Deploying Azure Applications to the Cloud

Monday, August 17th, 2015

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

So you have a Windows Azure application and you’re ready to deploy it to the cloud – but you’re not quite sure of how to go about it? There are a couple of different methods that you can use, but the easiest way for a beginner is to using the Windows Azure Web Portal. Once you’re more familiar with the process, you can use the Azure Management API to automate the process and make it more efficient.

The first step is to package the application and configuration files into a .cspkg file. If you created your application using Visual Studio for Azure, just right click the project and select “Package.”

If you aren’t using Visual Studio, the “do it yourself” method requires you to get the cspack tool from the Azure SDK and use the command line to create the package. There are a number of options available but the tool’s syntax is relatively simple. You must run the cspack command with the parameters that are appropriate for your application (for example, a web role).

To run cspack, you need to open the Windows Azure SDK command prompt and run as an administrator. For more information on how to use cspack to package the file, see the MSDN web site.

How to Resize and Change Instances in AWS

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

Moving some or all of your company’s resources into the cloud is a big decision, and it’s important that you carefully formulate a plan before you leap in. Regardless of how well thought out your plan is, however, sometimes things change, and you might discover that you need to make changes to your cloud configuration. Depending on your cloud provider, the changes that you want to make after the fact might be easy to do, difficult, or not doable at all.

If your organization has selected Amazon Web Services as your cloud provider, there are a number of changes that you can make to your Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) virtual servers, which in AWS parlance are called instances. For example, when you set up your instances, a couple of the choices that you have to make are the type and size of the instance. The type (T2, M3, C4, C3, R3 and so forth) indicates the purpose (that is, general purpose vs. optimized for specific types of load and performance). The size refers to the number of virtual CPUs and amount of memory and storage available to the instance.

Reserved instances can, in some cases, be changed to a different instance type if there is sufficient capacity and making the change doesn’t change the overall footprint. You could divide a reservation for one large instance into multiple small ones or combine four small ones into one large one – again, so long as the footprint remains constant. It’s also possible to upgrade or downgrade your instance type as long as you stay within the same instance family.


Multi-Factor Authentication Made Easier: Virtual MFA for Cloud Services

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

Authentication is the basis of security: the entire concept of securing your data, applications and services revolves around controlling who has access, and setting permissions would be meaningless if you couldn’t be assured that the users to whom you grant access really are whom they claim to be.

Although many people use the two terms interchangeably, identification and authentication are in fact two different things. Identification/identity is the claim that a person (or computer) is a specific known entity. Authentication is the means by which that identity is proven.

In the computing world, user authentication has long been based on providing a password, passphrase or Personal Identification Number (PIN) that matches the user name. In other words, the user proves his or her identity by providing something that should be known to only that user and no one else. Of course, there are a myriad of problems with this method. Passwords can be guessed, either through knowing the person well or via brute force methods. Longer and more complex passwords are harder to guess, but they’re also harder for the legitimate user to remember and more difficult to type, especially on today’s small devices with virtual keyboards. Passwords are often written down, where an unauthorized person can discover them, or users may be persuaded to reveal their passwords through social engineering tactics.


How to Get Started with Azure Tables

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

Once upon a time, the Structured Query Language was king and the relational database was the way to store data. While SQL is still a popular and essential part of most networks, there is emerging a paradigm shift in the way information is stored, sorted and retrieved. This is due to the rise of Big Data, a term that refers to much more than the sheer volume of data involved.

Big Data encompasses not only the nicely and neatly structured data that fits comfortably into a relational database but also the many bits and pieces of unstructured data that organizations are amassing today. This unstructured, or schemaless data is so called because it isn’t organized in a pre-defined form that conforms to the fields of traditional databases. That’s where non-relational databases such as NoSQL have attempted to fill in the gap.


Is the Hybrid Cloud Harder to Secure?

Friday, March 13th, 2015

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

Cloud computing isn’t just the Next Big Thing – it’s already here and going strong, with more and more small, medium and large businesses moving some or all of their assets into a cloudified environment. But even with the momentum that the cloud currently has, there are still many organizations that harbor reservations about the idea of putting the applications and data that their users need to do their jobs “out there.”

Especially in Europe, security concerns are still keeping companies from making a commitment to the cloud, with European experts saying, as recently as February 2016, that cloud security still needs a lot of work before it’s ready for prime time. Some of those worries have gradually eased over the past few years, with studies that indicate that moving to the cloud can actually improve a company’s security stance.

Nonetheless, security remains one of the top obstacles to adoption of the cloud, according to a study that was recently published by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA). Many decision makers, particularly those whose organizations are in regulated industries, are still wary of the ability to protect sensitive data and demonstrate compliance.


BYOD = BYOM: Bring Your Own Malware

Monday, February 9th, 2015

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – is still a big deal, but a little of the initial shine is beginning to wear off as organizations deal with the reality of a workplace full of laptops, tablets and smart phones that they don’t own and thus can’t completely control. The idea of shifting hardware and some of the Internet service costs to employees – and having them not only go along with the idea but be happy about it and bump up productivity – is the stuff of a budget-minded manager’s dream.

A study last year from mobile management company Visage found that for companies paying for the cost of mobile services to employees, the typical cost is almost $1500 per employee per year. That includes a great deal of personal use of those “work” devices.

That explains why so many organizations so enthusiastically embraced the concept and have expanded it to stop even reimbursing personnel for service plans. Gartner predicted in May 2013 that by 2017, around half of the companies in the world will stop providing company-owned devices to employees altogether, with another 40 percent offering BYOD as an option. In a study released last year, Cisco estimated the savings of a BYOD program at over $3000 per worker.


How to Back up Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials to Microsoft Azure

Monday, November 17th, 2014

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

For many small businesses, the demise of Microsoft’s Small Business Server (SBS) was greeted with dismay. IT pros and small business decision-makers saw its replacement, Windows Server Essentials, as a poor substitute designed to force small organizations to migrate on-premises applications such as Exchange and SharePoint to Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud services.

The latter perception wasn’t inaccurate; Microsoft has, indeed, encouraged small business customers to embrace the cloud. Now many who were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the cloud have discovered that it has benefits, including the simplification of IT administrative overhead for small orgs and cost savings.

Meanwhile, Windows Server Essentials has gotten better with the R2 version, and contrary to first impressions, it does integrate with on-premises server products such as Exchange as well as providing the cloud integration option. Even if you continue to host your own mail server, though, one very convenient feature of Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials is its ability to back up your data to a cloud service, ensuring that in the case of a natural disaster that would destroy on-premises backups, copies of your mission-critical files will survive.


Using PowerShell with Microsoft Azure

Monday, October 13th, 2014

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

To the delight of some and the consternation of others, Microsoft has become more and more command line-centric over the past several years. This trend began in earnest with the initial release of PowerShell in 2006. True to its name, PowerShell provides a powerful interface for performing administrative tasks quickly and efficiently, both locally and remotely, using scripts and cmdlets.

During the same time period, Microsoft has begun to move with a vengeance “to the cloud,” now seemingly focusing most of its talent and attention more on the Azure platform than on its venerable Windows Server products. But those IT pros who have grown to love PowerShell need not fear; your PS expertise will still come in handy as you hone your skills for moving to a cloud-based environment. You’ll be happy to know you can install Azure PowerShell for managing your Azure environment.

There are some differences, though. Assuming you’re using Microsoft’s hosted Azure service, many of the cmdlets have to have information about your Azure subscription in order to work. That means you have to connect the computer you’re using to manage Azure to your subscription.

It’s easy enough to install the Azure PowerShell modules. The first step is to download and install Azure PowerShell and the Microsoft Web Platform Installer. The current version is 5.0. You can find detailed information on how to do that here.


Cloud Computing Trends: An interview with Steve Herrod

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

As the majority of readers already know, Steve Herrod is one of the most relevant CTOs, not only for VMware but for the entire panorama of virtualization and cloud computing.

Steve joined VMware as one of the very first engineering directors in the early days of the company and left it in February 2013, currently he is Managing Director at General Catalyst Partners, a venture capital firm focused on Early Stage and XIR (Executive In Residence)/Growt investments.

Having the opportunity to speak with a professional of his caliber isn’t something that happens every single day and, as a proper analyst as I claim to be, I came prepared with an outline and 5 precise, studied and obviously clever questions.

Eventually we ended up with a nice informal talk, touching about two million different topics and jumping from one to another ignoring any semblance of the good intentions that I had at the beginning.

What I’ve done in this article is to re-assemble our conversation ex-post in order to make it fit my original questions, (how convenient?) in the end what you will read here is more the result of an exchange of ideas than straight answers.


Backing up SQL Databases to the Azure Cloud

Friday, September 5th, 2014

This is a guest post by Debra Shinder.

Your SQL server database most likely holds some of your business’s most important mission-critical information, the loss of which could be catastrophic. You undoubtedly back up that data regularly – but if you’re keeping those backups on premises, a natural disaster such as a tornado or flood or explosion could still leave you in the lurch.

One big advantage of the cloud is that it makes it easier than ever to make and maintain off-premises backups that will be safe even in the face of such a calamity. In a Windows shop, Microsoft Azure is frequently the “cloud of choice.” Microsoft Azure can be the basis for your business continuity plan.

If you have a Microsoft Azure subscription with an Azure Storage account, you’re good to go, but there are a few things that you’ll need to do in order to enable backing up your SQL server databases to the Azure cloud. Blobs are one of the three types of data that you can store in Azure Storage. What you need to do now is log into the Azure Management Portal and create a Microsoft Azure Blob Storage container.

Now luckily, you don’t have to figure out how to copy the SQL data to your Azure Blob Storage container manually, because Microsoft provides tools that simplify the process. If you’re running Microsoft SQL Server 2014, you have it made. You can use the Managed Backup to Microsoft Azure tool in the SQL Server Management Studio.