How to Get Started with Azure Tables

Posted by Staff   |   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.

In Windows Azure, Azure Tables are the means for storing very large amounts of unstructured data. Using Azure Tables requires, of course, that you have an Azure subscription. You can then create a Storage account where you can use the Azure Tables feature to store your unstructured data.

Creating a Storage account is easy. Just log into the Azure management web site with your Azure credentials and select the +NEW link that you’ll see at the bottom left of the page under the Items pane. In the expanded New menu, select Data Service | Storage in the left column and then click Quick Create in the middle column.

In the URL field in the right column, enter the name for your Storage account. You must select a unique name; if you pick one that’s in use you’ll get an error message. You also need to select a primary storage location for your data. Pick a data center region in the dropdown box labeled Location/Affinity Group. Check or uncheck the box to enable geo-replication.

Geo-replication is Azure’s storing of your data in two physical locations within the same region but hundreds of miles apart, at no additional cost. The primary location is where you create, change, delete and read the data. A copy is stored at the secondary location. Whether or not you choose geo-location, three copies of the data are stored in the primary location data center. If you select to geo-replicate, three identical copies will be stored in the secondary location data center.

Now you’re ready to select Create Storage Account at the bottom right. It may take a few minutes for the account to be created. Now you can select the new storage account in the management portal and click Manage Access Keys. These are secret keys that authenticate your requests to upload, modify and delete data in the account. The access keys provide the ability to completely control the data in your storage account, so they should not be revealed to any unauthorized persons. You can regenerate the storage keys. When you do so, you’ll need to update applications and VMs that need to access your storage account so they will have the new keys.

Once the keys are generated and you copy the primary access key, you can work with the account and store data in a Table. At this point, some programming skill is needed. Your applications can call the API directly or use a client library to write the data to the tables. You can write a query in C# to add data to tables or you can use SQL Server Management Studio to query data. There are many good Azure storage tools available such as LINQPad that you can use to query your tables and manipulate the data.

For more information about Windows Azure and working with its features, check out the articles on the web site.