Tag Archives: Microsoft Azure

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

The curious case of Microsoft Azure Stack

Lot of people have been asking me what Microsoft Azure Stack will mean to their cloud journey in 2016. As the product is still invisible to us Microsoft has released some guidance notes about what hardware specifications that will be need to a run a PoC lab for Azure Stack Technical Preview just before Christmas 2015.

In order to run a POC of Azure Stack in a single server following minimum and recommended configuration is suggested by Microsoft.

Component

Minimum

Recommended

Compute: CPU Dual-Socket: 12 Physical Cores Dual-Socket: 16 Physical Cores
Compute: Memory 96 GB RAM 128 GB RAM
Compute: BIOS Hyper-V Enabled (with SLAT support) Hyper-V Enabled (with SLAT support)
Network: NIC Windows Server 2012 R2 Certification required for NIC; no specialized features required Windows Server 2012 R2 Certification required for NIC; no specialized features required
Disk drives: Operating System 1 OS disk with minimum of 200 GB available for system partition (SSD or HDD) 1 OS disk with minimum of 200 GB available for system partition (SSD or HDD)
Disk drives: General Azure Stack POC Data 4 disks. Each disk provides a minimum of 140 GB of capacity (SSD or HDD). 4 disks. Each disk provides a minimum of 250 GB of capacity.
HW logo certification Certified for Windows Server 2012 R2

Storage considerations

Data disk drive configuration: All data drives must be of the same type (SAS or SATA) and capacity.  If SAS disk drives are used, the disk drives must be attached via a single path (no MPIO, multi-path support is provided)
HBA configuration options:
     1. (Preferred) Simple HBA
2. RAID HBA – Adapter must be configured in “pass through” mode
3. RAID HBA – Disks should be configured as Single-Disk, RAID-0
Supported bus and media type combinations

  •          SATA HDD
  •          SAS HDD
  •          RAID HDD
  •          RAID SSD (If the media type is unspecified/unknown*)
  •          SATA SSD + SATA HDD**
  •          SAS SSD + SAS HDD**

* RAID controllers without pass-through capability can’t recognize the media type. Such controllers will mark both HDD and SSD as Unspecified. In that case, the SSD will be used as persistent storage instead of caching devices. Therefore, you can deploy the Microsoft Azure Stack POC on those SSDs.

** For tiered storage, you must have at least 3 HDDs.

Example HBAs: LSI 9207-8i, LSI-9300-8i, or LSI-9265-8i in pass-through mode

Furthermore Microsoft suggests that the Dell R630 and the HPE DL 360 Gen 9 servers can be utilized for this effort as both of these models have been in market for some time, but you can always go for another vendor/model that fits the above specification.

From below you can listen to Jeffery Snover himself explaining what is behind the scenes in Azure Stack in development.

Internet Access denied in Azure VM

I’ve been working with Microsoft Azure for the past 4 years and sometimes it’s quite challenging to find answers to weird common service misconfiguration that people do. Following is such a scenario where Internet access to Azure VM suddenly stopped. Recently I’ve been working with a customer on an Azure PoC with below setup and I encountered the same issue.

Azure Site

  • One Azure VM
  • Virtual Network with a dynamic VPN Gateway
  • DNS servers are on-premise (only one DNS server)

Issue

Due to an issue with the on-premise VPN device there are frequent disconnections in the VPN. When that happen Internet access is gone in the Azure VM. However RDP access is okay.

Why did I lose Internet when VPN was down?

Since I had only one DNS server on-premise providing Name Resolution for Azure virtual network it was also providing DNS for Internet access as well. So once the VPN is down the VM is basically orphaned in terms of Internet.

Solution

When your create a VM associated to Azure virtual network it will automatically assign an Azure DNS server. You can make a note of this once you login. After you have changed the DNS settings in Azure virtual network to point your on-premise DNS server, add this Azure provided DNS server IP address as a secondary DNS from the Azure Portal.

Internet Access Issue Azure DNS 1

Remember once you do any change to the DNS settings in an Azure virtual network you will have to reboot any servers that are in the same virtual network from the Azure Portal. Restarting within the virtual machine won’t have any effect so you need to make sure you do that from portal as below.

Internet Access Issue Azure DNS 2

Once the restart is completed check the network adapter status in the VM. It will display the Azure DNS as a secondary server. Now even though the VPN is down you can access internet from the VM.

Internet Access Issue Azure DNS 3

Introducing Linux Integration Services 4.0 Preview for Microsoft Azure

In Hyper-V platform integration services or rather device drivers for emulated hardware plays a vital role. The purpose of these services are to enhance the functionality of VMs to get the maximum performance in par with an actual physical server. Microsoft has announced the availability of LIS 4.0 for Azure VMs recently as a early preview.

This preview version of LIS supports CentOS 6.0-6.6, 7.0-7.1 64 bit editions running on Azure VMs and has introduced below additional functionality to Azure Linux IaaS VMs.

  • CentOS version 6.6 through 7.1 is now supported.
  • Dynamic Memory – Hot Add for above CentOS releases which allows you to dynamically increase the amount of memory that is available to a running VM.

You can download and install the LIS Package from this official Microsoft Link. For a list of features offered by Integration Services for Linux & FreeBSD refer here.

Upgrading Linux Integration Services on Azure Linux VMs

Following procedure needs to be performed as a super user or a user in suborders list.

  • Verify the Linux version first by running below command.

# cat /etc/centos-release

  • SCP (secure copy) the lis4.tar.gz file to the target VM. You can use putty for this.
  • Extracted the tar file by executing

# tar xvzf lis4.tar.gz

  • Traverse to the appropriate release version inside the lis4 directory where XX is the version obtained earlier.

# cd lis4/CentOs<XX>

  • Execute the upgrade script and reboot the VM.

# ./upgrade.sh

# reboot

 

 

Azure VM Extensions for Linux VMs

Whenever you are creating a Linux VM (or a Windows VM) in Azure from the gallery you may have noticed that in the last screen you get the option to install Azure Agent depending on the platform. This Azure Virtual Machine Agent can be is used to install, configure, manage and run Azure VM Extensions which extends the functionality of the VMs that they are installed on.

VM Agent

VM Extensions

VM Extensions can,

  • Modify security and identity features, such as resetting account values and using anti malware
  • Start, stop, or configure monitoring and diagnostics
  • Reset or install connectivity features, such as RDP and SSH
  • Diagnose, monitor, and manage your VMs

What we are focusing today is VM Extenstions for Linux VMs.Below are some of the cool VM Extensions that you can use in Linux VMs.

CustomScript: Run any script on a Linux VM

  • Download files and run scripts from an Azure storage account
  • Not limited to a specific scripting language

VMAccess

  • Reset the password of the original provisioned user or create new user
  • (Re)set SSH key for user
  • Ensure SSH firewall port (22) is open
  • Restore the SSH server configuration to a working default

OSPatching

  • Extension enables scheduled/automatic updates for a Linux VM
  • Coordinate patch schedule across multiple VMs
  • Portal integration

VMAccess extension in particular is a great tool if you ever lost access to your Linux VM. In Linux you always reach the VM via SSH and this extension is capable of altering the SSH configuration in case of a disaster.

Below are some great resources you can use if you are interested in leveraging VM extensions for Azure Linux VMs.

Resources

  1. Regaining control of your Linux VM with VMAccess Extension
  2. List of Azure VM Extensions
  3. Automated OS patching for Linux VMs

Azure VM OS disk limitation lifted

Whenever I engage in an Azure IaaS project one of the first questions that my customers ask is why Azure VMs can’t have more than 127 GB in OS Disk? That is a very difficult moment for me when I pitch Azure as a platform to my customer so I asked myself why on earth they can’t lift the ban on OS disk?

This week I bring some good news. Now you can have OS disks up to 1 TB of size in your Azure VMs. Well probably nobody is going to need that much of beef. But the whole idea behind 127 GB cap was to discourage people from using their C:\ drive to store production workloads. Yes to stop keeping everything in one book, simple as that. This rule of thumb still remains same but keep in mind when you want to store more persistent data inside an Azure VM always use a data disk as OS disk is caching optimized for OS performance.

How do I create a 1 TB OS disk?

The answer is no you don’t. Because when you create a VM from the gallery you don’t have such an option. This limit increase applies for those VMs that you are going to migrate from on-premise environment or custom VHDs (for templates) that you upload. If you play close attention to below you can see all my VMs created from gallery/marketplace still has the 127 GB limit imposed. So basically this applies for your migration workloads.

127gbvhd

This limit increase only applies for your own VMs. VMs used for cloud service roles such as web/worker roles still have the 127 GB limit in OS disk as these are Microsoft managed instances.

If you are planning your DR environment or production hybrid cloud with Azure VMs you no longer need to worry about the OS disk size issue as this update has already addressed that. (But it’s still 1 TB so try not to pass that limit on OS drive)

Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine Optimization Assessment Tool

Have you ever wondered to find a better way to contact a doctor for you Azure IaaS setup? If you are not already aware Microsoft Azure Virtual Machine Optimization Assessment Tool is a great tool that take care of what Azure PFEs would do for you. This tool focuses on 6 key areas on Azure VMs running AD, SQL or SharePoint.

  1. Security and compliance
  2. Availability and business continuity
  3. Performance and scalability
  4. Upgrade, migration and deployment
  5. Operations and monitoring
  6. Change and configuration management

This tool will present a short short questionnaire, and then generate automated data analysis for your target VMs and produce custom reports on collected data with further recommendations.

What is required?

  • Operating system should be anyone out of Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, or Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2 for the machine that is running the tool
  • Hardware Specification Minimum: 4GB RAM, 2 GHz dual-core processor, 5 GB of free disk space.
  • The server or the PC which hosts the tool should be joined to one of a domain of the AD forest in which the target VMs are part of. 2. Additional software requirements.
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0
  • Windows PowerShell 2.0 or later

To download and check out this tool visit here.

Features missing in Azure AD Premium Trial

I have come across a strange issue with Azure AD recently. When I requested a Azure Active Directory Premium Trial and assigned licenses for the users, some of the features were missing in the Configure tab of my directory.

What was missing?

  • Customized Branding Page
  • Self Service Password Reset
  • Notifications

Scenario

I have two directories in my tenant. I have requested the AAD Premium Trial through my Office 365 directory.

AAD Premium Missing Features

What went wrong?

If you request AAD premium through any other directory than your default directory, the Azure tenant administrator (Microsoft Account) would not have a license assigned by default. When you add another directory this account by default becomes an administrator of that new directory.

In order to enable the features you need to have a license for that account if you have logged into Azure using same.

Solution

  • You can manually assign a license to the global administrator to resolve this issue.
  • Make sure you request your trial through the default subscription. If you need you can change this to the directory you want.

Looks like a simple issue but it can cost a day’s worth for troubleshooting.