Tag Archives: Cloud

Another Year as a Microsoft MVP | What’s Next

MVP Award

Last Friday (Yes I know it’s April Fools Day) Microsoft informed me that that I’ve been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award again in 2016. In 2015 I was awarded as a System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP and this year as a Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP which is the new award category for all things Cloud and Datacenter related. Today I’m going to share my journey to the cloud and how I became part of this amazing community.

My Story

21 years back (I was in kindergarten back then. So you can probably guess my actual age now) when I first laid my hands on a computer I knew that computers were the right match for me. Back then computers were a luxury and luckily in the bank where my mom and dad worked, computers were replacing the old electronic typewriters. My mom was one of the first employees who had the chance to be trained in Microsoft Office & Lotus Notes (Still she is the Office specialist in our home). So after school I used to visit her at the bank and I was amazed to work on MS-DOS and play with the computer whenever I was allowed.

I grew up with two amazing older brothers who have been my first critics, partners in crime and most importantly the first leaders in my life. My eldest brother Udeni sold his motor bike in 2001 to purchase a Pentium III computer with 40 GB hard disk and 64 MB RAM (Cool specs though at that time). Me and my elder sibling Nalin used to crash his computer when he is not around. Udeni had always given me the chance to do the new experiments using that PC ( being the youngest means that you are the guinea pig). Most of these new experiments were utter failures and we even had days/months long fights.

In the year 2000, me along with Nalin got into a computer programme for kids when both of us won a scholarship. This is where my first steps towards formal IT education started. Windows 98, ME, XP all that excitement led me to chose my first MCP course in Visual Basic.NET in 2005.

I never fit into the education system in my country. In fact when all my friends passed their G.C.E A/Ls (high school finals) with top results and got selected to the universities, here I was with three simple passes, without any option but to take the exam again. I was in college brass band for 7 years, music was my second passion except IT. I had no plan when I met my fiancée Aloka 9 years back, while we were still high school students.  Her friends often complained that I might lead to a complete disaster in the end. But she always believed that I can make a difference and always encouraged me to look for other means of higher education.

By that time, Nalin has started his career as banker like my parents and he had a vision to support my education in anyway he can. He told my folks “Whatever the little one wants to do let’s support him. I’m sure he is going to nail it” and immediately I started following a Telecom Diploma along with the British Computer Society Professional Qualifications after high school. I enrolled in to a government diploma in Electrical Power Engineering while I was pursuing my passion in IT and somewhere along the way I felt that it was not my thing. So I gave that up 🙂

How it all started

When I graduated (not with flying colours) it took me 6 months to land my first job in IT. My first employer was a long standing ISP + Managed Services Provider and I had a bunch of awesome colleagues who taught me what it takes to be a professional. In fact the first task given to me by my immediate supervisor Pratheesh, is to assemble at least three working PCs out of some remnant PC parts which I thought nonsense at first. Later when we became close friends (still he and the gang are my best friends) he told me that, at first he wondered how I got this job, a person who is always asking so many questions and talks too much. Nevertheless within the short time I spent with them I learned a lot and it was a turning point in my career.

I’ve done various IT jobs. I’ve been frequently asked the question “why do you change your place of work so often?”. I’m after knowledge and when I saturate at one place, I tend to explore what more I can learn from the outside and move on. It’s not just the benefits but I need to be laser focused on what I love most, sharing and improving my knowledge. Only a few understood the logic behind what I’m doing. I’m not an average IT professional who sits back and relax, I always try to innovate and this will always put me a in challenging ride.

Madura Sonnadara, one of the best superior’s that a person can have was my boss back in 2013 and he always wanted me to learn something new and share it with my peers. This led me to involve with Microsoft communities and my friend MVP Gogula showed me the importance of contributing back. So I started a blog, started engaging in TechNet forums. I focused more towards the cloud from 2012 and taken many Microsoft & Red Hat examinations to keep myself challenged. I’ve also had a great support from my ex-boss Raymond Chou (who also is a CDM MVP by the way) to polish my skills into a whole new level.

On 1st of April 2015 when I didn’t notice any notification from the MVP programme I felt discouraged and sad. MVP Hasitha, my mentor/senior while I was at Infront Consulting was rather upset than myself and told me to not to lose the passion. I decided to contribute more and more whether I’m going to be a MVP or not. The e-mail was actually there in the Junk folder and here I was the very first SCCDM MVP in Sri Lanka. I got the chance to work with so many MVPs worldwide, I presented in many conferences, engaged with more communities during the last MVP programme year. It took a lot of energy to keep up with these constantly changing technologies but I still believe that keeping myself updated is the best way that I can feel challenged and have a meaning  in my life.

What’s ahead in 2016 for me?

This year I’m going to invest my time significantly on couple of key technologies. Microsoft Azure Stack, Red Hat & OSS on Azure, Enterprise Mobility, Azure Automation & PowerShell DSC are some of areas that I’m currently focused on. I’ve always been an OSS advocate so I couldn’t be much happier when Microsoft embraced OSS with it’s top selling products such as Azure & Windows 10. Basically the plan is to learn more, engage more and contribute more like everyday is the last day on planet Earth. I’m a devoted Buddhist and as Buddhist I believe that what we do today will define the future. So today will always be a good day to start.

Where you can find me in 2016?

I will be a presenter at some of the top cloud and data center conferences around the world in 2016. I’ll be there at SCU Europe, Berlin in August and then PowerShell Conference Asia in Singapore. Being an active community geek I made a lot of friends all over the world. I meet most of them in various locations that I travel, and it always makes me realize what a small world we live in. Also running our local user group Sri Lanka IT PRO Forum has always kept me busy and if you are around Colombo by any chance, you can come and join us at anytime. I’ll be presenting, organizing, helping a quite a number of local/international user groups and events as long as they got something to do with a cloud (or at least there should be a silver lining in it) throughout 2016 and beyond.

My message to you

Take a risk whenever you can. If you don’t take the necessary risks you may well end-up in the same place for the rest of your life. Start teaching others and you will learn a lot by just doing that. The enthusiasm to contribute back to the community and learn from the community was the key to unlock this door for me. Raise your voice, share your opinion on technology and get engaged. Ask the questions, get it right and help someone to understand what you have learned. The moment you stop learning will be the moment you stop breathing.

Being an MVP is a journey not a destination.

This has been a rather long post but I wanted to share something that has inspired me as a little kid, teenager and as an adult. Following is from Nikolai Ostrovsky’s famous novel How Steel was Tempered.

Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world──the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.

Knowledge is power, so share it in anyway you can. What could possibly be a more better way to fight for humanity’s liberation, than empowering the society with knowledge? Start sharing today and you’ll achieve more than you’d ever imagined.

Managing Cloud Storage with Microsoft Azure Storage Explorer

Today you might be using different third party tools to perform management operations in your Azure storage accounts. CloudXplorer & CloudBerry are some good candidates but they are not free (as in beer). For those Developers who are using Visual Studio 2013/2015 the in-built cloud explorer is a perfect tool but what about the IT Professionals like us? Do we have a good and free alternative?

Microsoft has introduced a standalone version of Microsoft Azure Storage Explorer (Preview) with Azure SDK 2.8 release.  This tool is let’s you to quickly create blob containers, upload file content into blob containers, download files, set properties and metadata, and even create and get SAS keys to control access. Also you can quickly search for containers and individual blobs, and inspect a number of things like metadata and properties on the blobs.

Features in Storage Explorer

  • Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux versions (New in v0.7.20160107)
  • Sign in to view your Storage Accounts – use your Org Account, Microsoft Account, 2FA, etc
  • Add Storage Accounts by account name and key, as well as custom endpoints (New in v0.7.20160107)
  • Add Storage Accounts for Azure China (New in v0.7.20160107)
  • Add blob containers with SAS key (New in v0.7.20160107)
  • Local development storage (Windows-only)
  • ARM and Classic resource support
  • Create and delete blobs, queues, or tables
  • Search for specific blobs, queues, or tables
  • Explore the contents of blob containers
  • View and navigate through directories
  • Upload, download, and delete blobs and folders
  • Open and view the contents text and picture blobs (New in v0.7.20160107)
  • View and edit blob properties and metadata
  • Generate SAS keys
  • Manage and create Stored Access Policies
  • Search for blobs by prefix
  • Drag ‘n drop files to upload or download

This tool currently supports blob operations only and according to Microsoft support for Tables & Queues is coming soon.

Let’s take a look at this tool and see how we can manage Azure Storage using that. First you need to log into your Azure subscription.

Storage-Explorer-1.png

Once you are signed into your Azure subscription you can immediately start navigating through all of your storage accounts.

Storage-Explorer-3.png

You can perform following blob operations by right-clicking on a storage blob.

Storage-Explorer-4.png

Attaching Storage

If you want to connect to storage accounts in a different Azure Subscription or Azure China Storage Accounts or any publicly available storage service that you are not an administrator, you can  right-click on the Storage node and select Attach External Storage. Here you can provide the Account Name & the Access Key to connect to those external storage accounts.

Storage-Explorer-6.png

Also it is possible to connect to a blob container using a Shared Access Signature key and in order to do so the SAS key should provide List permissions for that particular blob.

Storage-Explorer-7.png

You can download this tool from storageexplorer.com

Cloud security with Microsoft Antimalware

For those who were not too sure about moving into the cloud thinking that your VMs won’t be protected from security threats do not need to worry about with Microsoft Cloud. During TechEd Europe 2014 Microsoft has introduced Microsoft Antimalware, a cloud based security solution for your Azure tenants.

Microsoft Antimalware uses the same engine behind Microsoft Security Essentials and Forefront EndPoint Protection & Windows Defender. Some say that these not so great products but guess what? I’ve seen a POC where it caught 99% of security threats in a customer environment that was designed for security testing where all the other vendors were not able to get that far.

It’s actually a Security-as-a-Service products which will run real time and download all the heuristics and definitions directly from the cloud. And most importantly user interaction required is minimal in this as it would be running in background and intelligently protecting your workloads against security threats.

Lets see what is required to use Antimalware in Azure.

  • Windows Server 2008 R2 or higher OS. Windows Server 2008 & Server Technical Preview is not yet supported.
  • VM Agent – You can enable VM agent at the time on VM creation or enable it later.
  • Latest Microsoft Azure PowerShell SDK Tools which contains the PowerShell cmdlets for Antimalware should be installed.
  • Azure Storage account for antimalware event collection.

How it works

  1. By default this extension is installed in Cloud Services but has been disabled. You can enable it using PowerShell. Please refer here for complete reference of PowerShell cmdlets for Antimalware.
  2. For VMs you can install this via Azure Portal as below or use the PowerShell cmdlets.Microsoft Antimalware VM
  3. Use Visual Studio Server Explorer for Azure for installing in VMs
  4.  Antimalware service management APIs- both VMs & Cloud services.

So remember to use Microsoft Antimalware for Azure workloads from now on if you are not too sure about the security that Microsoft has in place already.

Azure Site Recovery | On-Premises to Cloud Series Introduction

Today we start a new blog post series on Azure Site Recovery. In this series we are going to implement a DR solution for Hyper-V VMs in a VMM cloud. The series is a collection of 4 posts where I’ll guide you through each step in the process. Note that this is just a Proof-of-Concept lab where I’ve used minimal resources to setup.

Scenario

In this setup we will be replicating one Linux VM from a Hyper-V cluster environment to Azure for DR purposes. This VM contains a sample Hello World page in an apache web server.

First Things First

This is the checklist that you want to have for this scenario.

  • Azure Account – An active Azure subscription. You can also use a free trial.
  • Storage Account – This should be Geo-Replicated in the same region as the Recovery Site service.
  • VMM Server – Should be System Center 2012 R2
  • VMM Clouds – At least one VMM cloud  with one or more VMM Host Groups, Hyper-V host servers or clusters in each host group and one or more Generation 1 VMs. Please see here for the compatibility matrix for VMs.

Lets take a look at the tasks that need to be performed in an overview.

  1. Create an Azure Site Recovery Vault
  2. Install Azure Site Recovery Provider & Generate a registration key
  3. Configure Azure Storage Account
  4. Install ASR agent on Hyper-V Hosts
  5. Configure Cloud protection
  6. Configure network mapping – map source VM networks to target Azure Virtual networks
  7. Enable VM protection
  8. Test run – run a test fail-over or create a recovery plan and r un a test fail-over for same.

Lets  discuss how to create the ASR vault & install the ASR Provider in our next post.

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.

WELL WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

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.

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?

References:

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.

Resources

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

Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 | Facts that matter

For those who have been working with Microsoft Virtualization platform, the free enterprise grade hypervisor is a valuable product for running VMs on the fly. The new version of Hyper-V Server has number of advantages compared to it’s  predecessor. If you take a look at the features of Windows Server 2012 R2 with Hyper-V role installed vs. free hypervisor there is no difference. That is all the features are exact same.

Now lets focus on why you should use the Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 for you virtualization platform.

Free forever

YES it’s free as in FREE BEER (the product). You’ll need to license only the VMs. If you are a developer or an IT PRO who just needs a host to run you test lab this is it.

Shared VHDX storage

Hyper-V 2012 R2 is capable of clustering virtual machines using shared virtual hard disk (VHDX) files. I you need high availability in your private cloud deployment for large workloads this feature enables multiple VMs to access the same same virtual hard disk (VHDX) file, providing Windows Failover Clustering. VHDX files can be stored in CSV or SMB 3.0 Scale-out file server shares. This is a new feature with this release.

GEN 2 VMs

2012 R2 provides two different platforms for your VMs. Generation 1 VMs  provides the same virtual hardware as in previous versions of Hyper-V while Generation 2 VMs provide new functionality such as,

  • Secure Boot (enabled by default)
  • Boot from a SCSI virtual hard disk
  • Boot from a SCSI virtual DVD
  • PXE boot by using a standard network adapter
  • UEFI firmware support

Important fact is that IDE drives and legacy network adapter support along with legacy hardware support has been removed in Generation 2 VMs. This way the boot up time for a typical VM has been increased by 90%. Not all Guest OS are supported in this architecture (only Windows Server 2012/2012 R2, Windows 8/8.1 x64 versions are supported). You can choose what generation of a VM you’ll need in the New VM creation wizard and once created you can’t change the generation of a VM.

Enhanced Session Mode

Hyper-V now allows you to use your local resources such as Display configuration, Audio, Printers, Clipboard, Smart cards,  Drives, USB devices and Supported Plug and Play devices to be redirected to a Virtual Machine Connection session. Yet again this feature only supports Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 client.

Storage Quality of Service

This enables you to specify the maximum and minimum I/O operations per second (IOPS) for each virtual disk in your virtual machines. This way you have a guarantee that one VHD doesn’t impact the performance of another on the same host.

You can download the free Hypervisor from here. If you are new to virtualization with Microsoft you can have an idea about what it is by going through the below TechNet article.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh831531.aspx

The era of physical machines has come to an end. Therefore get yourself familiarize with the virtualization before you become a LEGACY SysAdmin.

P.S Following is an interesting video about what’s new in Hyper-V 2012 R2 presented at TechEd 2013 North America featuring Rick Claus and Benjamin Armstrong.

OneDrive is coming

Microsoft has decided to re-brand their cloud storage offering “SkyDrive” to “OneDrive“. This was announced on January 27th and Microsoft states the transformation as,

“OneDrive name conveys the value we can deliver for you and best represents our vision for the future.”

The company hasn’t given an exact launch date yet. But we can expect this change to hit within next few weeks. Existing SkyDrive & SkyDrive PRO users will be automatically converted to the new name. Seems to me it would just be re-branding the existing service but Microsoft may surprise us with new features as they always do. I personally prefer SkyDrive over Google Drive because it’s much neat & pretty much easier to use.

You can find more information about this from OneDrive Blog. Enjoy the video from below.