Last week at Build 2014, Bill Staples showed off a preview of the new Microsoft Azure portal for the first time. You can jump to his demo in Scott Guthrie’s keynote.
The new portal was built from the ground up to put your applications at the center of the experience. This may sound like an obvious concept, but let us stop for a moment to consider the state of cloud development.
When developing for the cloud today, we are oftentimes managing individual resources (databases, storage, cloud services, virtual machines, and so on). It’s left up to us as cloud developers and IT professionals to piece these resources together in some meaningful way and manage them over time. Have you ever provisioned a cloud resource and later forgot what it’s being used for? Is this resource important, or was it just for testing? Which application was it for? I’m certainly guilty of this. The cloud makes it easy to use resources, and likewise it’s easy to waste them if you aren’t careful.
Furthermore, the planning, development, and testing of those applications is usually done elsewhere, such as within Visual Studio Online. Monitoring the health of those applications and troubleshooting problems might be done in yet another portal, such as with Application Insights. Billing is displayed on a separate page. And so on.
The new portal brings together all of the cloud resources, team members, and lifecycle stages of your application and provides you with a centralized place to plan, develop, test, provision, deploy, scale, and monitor those applications. This approach can help teams embrace a DevOps culture by bringing both development and operations capabilities and perspectives together in a meaningful way.
In this post, I want to highlight one of my favorite capabilities of the new portal, which is the ability to create a rich DevOps dashboard for your application such as the one below. Go ahead and click to open the full image. It’s worth it. I’ll wait here.
Pretty nice, huh? Believe it or not, this took us only about 15 minutes to create and fine tune using the new portal. Everything you’re looking at here is real, nothing is faked or demo data. The application in this screenshot happens to be the Office blog (http://blogs.office.com/) which runs on Azure Web Sites. We simply opened up that Azure subscription in the new portal (http://portal.azure.com) and started adding the parts we wanted to visualize.
The new portal allows each user to transform the portal home page (called the Startboard) into their own customized dashboard. You can make it your own and keep evolving it over time to suit your needs.
Let’s take a closer look at what you’re seeing in the dashboard above.
I mentioned that the new portal was designed to bring together all of the individual resources of an application into a consolidated view. This is most evident by looking at the Resource Map part on this dashboard. The Resource Map is a visualization of a Resource Group, which is a model where the relationship between resources is stored (along with other important information). For this application, you can see the relationship between the production web site, the staging web site, and the billing plan. For other applications you might also see databases, database servers, or even Visual Studio Online team projects where the source code is managed and bugs related to this application are being tracked. To learn more about Azure Resource Groups, watch Azure Resource Group Model: Modern Management for Modern Cloud.
The new portal brings in Application Insights capabilities which provide you with a wide range of analytics for your applications. This allows you to understand if your application is available, how it is performing, and even how users are interacting with it.
For example, this graph shows you the top 5 pages which are being requested for your application:
Clicking the part above opens a new blade which details the top-requested page URL’s.
Not surprisingly, the default page was the most-requested page. But a close second was the announcement of Office for iPad.
The Browsers part is another simple but effective chart which helps you understand the makeup of web browsers which are accessing your application. In the screenshot below, I have clicked on Internet Explorer in the Browsers blade to open the Internet Explorer blade. This new blade shows me a breakdown of the various versions of Internet Explorer being used by my application’s visitors. I then clicked on the pie chart wedges making up Internet Explorer 9, 10, and 11. This gave me the sum total (75%) of Internet Explorer traffic attributed to those browsers. This can be helpful in making product development and testing decisions regarding which browsers I should be supporting.
Building any cloud application means that you are taking dependencies on a range of services which are probably outside of your control. Since no cloud vendor can guarantee 100% uptime, it is important to understand at a glance if there is an outage for a service you depend on.
The Service Health part provides this global view across Microsoft Azure.
You can click on this part to open a set of blades which allow you to explore each Azure resource type and the regions each resource is available in. You can easily pin the resources you care about back to your Startboard to tell at a glance if a service you care about is degraded or offline.
Pricing and Billing
One of the top-requested features by Azure customers is for more visibility into how much cloud resources are costing them. The new portal provides unprecedented transparency into this information. The parts below show me the billing plan I have elected for this application, along with a projection of the total estimated charges for the month. The Current Spend part you’re looking at below for the Office blog illustrates the economics of Azure Web Sites – this is for a site which serves up hundreds of millions of requests per month.
Clicking on the Pricing Tier part allows you to choose a different pricing plan for your Azure Web Site. From here I could select a new pricing plan, click Select, and in seconds my Azure Web Site would scale to the new resource model.
Most customization is performed by entering a customization mode in the portal. If you are familiar with customizing a Windows Phone or a Windows 8 start screen you will be immediately familiar with customizing the portal. Enter the customization mode by clicking on your user avatar and selecting Customize.
It’s worth noting in the screenshot above that “Restore default settings” would reset your Startboard back to the default state. Avoid clicking this if you have invested in creating a customized dashboard.
Alternatively, you can also right-click almost anywhere in the portal and choose Customize.
Once in customization mode you can select an individual part and click the orange pin to change the size of the part. Most parts support a range of tile sizes, each thoughtfully designed to present the right amount of information for that configuration.
You can also drag and drop parts to reposition them. A positioning grid helps you understand your alignment options.
When you are done customizing, click Done in the upper-right corner:
Or right-click anywhere and select Done customizing:
The portal works really great on a touch-screen device. I’ve tried it on my Surface, and on an iPad, but my favorite experience so far has to be on one of the Microsoft Perceptive Pixel devices we had at Build. We loved it so much, in fact, that we rolled it out on stage for Bill to show off during the keynote:
I expect that in the not-too-distant future these types of high-PPI touch-enabled displays will become commonplace in DevOps team rooms. But until then, you can get started with a cheap projector or LCD monitor.
All of the capabilities mentioned above are available to you today using the new Azure Preview portal. But you should be aware of some of the limitations of the preview.
Only a subset of Azure resources can be managed from this portal today – namely Web Sites, SQL, MySQL, and Visual Studio Online team projects. More resources will be coming over time, but you can always access the release version of the portal (http://manage.windowsazure.com) when you need to do something that the new portal doesn’t yet provide.
Additionally, accessing the new portal requires that you are an administrator or co-administrator for a given subscription. This means that in addition to being able to view the health of your applications, somebody with access to your portal could accidentally (or maliciously) stop/delete resources or create new ones. This is no different from granting someone co-admin access to a subscription today, but it’s something to be aware of if you intend to create a centralized dashboard for the entire team. Role-based access control (RBAC) is an important part of the team’s backlog, and this will be coming in the future.
The new Azure Preview portal paints an exciting look at the future of DevOps. This is a first-of-its-kind experience which brings together all of the individual resources, people, and lifecycle stages of your application into a unified portal. In this post I have just introduced you to a very narrow set of its capabilities, and Microsoft is just getting started. There is a lot of future investment happening which will make this experience even better over time.
We want to see you take the portal and make it your own. I would love to see pictures of your own dream dashboard created with the new portal. You can link to them from the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @briankel.
Thanks for reading!
I’m pleased to announce that the 2013 edition of our popular Professional Application Lifecycle Management with Visual Studio book series is now available!
The purpose of this book has always been to educate people on the breadth of capabilities in Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server which enable software teams to collaborate across the entire lifecycle of an application – planning, developing, testing and operating. The 2013 edition of this book builds upon previous editions by including new chapters on release management, Git, portfolio management, and of course all of the other new and improved capabilities of the 2013 software release.
This book was written with the entire development team in mind, so whether you are a project manager, developer, tester, operations engineer, release manager, or team lead, our goal is that there should be at least a few chapters in here which will make your life happier and your software projects better.
As you’ll see from the cover, we finally made it off the boat! Loyal readers of the 2010 and 2012 editions will understand that reference. :-)
We also picked up another Brian and another Martin! I’m thrilled to have Brian Randell and Martin Hinshelwood join our team of authors for this series. They are good friends and two of the top experts in the world on these technologies who love speaking and writing about this topic.
I just discovered a new book on TFS 2013 Customization written by Gordon Beeming, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on my last trip to South Africa. Gordon is one of these guys who I’m convinced never sleeps; in addition to his day job where he administers a TFS server for a large development team, he is also a very active member of the TFS community and is routinely providing suggestions about how to improve the product.
If you need to learn everything there is to know about customizing TFS 2013, you might enjoy this book.
It’s just $9.99 on Kindle or $24.99 in print.
The Visual Studio 2013 ALM Virtual Machine was upgraded today to include the sample content and hands-on-labs / demo scripts which were previously introduced for Visual Studio 2010 and 2012 capabilities. This brings the total number of hands-on-labs and demo scripts which work with this VM to 24.
We also used this opportunity to address some fit-and-finish feedback we received on the initial release of the 2013 ALM VM, so it should be a nice improvement all around. As a reminder you can find the full list of ALM virtual machines here.
January 10, 2014 Update: I ran some tests again today and activation is working again! Please follow the steps in the “Working with…” document and you should be able to activate the virtual machine now (if not, please let me know). The bad news is that I still don’t know what caused the activation servers to break in the first place, but I have some open mail threads with that team and I hope to learn more about how to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
Back in November, people started reporting trouble activating the operating system in the Visual Studio ALM virtual machines.
While I admittedly don’t fully understand the root cause yet, I do have some more information and suggested workarounds. If I learn more I will update this post.
The symptom: If you follow the “Working with…” document to attempt to activate your instance of the virtual machine, you will receive the following error message. Error code: 0xC004C032 Error description: The activation server reported that new time based activation not available.
Suffice to say, Windows is not activated at this point and no amount of retrying will fix the problem.
What’s happening? After several tests, we determined that this problem seems to be impacting all Windows Server 2012 “R1” evaluation installations (which incidentally is the edition that the recent Visual Studio ALM virtual machines are built on). Since this worked prior to November, our running hypothesis is that the Windows activation servers are no longer allowing people to activate Windows Server 2012 “R1” evaluations. My speculation is that this is either “by design” since the Windows Server team is trying to encourage people to evaluate Windows Server 2012 R2, or accidentally because it stopped working and the right people haven’t noticed yet. Unfortunately I have been unable to track down the right person(s) in Microsoft to help me answer this question, but I’m still trying.
What are the implications of not being able to activate? The good news is that you can use the virtual machines for up to ten days from when you first boot them up without ever activating. After ten days, an “Activate Windows” watermark will appear in the lower-right corner to indicate that Windows is not activated. When this happens you will be granted a one-hour grace period to use Windows before it will automatically shut down.
The other good news is that if you are using either the 2012 ALM Virtual Machine or 2013 ALM Virtual Machine, both of these VM’s have their date & time “hacked” to be disconnected from the real world (this is so that the “current sprint” data is correct for the agile planning scenarios). Because the date & time are isolated from the real world, this means that if you boot up the VM, use it for 2 hours, and save state when you are done (or shut down the host PC they are running on) then you will only have used 2 hours of your 10 day grace period.
Finally, I always recommend that you take a snapshot/checkpoint after importing the VM and prior to completing a hands-on-lab / demo script. This way you can roll back to a previous state if you want to do it again (such as in a classroom environment or if you routinely demo the product). If you use this procedure with the 2012/2013 ALM Virtual Machines then you are pretty much guaranteed that you will never burn off enough time to exceed your 10 days of evaluation.
What can I do when I use up my 10 days? You can always restore to a fresh (unbooted) copy of the virtual machine and get another 10 days. There are a couple of ways to do this.
1) Delete the VM from Hyper-V and on disk. Then re-extract the original RAR’s and follow the steps to import the VM again.
2) Another approach is to take a snapshot/checkpoint of the VM immediately after you import it, but BEFORE you boot it up. This way you can always restore to a “fresh” copy of the VM prior to starting your 10 day grace period.
Personally I tend to go for option 2, but you should be aware that there’s a small disk I/O performance tax with using snapshots/checkpoints. The deeper your tree of snapshots/checkpoints goes, the higher this performance tax will be, although on most modern hardware 1-2 snapshots won’t make a noticeable difference.
Can’t you upgrade the Visual Studio ALM virtual machines to use R2? Given infinite time and resources, we could. But doing so is very expensive. We currently have 3 virtual machines which utilize Windows Server 2012 “R1” and 30+ hands-on-labs / demo scripts, so all of these would need to be updated and tested. Furthermore, you cannot upgrade directly from Windows Server 2012 “R1” evaluation to Windows Server 2012 R2 evaluation; this means we would need to perform a labor-intensive migration of all of the data, settings, etc. as well as QA this against the 30+ hands-on-labs / demo scripts. We will opportunistically move to Windows Server 2012 R2 at the next opportunity, but this probably won’t be until the next major release of Visual Studio.
Sorry to folks who are impacted by this. Hopefully I can reach somebody in the Windows Server team now that end-of-year vacations are coming to a close to investigate other options. If I find any I will update this blog post as appropriate.
The RTM version of the Visual Studio 2013 ALM virtual machine and hands-on-labs / demo scripts are now available!
You can also find a consolidated list of all of the ALM virtual machines here: http://aka.ms/ALMVMs.
Updated November 26, 2013: This blog post is obsolete now. The fix referenced below has been resolved in the RTM version of the Visual Studio 2013 ALM Virtual Machine.
I have received several reports from people about the InRelease Preview Hands-on-Lab I published as part of the Visual Studio 2013 Preview ALM Virtual Machine not always working correctly. The most common symptom was that the release workflow would timeout during the “Build Web Sites” step. After investigation we determined that this was a bug in the InRelease Preview which will be fixed for RTM. In the meantime, there is a simple fix for getting the InRelease hands-on-lab working in the Visual Studio 2013 Preview ALM Virtual Machine. The steps are below and have also been published to the Hands-on-Lab document.
InRelease Preview Bug Fix:
1. Log in as Julia. All user passwords are P2ssw0rd.
2. Launch the InRelease Console by double-clicking on the desktop shortcut.
3. Click Configure Paths | Servers then double-click on VSALM to open the server properties window.
4. Change the IP Address Type to Gateway, then Save & Close the window.
Note: User Ralph Jansen reported in the comments that he had to wait a few minutes after booting his virtual machine before the “IP Address Type” radio button became active. Depending on the speed of your hardware your situation might be similar.
5. You may now proceed with the exercises in this lab.
I’m sorry to everyone who hit this bug. Hopefully this allows you to fully experience InRelease and understand how it might help you with release management in your organization.
When we shipped the Visual Studio 2013 ALM Virtual Machine earlier this month we were still in the process of finalizing one of the hands-on-labs / demo scripts. This work is done and you can now access Agile Planning and Portfolio Management with Team Foundation Server 2013.
If you are not yet familiar with the agile planning tools introduced in Team Foundation Server 2012, you should start with Exercise 1 of this lab. In this exercise you will learn how these tools can be used to help a small team manage their backlog, break work down into iterations, and track this work using a task board.
Exercise 2 introduces the new agile portfolio management capabilities introduced in Team Foundation Server 2013. These capabilities allow you to “scale agile” across your entire organization by providing you with a hierarchy for your backlog. This means that I can have several smaller teams sprinting together to achieve related objectives, and I can track that work in either a top-down or bottom-up manner.
Finally, Exercise 3 will show you a few of the ways that Team Foundation Server 2013 allows individual teams to maintain some autonomy in the way they work without requiring core process template changes on the shared team project that you might be using across the entire organization. Features such as the Kanban board and work item tags can be customized on a per-team basis to adapt to the individual needs of those teams.
We hope you enjoy this new lab, and as always your feedback is welcome.
In my job, I get talk to people every day who are excited about the new and improved capabilities of Team Foundation Server 2013. I have talked to several organizations who are already running Team Foundation Server 2013 Preview in production, which is great. But for some organizations, upgrading to pre-release software on their production servers can be a bit scary. If you are interested in upgrading to Team Foundation Server 2013 and you don’t want to wait until RTM, we are here to help.
Team Foundation Server 2013 Upgrade Weekend is happening September 13-15 (Friday – Sunday). During this weekend, Microsoft experts will be standing by after hours to provide no-charge assistance for Team Foundation Server 2013 installation, configuration, and upgrades. If you are interested in taking advantage of Upgrade Weekend, please visit http://aka.ms/TFSUpgradeWeekend. This brief survey will pre-register you to take advantage of the Upgrade Weekend offer and will help us to appropriately staff engineering and support resources. If you don’t yet have a profile on Microsoft Connect you will need to complete a brief Connect registration profile prior to accessing the survey. This survey will remain open until September 6th.
Here are just a few reasons to consider upgrading to Team Foundation Server 2013:
Of course, you don’t have to wait until Upgrade Weekend to try Team Foundation Server 2013 or any of the rest of the products in the Visual Studio 2013 family. You can download previews of these products today from http://aka.ms/GetVS2013. All of these products have “go live” licenses which means you can run them in production and perform your day-to-day development activities with them. You can also contact Microsoft Support if you need assistance.
January 10, 2014 Update: I ran some tests again today and activation is working again! Please follow the steps in the “Working with…” document and you should be able to activate the virtual machine now (if not, please let me know). The bad news is that I still don’t know what caused the activation servers to break in the first place, but I have some open mail threads with that team and I hope to learn more about how to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Updated January 9, 2014: The VM was upgraded to include all applicable Visual Studio 2010 and 2012 hands-on-labs / demo scripts. This brings the total number of hands-on-labs / demo scripts you can run with this virtual machine to 24. Known Issue as of Jan 6 2014: Windows Activation for the evaluation O/S that this VM is based on is currently failing for all users. This issue is under investigation. Note that activation is not required to use this VM. More details can be found here.
The Visual Studio 2013 RTM ALM Virtual Machine is available for download along with 24 hands-on-labs / demo scripts which introduce you to many of the ALM capabilities which have been included in this release.
You can download and install Visual Studio 2013 (including Team Foundation Server 2013, .NET Framework 4.5.1, etc.). But if you would like a faster way to understand what is new for application lifecycle management in this release, this virtual machine is pre-configured with all of the necessary software and sample data for you.
Some important notes about this virtual machine:
This virtual machine is configured with:
There are 24 hands-on-labs for you to take a scripted approach towards learning this content. These labs double as demo scripts in case you want to show off these features to others.
New features in Visual Studio 2013:
Labs upgraded from Visual Studio 2010/2012: NEW
If you are looking for even more hands-on-labs and demo scripts, be sure to check out our other ALM virtual machines at http://aka.ms/ALMVMs.
Links to the files above are included in the download set below, so you don’t have to follow the individual links above if you plan on batch downloading all of the files in this set.
Downloading the virtual machine and labs: I suggest using a download manager for these files since they are very large. My download manager of choice is Free Download Manager. You can use your own favorite download manager, but you may need to adapt the instructions below as appropriate.
1. Download and install Free Download Manager. This utility provides: - Auto-resume support for interrupted downloads. - Multiple simultaneous download streams for (usually) a much faster download experience. - As the name implies, it's completely free. 2. 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Launch the user interface for Free Download Manager (either from the Start Menu or via the system tray icon if FDM is already running). 4. Click File -> Import -> Import List of URLs from Clipboard. 5. When prompted for a download group, accept the default and click OK. 6. You are now free to minimize Free Download Manager while the files download. By default, they will be saved to c:\downloads. 7. Expand the files and self-extracting RAR set and see the “Working with…” document for more instructions.
I hope you will enjoy this content as a way of learning how Visual Studio can help you improve your team’s overall application lifecycle management capabilities. If you have suggestions for how to improve this virtual machine and set of demos / hands-on-labs please let me know. Remember to check out our previous ALM virtual machines at http://aka.ms/ALMVMs to learn about other ways in which Microsoft is delivering tooling for application lifecycle management.