This week we finalized the rollout of the SQL Azure Q4 2011 Service Release, and with this rollout we have significantly upgraded the SQL Azure Management Portal.  The upgraded portal is an extension to the Windows Azure Management Portal, and is used to manage your SQL Azure logical servers and physical databases via a new Metro-style user interface.  In this two part blog, I will walk through some of the new capabilities and show some tips and tricks along the way.   With this blog, we have also published a short video demonstration of the new portal, and I encourage you to view it. 

This blog will cover:

  • Getting started
  • Introduction to the new Metro-style UI
  • Overview, Administration and Design Workspaces
  • Navigation tips and tricks

Getting Started

When you launch the SQL Azure Management Portal you will be prompted to upgrade to the latest Silverlight 5 runtime, if you do not have it installed already.  Some developers may have a previous “developer preview” version of Silverlight 5 installed. If so, we recommend you uninstall the pre-release version of Silverlight 5 and install the latest Silverlight 5 runtime to ensure that the SQL Azure Management Portal works properly.

To use the SQL Azure Management Portal you need to enable firewall rules that allow the portal to have access to your SQL Azure servers. First you will need to add a firewall rule for the client IP address from which you will be accessing the portal. When adding the client IP address or IP address range as a firewall rule, you should also select "Allow other Windows Azure services to access this server.”

To add a new firewall rule:

  • In the Windows Azure Management Portal, select the SQL Azure server that you would like to update.
  • Click on the Firewall Rules button in the main page.
  • Click Add and follow directions to add a new rule that allows the current client IP or a range of IP addresses.
  • Note that the current IP address shown is the IP address that is externally-facing and may be different from the local machine IP address (in the case of a network behind a proxy server).  The current IP address (or address range as shown below) should be added to the list via the step above.

Figure 1. Adding a Firewall Rule

To launch the SQL Azure Management Portal, you should be logged into the Windows Azure Management Portal. Next, select the database workspace and then select the SQL Azure server you would like to manage. Click the "Manage Server" button in the top ribbon bar.

Figure 2. Windows Azure management portal, database section

This launches the SQL Azure Management Portal. To sign in and manage this server you will need the user name and password of an administrator (server-level principal) of your SQL Azure server. This is the administrator user name and password that was set up when this server was created.  You do not need to specify a specific database.  If you cannot connect, you should click on the connection error message on the login page to view the specific connection error message so you can fix the issue.

Figure 3. SQL Azure management portal login

Overview Workspace

The new overview workspace provides an “at-a-glance” view including the Metro-style tiles that can be launched to complete various tasks.  One of the tiles provides a summary of the databases that are active on this server. Others like “New Database” are links to more frequently used tasks. There are also links to documentation about SQL Azure and the new portal.

Adhering to the Metro UI principles, the portal reduces the amount of chrome and elevates content that are relevant to the tasks. This is in the form of tiles, inline actions within the tiles, and a much larger surface area for the various tasks.

Figure 4. New Overview Workspace

Administration Workspace

You can click on the Administration link in the lower left corner to view the new Administration Workspace, which also reflects the Metro UI enhancements.

Figure 5. New Administration Workspace

Each database is shown in a tile with its associated inline tasks and actions. Clicking on the design button within the tile opens up the database for both schema and data editing. The list of databases can be toggled between the tile view and a list view by selecting the view selector button at the top right corner of the portal. We will visit the Administration Workspace in more detail in Part II of this blog.

Design Workspace

There are several enhancements to the Design Workspace. These include:

  • Rich visual treatment for index and foreign key management
  • Better layout for editing schema objects
  • Support for SQL Azure Federations
  • An improved query editor experience

We also heard feedback from our customers about the need to have better support for multiple results sets and the need to add support for all data types used by SQL Azure. We addressed both of these requests.  We will visit the Design Workspace in more detail in Part II of this blog, but you should note when running T-SQL batches with multiple result sets, the separate results will be viewable in the results pane as different selections.

Figure 6. Query editor and multiple result sets

Figure 7. Spatial data support

My Work and the Database Selector

One of the biggest challenges for Database Administrators is their need to quickly switch context between different databases. This includes running queries across both test and production databases, and being able to interrupt the current workflow for another higher priority task. We have made several enhancements to make this context switching easier.

As you work with various databases and tasks, the work items get added to the “My Work” navigation area at the top left of the portal. The portal assigns databases a color and work items corresponding to a particular database are annotated with the corresponding database color (today, the color assignment for a database is assigned from a set of 16 different colors, and this may result in some databases getting assigned the same color). This helps you distinguish queries or tasks associated with a one database from tasks associated with another database. The color associated with the database that is currently in scope is shown prominently along with its name in the database selector as well as a colored bar over the ribbon bar.

Figure 8. Navigation Pane – all My Work items

To get a one stop snapshot of all open work items and tasks, click on the “My Work” link and that will take you to a tiled view of all the tasks that are open in the current session.

Figure 9. Snapshot of My Work

The database selector shows the currently selected database and clicking on it brings up the database selector window. Recently selected databases are shown at the top of the list. Additionally, the bread crumb bar on top of the database selector enables direct navigation to a database, view or object in the case of a deep hierarchy.

Figure 10. Database Selector

This release includes several new features as well as enhancements to make the portal very task oriented, more productive, and easy to use.  Please continue reading Part II for an overview of both the Administration Workspace and Design Workspace.