Monday, 10 May 2010

Windows Azure MMC v2 Released

I am happy to announce the public release of the Windows Azure MMC - May Release.  It is a very significant upgrade to the previous version on Code Gallery.  So much, in fact, I tend to unofficially call it v2 (it has been called the May Release on Code Gallery).  In addition to all-new and faster storage browsing capabilities, we have added service management as well as diagnostics support.  We have also rebuilt the tool from the ground up to support extensibility.  You can replace or supplement our table viewers, log viewers, and diagnostics tooling with your own creation.

This update has been in the pipeline for a very long time.  It was actually finished and ready to go in late January.  Given the amount of code however that we had to invest to produce this tool, we had to go through a lengthy legal review and produce a new EULA.  As such, you may notice that we are no longer offering the source code in this release to the MMC snap-in itself.  Included in this release is the source for the WASM cmdlets, but not for the MMC or the default plugins.  In the future, we hope to be able to release the source code in its entirety.

 

Features At A Glance:

 

hosted_services Hosted Services Upload / configure / control / upgrade / swap / remove Windows Azure application deployments
diagnostics Diagnostics Configure instrumentation for Windows Azure applications (diagnostics) per source (perf counters, file based, app logs, infrastructure logs, event logs).   Transfer the diagnostic data on-demand or scheduled.

View / Analyze / Export to Excel and Clear instrumentation results.

certificates Certificates Upload / manage certificates for Windows Azure applications
storage_services Storage Services Configure Storage Services for Windows Azure applications
blobs BLOBs and Containers Add / Upload / Download / Remove BLOBs and Containers and connect to multiple storage accounts
queues Queues Add / Purge / Delete Windows Azure Queues
tables Tables Query and delete Windows Azure Tables
extensibility Extensibility Create plugins for rich diagnostics data visualization (e.g. add your own visualizer for performance counters). Create plugins for table viewers and editors or add completely new modules!  Plugin Engine uses MEF (extensibility framework) to easily add functionality.

powershell PowerShell-based backend The backend is based on PowerShell cmdlets. If you don't like our UI, you can still use the underlying cmdlets and script out anything we do

 

How To Get Started:

There are so many features and updates in this release that I have prepared a very quick 15-min screencast on the features and how to get started managing your services and diagnostics in Windows Azure today!

Monday, 11 January 2010

LINQPad supports SQL Azure

Some time back, I put in a request to LINQPad's feature request page to support SQL Azure.  I love using LINQPad for basically all my quick demo programs and prototypes.  Since all I work with these days is the Windows Azure platform, it was killing me to have to go to SSMS to do anything with SQL Azure.

Well, my request was granted!  Today, you can use the beta version of LINQPad against SQL Azure and get the full LINQ experience.  Behold:

image

In this case, I am querying the firewall rules on my database using LINQ.  Hot damn.  Nice work Joe!  If you pay a few bucks, you get the intellisense version of the tool too, which is well worth it.  This tool has completely replaced SnippetCompiler for me and continues to get better and better.  Now, if Joe would add F# support.

LINQPad Beta

Thursday, 05 April 2007

Diskeeper 2007 for Vista Review

If you are like me, you have family members that occasionally (or sometimes very often) ask you to "take a look" at their computer to see why the machine is acting up.  In most cases, this boils down to a couple problems:

  1. Installing crapware on the machine (accidentally or by another family member).  I can't tell you how many times I have had to remove spyware and other packages from family machines when the nieces and nephews decide to play the free web browser based games.
  2. Disk fragmentation.  Usually, by the time I get to see the machine the disks are thrashing endlessly and the built-in defrag utility reports something > 50% in terms of fragmentation.

While I can fix the first one (usually), the second one is always hard for me. The built-in defragmenter leaves a lot to be desired as it constantly is restarting itself anytime a program touches the hard drive.  A full defragmentation on a smallish drive (80GB) or so can take hours!

Diskeeper 2007

I noticed that Diskeeper was one of the first to offer a defragger for Windows Vista.  Intrigued, I gave it a whirl.

Since Diskeeper's website does not show a comparison between all the different versions of the product, it might be a bit confusing if you go out to and try to figure out which version you want (or why you would want to spend more money).  But digging through the fact sheets, I came up with the following major features:

Home

  • Invisitasking*
  • Real-time Defragmenting (part of Invisitasking)

Pro adds:

  • 64-bit OS support

Pro Premier Adds

  • I-FAAST*

I have put an asterisk (*) next the to the features that are probably the big ones for most users.  So, unless you are a 64-bit user, there is probably not too much point in getting the Pro version over the Home version really.  I am sure there are other minor differences, but nothing real big stood out to me in checking.

Invisitasking

Probably the biggest and best feature available on all versions is what Diskeeper terms "Invisitasking".  Simply put, this allows defragmentation to occur in the background constantly in a kind of "set it and forget it" mode.  In my testing, this works very well.  I have yet to notice any performance degradation because of defragmenting.  I prefer this method of use over having to schedule a defragmentation weekly or monthly.

I have found that the biggest problem with scheduled tasks is that they take too much of the computing resources away from the user when they run.  Since my family never turns on their computer unless they intend to use it right then, this culminates in one of two problems: a.) the defrag never runs because the computer is always off when it is scheduled to run, or b.) it starts running immediately and the family member turns it off because it sucks too much resources.

This feature solves both those problems for me and it probably the biggest and best of the bunch.  I know a lot of people hate having extra stuff loaded in memory, but this one is worth it in my opinion.

I-FAAST

This feature is meant to speed up commonly used applications based on your usage pattern.  According to the documentation, it takes a week or so to build an accurate profile and then it will start to speed up access to the applications.  This sounds like an older feature that has been around for some time in both Diskeeper and other competing products where the data on the drive is logically laid out to speed access.  However, there is one important difference: I-FAAST takes into account the physical characteristics of your hard drive (which obviously will vary).  The result is a tuning for both logical layout on disk as well as to the characteristics of your individual drive.

This is a harder feature to test than others because I never benchmarked my drive before and after using it.  Subjectively, I have noticed that common programs like Firefox, VS.NET 2005, and Outlook tend to load faster.  This is hard to quantify, but some programs seem to load faster.  Is it a breathtakingly faster thing?  No, but for the common apps you run it seems to be a nice boost.  So, I would say it is a pretty worthwhile feature.

The GUI

Diskeeper sports a pretty slick looking GUI.  It is very easy to navigate around and find what you want to do.  The funny thing is that you will most likely never need to use the GUI - it is a pretty much "install it and forget it" type of application.

Once the program was installed, I actually did not have to configure a thing as the defaults were exactly what I wanted (i.e. Automatic Defrag with Invisitasking and I-FAAST enabled).  Diskeeper also does a good job of having the help files linked easily within the app for more information about each setting in case you want to know more about what each thing means.

Nitpicks

The only minor nitpick I have about the program has to do with its Vista integration.  Specifically, if you run as a limited user (and you should), when you try to launch Diskeeper, it pops up the following message:

I would much rather have it prompt me for Admin credentials using the built in elevation mechanism, but it is a minor point.  While you can allow Diskeeper to launch for limited users by setting an option, this doesn't seem to be a good solution either.  I don't want limited users to launch the program and I don't like having to right-click and choose 'Run as administrator' either.  As I said, this is a minor nitpick since I rarely launch the UI anyway!

Bottom Line

Diskeeper is the best defragmenter I have used.  The Invisitasking for me is the best feature right now.  The fact that you can literally install this program and forget it is the best compliment for this type of app.  Who wants to mess around and monitor this stuff?  I love that I don't notice it and that I never need to schedule a thing.  There is no performance degradation that I have noticed and my drives are constantly kept up.

Also, I should mention that this is installed on a laptop.  Diskeeper is nice enough to suspend the Invisitasking while on battery power - a very nice touch.

Definitely recommended!

Friday, 28 July 2006

A Good FTP Program

Omar asks is anyone knows of a good FTP program in this post.  Similar to Omar, I was getting sick of the nagging that SmartFTP performed each time I started it.  Even more annoying was when it refused to launch (ala Reflector.NET) until I performed an upgrade.  I asked around and everyone and their brother recommended FileZilla.  I suppose I am the lone voice of dissent on this one.  I actually tried to like FileZilla, but had to uninstall it rather quickly.  It just didn’t do things like I expected.  I couldn’t drag items into windows and back, and other assorted quirks that I forget now.  I really wanted to like it, but just couldn’t.

I almost went back to SmartFTP until someone mentioned Novell’s NetDrive application.  I tried this and never looked back.  It is a simple idea really.  It maps a drive to a remote FTP location and you use Windows Explorer like you would anything else.  It works great.  If you were to type “Novell Netdrive” into your favorite search engine, you would find plenty of places that host this particular very handy app.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Acronis True Image Lessons Learned

When restoring a backup to a new hard drive, make sure you use the Rescue Disk that you are supposed to create initially.  I spent probably 3 or 4 hours trying to restore a backup image of my system partition to a new hard drive before the main drive failed completely only to find out that Acronis has a bug or something where it will not clone a drive correctly inside the Windows UI.

Using the Window UI, I tried to clone the disk to the new drive, but once the system rebooted the image was never cloned.  It would simply go through the motions like it was going to and claim success during bootup after only moments (way too short to clone 50 gb of data).  Next, I created a new image of my hard drive, then tried to restore the image to the new drive.  This partially worked as the image was indeed restored, only it was restored unbootable.

Finally, I used the rescue disk.  I again tried the cloning feature and this time since a reboot was not necessary it worked just fine.  This was really kind of annoying since all the backup images I made were for naught as they were not restored to a new drive correctly.

 

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

Acronis TrueImage

I am having some serious issues these days with my 3 year old custom built computer.  I have not nailed down the cause yet, but it is a fairly safe bet that it is either the hard drive(s), the motherboard, or the RAM.  The Event Log is reporting disk errors, but the motherboard is reporting memory errors.

Regardless of what the actual issue is, I decided it would be a great time to actually backup my data in case it was the hard drive and it decided to up and die.  I have been living dangerously for some time without a decent backup.

I found Acronis TrueImage on NewEgg for only $29 downloadable.  That seemed to fit the ticket well, so I gave it a shot.  It is a brain-dead simple to operate and seems to give pretty good results.  It managed to compress my C: drive from ~56GB to ~38GB, taking just under 2 hours.  Once the full image is done, you can simply add differentials each time which is much quicker.  Now, it is time for me to start automating this and getting into the habit of backing up regularly.

CropperCapture[1]

Thursday, 10 March 2005

MessageDialog Goodness

Jeff Kay, creator of SnippetCompiler and other useful tidbits has recently released a customizable version of the MessageBox called MessageDialog

Providing for customizable text, sizes and # of buttons, it looks to be quite useful as usual.