manage your Azure Search service. The other one is from Richard Astbury: Azure Search node.js / JavaScript client. I strongly encourage you to check them out. There are also two great video presentations about Azure Search by Liam Cavanagh, a Senior Program Manager in the Azure Data Platform Incubation team at Microsoft.

Stop what you are doing and go watch them if you care about Azure Search. It will give you a nice overview about the product and those videos could be your starting point.

You can also view my talk on AzureConf 2014 about Azure Search:



I proud to say that I will be giving a talk on Azure Search, fully managed, cloud-based service that allows developers to build rich search applications using REST APIs, at AzureConf 2014! AzureConf is a community event hosted by Microsoft and it will be streamed live on the 21st of October, 2014.

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Here is what AzureConf actually is all about:

On October 21st, 2014, Microsoft will be hosting AzureConf, another free event for the Azure community. This event will feature a keynote presentation by Scott Guthrie, along with numerous sessions executed by Azure community members. Streamed live for an online audience on Channel 9, the event will allow you to see how developers just like you are using Azure to develop robust, scalable applications on Azure. Community members from all over the world will join known speakers such as Michael Collier, Mike Martin, Rick Garibay, and Chris Auld in the Channel 9 studios to present their own inventions and experiences. Whether you’re just learning Microsoft Azure or you've already achieved success on the platform, you won’t want to miss this special event.

As said, the event will be streamed live and you need to register through the AzureConf web site. You should also check out the defined schedule, speakers list and AzureConf 2014 Lanyrd page. 

I wouldn't miss this awesome event. Seriously, add this to your calendars :)

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