TUX in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure supports a number of guest operating systems including most of the major Linux distributions. Now in this blog post I’m going to give you an overview about running Linux VMs in your cloud and what capabilities you can have with these guest VMs.

Officially Microsoft Azure supports below Linux distributions.  Now although CentOS is listed as a officially supported OS, I wonder whether there will be support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux as it is the commercial version of CentOS & Fedora in future.

Distribution Version Drivers Kernel Compatibility Patch Agent
Canonical UBUNTU Ubuntu 12.04.1, 12.10, and 13.04 In Kernel Required for 12.04 or 12.04.01 only Package: In package repo under walinuxagent
Source: GitHub
CentOS by Open Logic CentOS 6.3+ CentOS 6.3: LIS drivers; CentOS 6.4+ drivers: in Kernel Required for 6.3 only Package:In Open Logic package repo under walinuxagent
Source: GitHub
Oracle Linux 6.4+ In Kernel N/A Package: In repo, name: WALinuxAgent
Source: GitHub
SUSE Linux Enterprise SLES 11 SP3+ In Kernel N/A Package: In Cloud:Tools repo, name: WALinuxAgent
Source Code: GitHub
openSUSE OpenSUSE 13.1+ In Kernel N/A Package: In Cloud:Tools repo, name: WALinuxAgent
Source Code: GitHub

Provisioning a Linux VM in Azure in pretty straight forward. But keep in mind you can use your favorite SSH client like PuTTY to log in to your Linux VM without any exception.

There are series of KB articles in Microsoft Azure Documentation that will guide you to manage your Open Source VMs in cloud. You can find them in below links.

Also there is a new VM Agent introduced as an optional extension to Virtual Machines on Azure. This is a lightweight extension that can be installed on Windows or Linux VMs. A VM Agent can be used to install and manage extensions, and can extend the functionality of a VM as software modules. Microsoft will deliver number of VM agents on different platforms in near future so you can install optionally and can be used to manage your VMs

You can find more about VM Agents & Extensions in Azure from below links.

Introducing Automation | Microsoft Azure

It’s been a long time from my last post and I sincerely apologize for that. I was busy with an Office 365 migration project last month and had all my eyes and ears focused to it. Today I’m going to explain how you can automate your cloud workflows with Azure Automation.

Azure Automation is a preview feature (upcoming GA) that allows us to automate creation, deployment, monitoring, and maintenance of Azure resources. It allows you to create Runbooks to orchestrate time consuming and repetitive workloads that you have in you cloud tenant. These Runbooks are indeed powered by Windows PowerShell workflows.

Currently Azure automation supports the automation of following services.

  • Web Sites (management)
  • Cloud Services (management)
  • Virtual Machines (management and WinRM support)
  • Storage (management)
  • SQL Server (management and SQL support)

Now if you know your way around PowerShell, Automation saves you a great time of time and labour. Imagine that you’ve been assigned to create 100 VMs in the cloud with exact same properties. Rather than writing a standard PowerShell script you can play with a PowerShell workflow that triggers an Azure Automation Job.

When we look at the pricing factor, as of right now this feature is still in preview stage. So you won’t be charged up to 20 Runbooks in the Free tier.

Here are some great resources that you can learn more about Azure Automation.

  1. Creating a sample Runbook in Azure
  2. Getting started with Azure Automation by Keith Mayer
  3. Automation Library



Server Core & MinShell in Windows Server 2012 R2

Some of us are just used to one way of managing a server. Be it a Linux or Windows we still prefer the old command line to save time and effort (number of clicks) in a away. Microsoft has introduced Server Core and MinShell features for those who prefer having some transparency with command line while keeping GUIs at hand’s distance.

Server Core

This feature offers a command line management console like MS-DOS. It is ideal when you want reduce the resource consumption of your server. If you don’t use full GUI that means there are lesser number of patches that you need to worry about.

You can turn on/off Server Core at any time as well as switch back to Full GUI. Only thing that you need to have to do is install/uninstall a feature called “User Interfaces and Infrastructure” that provide the underlying GUI for windows server. You can do it via server manager or PowerShell the choice is up to you.

A complete guide can be found here from howtogeek.com

Keep in mind you’ll need a restart every time you switch back from either of these modes.

MinShell (Part GUI)

This one is same like server core but you can launch your favorite MMC snap-ins from command line. But there are some notable limitations on this one.

  • Common Dialog box is functional (except networking)
  • Any UI with dependencies on items implemented as Shell Namespace Extensions will fail
    • Certain CPLs are namespace extensions, e.g. Networking
  • Internet Explorer is not available when Server Graphical Shell is uninstalled.
    • Links in UI won’t work.
    • Help isn’t available – calls
  • Some file associations and protocol handlers broken
    • http://
    • file://
    • *.chm
  • Some DLL files not installed
    • Check for dependencies or delay loads might fail!
    • DUMPBIN (Windows SDK)
    • Dependency Walker (http://www.dependencywalker.com, freeware)
    • Test your applications on the Minimal Server Interface!
    • to HTML Help API will return NULL!

All you have to do is uninstall Server Graphical Shell sub feature from User Interfaces and Infrastructure feature. Just use below PowerShell cmdlet to do so.

Uninstall-Windowsfeature -name Server-GUI-Shell -Restart

If you want you can completely remove the binary installation files for above features as well. If you do so you’ll need acess to an installation media the next time you want to enable it. To completely remove a role or feature, use –Remove with the Uninstall-WindowsFeature cmdlet of Windows PowerShell.

It’s not rocket science but it is indeed worth having a look at.

Updates are on the way | Windows Phone 8.1

Couple days back at Build 2014 conference Microsoft has unveiled the newest update to it’s mobile OS Windows Phone 8.1. The beauty is everybody who owns a Nokia Lumia with Windows Phone 8 gets the new update (even poor people like me) with many cool new features. Lets take a look on what’s on the table with Windows Phone 8.1

Modern UI Experience

Windows Phone 8.1 offers more sexy start screen with additional columns for live tiles. This means it will look exactly the same as your desktop plus you can choose a custom background for your start screen. Shipped with a ton of new apps it offers Bing Health and Fitness app which will let you track your health through your smartphone.

Word Flow keyboard

Although Windows 8.1 borrowed many of its new features from other platforms,I think this one seems little more unique. This is a gesture based wipe keyboard which allows much more faster typing. Though still there are no third party keyboard apps are allowed in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Cortana | your own Digital Assistant

If you have ever played Halo you know who Cortana is. It is the female looking AI that support you through the game. Cortana in your phone makes your life easier. Unlike Apple’s Siri, Cortana is a digital assistant which adapts to the user overtime. It’s a hybrid of Google Now’s functionality and Siri’s personality. You can speak to her or type in what you need if you are in a meeting. She respects your schedule and reply with text output. Cortana can remind you to tell someone something when you are contacting him/her the next time. Doesn’t matter it’s an e-mail/call or text message it displays a reminder of what you have told her to mention.

We will be getting this update in a couple months’ time depending on our cellular carriers but developers will have a bite on this later April.

Here is the unveiling video by Joe Belfiore from Build 2014.

End of an era | Windows XP & Office 2003

Today I bring you some sad news. Windows XP & Office 2003 are no longer supported by Microsoft starting from April 8th 2014. I still remember the day that I made the transition from Windows 98 to XP 13 years back. I was in 7th grade back then and it was the first time that I ever installed an OS without the help of anyone and it was a life changing event for me as kid.

As IT PROs we all will have go through some dilemma in after 8th for planning the change from Windows XP. Let’s see what are the options that Microsoft has offered us for a smoother transition.

Roll-out a newer OS

As you all now Microsoft strongly recommend you to migrate from Windows XP to at least Windows 7. Now in this case someone might raise a concern “What about our existing hardware?”. Well if you are running on a grandpa system you’ll have to replace the hardware eventually. (the obvious fact)

Migrating from Windows XP is not a night mare and there are couple of good options available.

  1. System Center Configuration Manager 2012 R2 – If your organisation uses SCCM for Enterprise client management you can easily create a Windows 7 deployment task sequence with all the necessary drivers and applications per-installed. You can even migrate your user data with User State Migration Tool. (But remember everything should be under My Documents). A comprehensive Technet article is available here on how to leverage SCCM for OS deployment.
  2. Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) – This is a free tool from Microsoft which automates server and desktop OS deployment. Only catch is it doesn’t provide central management capability like SCCM. I found a very good article on this one too.
  3. Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor – You can perform a in place upgrade with this tool. Basically it assess the feasibility for a Windows 7 deployment and lets you to decide whether or not you should replace the entire system. Microsoft has provided a good reference on this as well.

Backup Your data

No more security updates means that your system is highly vulnerable to virus attacks. Most of you might feel that you should buy a brand new system with Windows 8.1 and migrate your data. If you are a home user it’s best for you to backup your important data using User State Migration Tool over the network or copying into a backup media but the choice is up-to you. Most importantly I would recommend to perform a backup immediately as you may never know when you are vulnerable.

Migrate your Legacy applications

If you are still using Office 2003, 2007 etc.. now is the best time to take an action. Microsoft provides much richer user experience with the new version of Microsoft Office. For any other commercial application designed for XP, most of the software publishers have already update their product road map with Windows 8.1 but if you are a software development company that still depends on XP your luck is running out. With  Office 365 in place you no longer have to spend your money on retail version, instead you can buy the subscription version of Microsoft Office with additional benefits like free OneDrive Storage.

So take an action today while you still can and embrace the change.

Thank you & Happy Retirement! Windows XP + Office 2003

Create your DB Server in the Cloud with Windows Azure

First of all I would like you to think of your response for below questions.

  1. Are you a Database administrator?

  2. Do you have headaches with hosting your own Database server?

  3. Are hosting providers giving you hard time with limited capacity and bandwidth?

Now if your answer is YES to all of above, I’m gonna show you that you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Windows Azure provides a powerful data platform called Windows Azure SQL Database (formerly SQL Azure) and it is a fully managed relational database service. It offers flexible manageability, built-in high availability,  predictable performance, and supports scaling. No matter whether your database requirement is small or large, Windows Azure provides excellent plans for dedicated database hosting in a scalable manner.

You can either create a Azure VM with SQL or use this service to manage your hosted databases. If you want to skip all the hassle with configuring a VM then this is your toy.I had a requirement to move a hosted SQL database to Azure. Well SQL is not my area of expertise so I thought it would be a nightmare. Guess what! I was totally wrong.

Here is what I’ve done to achieve this challenge. But keep in mind I did this by restoring the hosted database on on-premise SQL server as my service provider doesn’t support Azure. Also I had to re-create the user logins and mappings (If you your SQL it’s basically creating the users and giving them proper permissions as required). You can pretty much manage everything from SQL Management Studio (2012 only) and if you need to perform administrative tasks you can easily do them the Azure Management Portal itself.


Actually when I compared the cost with hosting providers, Azure seems to be in the middle, but the features and flexibility worth the pennies. You can find additional information from here about SQL Azure.

So join the club today and start using SQL in the cloud.

Build your Test Lab | Client Hyper-V

If you are by any chance a developer reading my blog, you know how painful it is to go after IT department begging for resources for your test lab. Guess what! Screw IT guys (Don’t take it hard on them. They are doing their best. Only problem is $$$$) with Windows 8 & Windows 8.1 you can build your own test lab using Client Hyper-V. Now I know this first hand because I face this problem daily with our development team and we had a awareness session recently on Client Hyper-V.

Client Hyper-V is same as Hyper-V server or Windows Server with Hyper-V role installed (of source with some limitations). All you have to do is enable Hardware Virtualization in you laptop/PC and enable the Hyper-V feature in the OS.

Following features from the Server version of Hyper-V is lack on the Client version.

  • Remote FX ability to virtualize GPUs
  • Live migration of VMs
  • Hyper-V Replica
  • SR-IOV networking
  • Virtual Fibre Channel

Now lets take a peek on how to do it in a proper way.


  1. A PC/laptop with a minimum of 4 GB RAM running on 64 bit version of Windows 8/8.1 Professional or Enterprise version (Yes this is a as it is requirement)
  2. 64 bit processor with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT)
  3. Hardware Virtualization support in the chipset. You can check this in your BIOS. Most of the modern motherboards have this feature and you can turn it on from BIOS setup. It should be something of a check box saying”enable Virtualization Technology  (VTx)”


  1. Enable Hardware Virtualization from your BIOS setup (Not so sure. Just Google it)
  2. Go to Control Panel > Programs and Features > Turn Windows Features on or off > Select Hyper-V and Click OK. You need to chosse both Hyper-V Management Tools & Hyper-V Platform. If you choose the management tools alone, you can only remotely administer Hyper-V host and cannot create any VMs on your PC.


Well you may still require to create a Virtual switch (External Virtual Switch is recommended in order to allow Internet access to your VMs) and associate vNICs of your VMs to that. Well here is a fully featured article from Canadian IT PRO connection blog that explains how to do it yourself. (A big thank you for them as well). Now take advantage of this cool feature from you Windows 8/8.1 PC/laptop and build your test lab in minutes.

One more thing.

More VMs = More Physical RAM + Disk Space

Obviously you need around 16 GB of RAM plus adequate disk space if you need couple VMs depending on your memory allocation. Also take a look at your CPU as well/ Better the CPU is better the performance of your VMs.

Introducing ExpressRoute | A safe passage to Windows Azure

Today I got an interesting e-mail from my boss which has caught my attention.  Microsoft has partnered with Equinix, AT&T and Level3 to deliver a new service offered by Windows Azure called ExpressRouteExpressRoute offers private, reliable and low latency connections between customers’ data centers and Azure. This is good news for those who willing to maximize the efficiency of their on-premise infrastructure while moving into the  hybrid cloud. Currently this is available only in US region as a preview feature.

With this new service, you have multiple ways of connecting to Azure.

  1. Aggregate your traffic over VPN connections at Equinix datacenters, or add Azure services to your MPLS VPN provided by AT&T.
  2. Level 3 offers traffic aggregation over a single hand-off or enable multiple locations to connect to Azure services as an extension of your MPLS VPN.

If you fear that your connections to the Microsoft Cloud over Internet is not secure and reliable you can use direct connections to Azure with this feature. Well folks isn’t it exciting news from Microsoft indeed?


Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager

As a SysAdmin you are responsible for the protection of your data center. We are all comfy with traditional backups and DR methods with off-site backup infrastructure. But what happens if your secondary site caught up in a fire?  The worst case is you are running the whole data center in a private cloud. This gives us a good example of why we should backup our VMs to the cloud.

Windows Hyper-V Recovery Manager protects applications by coordinating the replication of virtual machines at a secondary location. It provides Hyper-V Replica asynchronous virtual machine replication capabilities in Windows Server and the Virtual Machine Manager component of system center and combines them with the power of Windows Azure to provide site-to-site protection of your virtual machines and private clouds. There are three key functions provided by this feature.

Automated Protection

Protection of VMs can be automated once configured. This integrates with Hyper-V replica and SCVMM technologies and delivers on going replication of VMs. Also all the work load data remains in your network which means they neither moved into or passes through Windows Azure.

Continuous Health Monitoring

Once automated protection is in place the Hyper-V Replica Manager monitors the health of VMs real-time with SCVMM. Keep in mind that only SCVMM servers can communicate directly with Azure.

Orchestrated Recovery

In an event of a failure, VMs can be recovered in an orderly fashion. You can predefine which VMs you need to recover first. You can create customized recovery workflow, store them in Azure and even test them before deploying.

How it works Windows Azure Recover Manager

If you have,

  • a secondary site
  • a SCVMM server
  • Unprotected workloads

Then Azure Recovery Manager is the best solution for your data center protection.


  1. Hyper-V Recovery Manager
  2. Configure Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager

Take your office to home with Work Folders

Windows Server 2012 R2 release has introduced the concept of Work Folders which is similar to the functionality of Dropbox or SkyDrive to corporate servers. Work folders is a file replication service which enables you to access your corporate files even when you are roaming or at home from your own device.

This feature is only supported in Windows 8.1/8.1 RT clienst yet but Microsoft is planning to introduce it to Windows 7, iPad and Android (may be) pretty much soon. The operation is pretty much simple. Work folders keep copies of files both in server and client, syncs the files when connected to the server. But keep in mind this feature doesn’t support web access or sharing like Dropbox which I think is clear, because you don’t wanna see your sensitive data in wrong hands.

This feature include the following functionality.

  • Data encryption capability and remote data wipe with Windows Intune
  • Security policies for PCs and devices (i.e encrypt lock folders and use a lock screen password)
  • High availability is possible with Failover clustering
  • Files can be accessed offline and will be synced with the central file server when the device is connected to the corporate network or Internet depending on the scenario

OK. What about the limitations and scope considerations on this one?

  • Work folders must reside in local storage of file servers.
  • Cannot sync arbitrary file shares. Users sync to their own folder on the file serve.r (e.g. you can’t sync sales file share to your device)
  • Doesn’t provide sharing & collaboration capabilities. Microsoft recommends using SkyDrive Pro if you need document collaboration features.

If you plan to deploy work folders in your environment, here is the comprehensive TechNet article on how to do it. You can refer the storage team blog article here if you need more insight.

See below video from BJTechNews on how to create work folders in Windows Server 2012 R2.