Category Archives: Cloud Model

How To : Develop and Deploy Azure Applications Deep Dive (Part 1)

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Senior C# SharePoint Developer with 10 years experience and BSC Degree looking for serious new technical challenges and collaborative, team environment (Gauteng, South Africa)

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There are many reasons to deploy an application or services onto Azure, the Microsoft cloud services platform. These include reducing operation and hardware costs by paying for just what you use, building applications that are able to scale almost infinitely, enormous storage capacity, geo-location … the list goes on and on.

Yet a platform is intellectually interesting only when developers can actually use it. Developers are the heart and soul of any platform release—the very definition of a successful release is the large number of developers deploying applications and services on it. Microsoft has always focused on providing the best development experience for a range of platforms—whether established or emerging—with Visual Studio, and that continues for cloud computing. Microsoft added direct support for building Azure applications to Visual Studio 2010 and Visual Web Developer 2010 Express.

This article will walk you through using Visual Studio 2010 for the entirety of the Azure application development lifecycle. Note that even if you aren’t a Visual Studio user today, you can still evaluate Azure development for free, using the Azure support in Visual Web Developer 2010 Express.

Creating a Cloud Service

Start Visual Studio 2010, click on the File menu and choose New | Project to bring up the New Project dialog. Under Installed Templates | Visual C# (or Visual Basic), select the Cloud node. This displays an Enable Azure Tools project template that, when clicked, will show you a page with a button to install the Azure Tools for Visual Studio.

Before installing the Azure Tools, be sure to install IIS on your machine. IIS is used by the local development simulation of the cloud. The easiest way to install IIS is by using the Web Platform Installer available at microsoft.com/web. Select the Platform tab and click to include the recommended products in the Web server.

Download and install the Azure Tools and restart Visual Studio. As you’ll see, the Enable Azure Tools project template has been replaced by a Azure Cloud Service project template. Select this template to bring up the New Cloud Service Project dialog shown in Figure 1. This dialog enables you to add roles to a cloud service.

image: Adding Roles to a New Cloud Service Project

Figure 1 Adding Roles to a New Cloud Service Project

A Azure role is an individually scalable component running in the cloud where each instance of a role corresponds to a virtual machine (VM) instance.

There are two types of role:

  • A Web role is a Web application running on IIS. It is accessible via an HTTP or HTTPS endpoint.
  • A Worker role is a background processing application that runs arbitrary .NET code. It also has the ability to expose Internet-facing and internal endpoints.

As a practical example, I can have a Web role in my cloud service that implements a Web site my users can reach via a URL such as http://%5Bsomename%5D.cloudapp.net. I can also have a Worker role that processes a set of data used by that Web role.

I can set the number of instances of each role independently, such as three Web role instances and two Worker role instances, and this corresponds to having three VMs in the cloud running my Web role and two VMs in the cloud running my Worker role.

You can use the New Cloud Service Project dialog to create a cloud service with any number of Web and Worker roles and use a different template for each role. You can choose which template to use to create each role. For example, you can create a Web role using the ASP.NET Web Role template, WCF Service Role template, or the ASP.NET MVC Role template.

After adding roles to the cloud service and clicking OK, Visual Studio will create a solution that includes the cloud service project and a project corresponding to each role you added. Figure 2 shows an example cloud service that contains two Web roles and a Worker role.

image: Projects Created for Roles in the Cloud Service

Figure 2 Projects Created for Roles in the Cloud Service

The Web roles are ASP.NET Web application projects with only a couple of differences. WebRole1 contains references to the following assemblies that are not referenced with a standard ASP.NET Web application:

  • Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Diagnostics (diagnostics and logging APIs)
  • Microsoft.WindowsAzure.ServiceRuntime (environment and runtime APIs)
  • Microsoft.WindowsAzure.StorageClient (.NET API to access the Azure storage services for blobs, tables and queues)

The file WebRole.cs contains code to set up logging and diagnostics and a trace listener in the web.config/app.config that allows you to use the standard .NET logging API.

The cloud service project acts as a deployment project, listing which roles are included in the cloud service, along with the definition and configuration files. It provides Azure-specific run, debug and publish functionality.

It is easy to add or remove roles in the cloud service after project creation has completed. To add other roles to this cloud service, right-click on the Roles node in the cloud service and select Add | New Web Role Project or Add | New Worker Role Project. Selecting either of these options brings up the Add New Role dialog where you can choose which project template to use when adding the role.

You can add any ASP.NET Web Role project to the solution by right-clicking on the Roles node, selecting Add | Web Role Project in the solution, and selecting the project to associate as a Web role.

To delete, simply select the role to delete and hit the Delete key. The project can then be removed.

You can also right-click on the roles under the Roles node and select Properties to bring up a Configuration tab for that role (see Figure 3). This Configuration tab makes it easy to add or modify the values in both the ServiceConfiguration.cscfg and ServiceDefinition.csdef files.

Figure 3 Configuring a Role

Figure 3 Configuring a Role

When developing for Azure, the cloud service project in your solution must be the StartUp project for debugging to work correctly. A project is the StartUp project when it is shown in bold in the Solution Explorer. To set the active project, right-click on the project and select Set as StartUp project.

Data in the Cloud

Now that you have your solution set up for Azure, you can leverage your ASP.NET skills to develop your application.

As you are coding, you’ll want to consider the Azure model for making your application scalable. To handle additional traffic to your application, you increase the number of instances for each role. This means requests will be load-balanced across your roles, and that will affect how you design and implement your application.

In particular, it dictates how you access and store your data. Many familiar data storage and retrieval methods are not scalable, and therefore are not cloud-friendly. For example, storing data on the local file system shouldn’t be used in the cloud because it doesn’t scale.

To take advantage of the scaling nature of the cloud, you need to be aware of the new storage services. Azure Storage provides scalable blob, queue, and table storage services, and Microsoft SQL Azure provides a cloud-based relational database service built on SQL Server technologies. Blobs are used for storage of named files along with metadata. The queue service provides reliable storage and delivery of messages. The table service gives you structured storage, where a table is a set of entities that each contain a set of properties.

To help developers use these services, the Azure SDK ships with a Development Storage service that simulates the way these storage services run in the cloud. That is, developers can write their applications targeting the Development Storage services using the same APIs that target the cloud storage services.

Debugging

To demonstrate running and debugging on Azure locally, let’s use one of the samples from code.msdn.microsoft.com/windowsazuresamples. This MSDN Code Gallery page contains a number of code samples to help you get started with building scalable Web application and services that run on Azure. Download the samples for Visual Studio 2010, then extract all the files to an accessible location like your Documents folder.

The Development Fabric requires running in elevated mode, so start Visual Studio 2010 as an administrator. Then, navigate to where you extracted the samples and open the Thumbnails solution, a sample service that demonstrates the use of a Web role and a Worker role, as well as the use of the StorageClient library to interact with both the Queue and Blob services.

When you open the solution, you’ll notice three different projects. Thumbnails is the cloud service that associates two roles, Thumbnails_WebRole and Thumbnails_WorkerRole. Thumbnails_WebRole is the Web role project that provides a front-end application to the user to upload photos and adds a work item to the queue. Thumbnails_WorkerRole is the Worker role project that fetches the work item from the queue and creates thumbnails in the designated directory.

Add a breakpoint to the submitButton_Click method in the Default.aspx.cs file. This breakpoint will get hit when the user selects an image and clicks Submit on the page.

 
protected void submitButton_Click(
  object sender, EventArgs e) {
  if (upload.HasFile) {
    var name = string.Format("{0:10}", DateTime.Now.Ticks, 
      Guid.NewGuid());
    GetPhotoGalleryContainer().GetBlockBlob(name).UploadFromStream(upload.FileContent);

Now add a breakpoint in the Run method of the worker file, WorkerRole.cs, right after the code that tries to retrieve a message from the queue and checks if one actually exists. This breakpoint will get hit when the Web role puts a message in the queue that is retrieved by the worker.

 
while (true) {
  try {
    CloudQueueMessage msg = queue.GetMessage();
    if (msg != null) {
      string path = msg.AsString

To debug the application, go to the Debug menu and select Start Debugging. Visual Studio will build your project, start the Development Fabric, initialize the Development Storage (if run for the first time), package the deployment, attach to all role instances, and then launch the browser pointing to the Web role (see Figure 4).

image: Running the Thumbnails Sample

Figure 4 Running the Thumbnails Sample

At this point, you’ll see that the browser points to your Web role and that the notifications area of the taskbar shows the Development Fabric has started. The Development Fabric is a simulation environment that runs role instances on your machine in much the way they run in the real cloud.

Right-click on the Azure notification icon in the taskbar and click on Show Development Fabric UI. This will launch the Development Fabric application itself, which allows you to perform various operations on your deployments, such as viewing logs and restarting and deleting deployments (see Figure 5). Notice that the Development Fabric contains a new deployment that hosts one Web role instance and one Worker role instance.

image: The Development Fabric

Figure 5 The Development Fabric

Look at the processes that Visual Studio attached to (Debug/Windows/Processes); you’ll notice there are three: WaWebHost.exe, WaWorkerHost.exe and iexplore.exe.

WaWebHost (Azure Web instance Host) and WaWorkerHost (Azure Worker instance Host) host your Web role and Worker role instances, respectively. In the cloud, each instance is hosted in its own VM, whereas on the local development simulation each role instance is hosted in a separate process and Visual Studio attaches to all of them.

By default, Visual Studio attaches using the managed debugger. If you want to use another one, like the native debugger, pick it from the Properties of the corresponding role project. For Web role projects, the debugger option is located under the project properties Web tab. For Worker role projects, the option is under the project properties Debug tab.

By default, Visual Studio uses the script engine to attach to Internet Explorer. To debug Silverlight applications, you need to enable the Silverlight debugger from the Web role project Properties.

Browse to an image you’d like to upload and click Submit. Visual Studio stops at the breakpoint you set inside the submitButton_Click method, giving you all of the debugging features you’d expect from Visual Studio. Hit F5 to continue; the submitButton_Click method generates a unique name for the file, uploads the image stream to Blob storage, and adds a message on the queue that contains the file name.

Now you will see Visual Studio pause at the breakpoint set in the Worker role, which means the worker received a message from the queue and it is ready to process the image. Again, you have all of the debugging features you would expect.

Hit F5 to continue, the worker will get the file name from the message queue, retrieve the image stream from the Blob service, create a thumbnail image, and upload the new thumbnail image to the Blob service’s thumbnails directory, which will be shown by the Web role.

Next installment, we will look at the Deployment Process

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Building a Cloud Business App: Kudos

Office 365 is an ideal business app platform providing a core set of services expected in today’s business apps and a central location for installing, discovering, and managing apps. Office 365 makes these business apps available where users already spend their time – in SharePoint and Office.

Visual Studio 2013 streamlines modern business app development for Office 365 and SharePoint 2013 with the Cloud Business App project. This walkthrough will show how you can build social, touch-centric, cross-platform Office 365 business applications that run well on modern devices.

What we’re going to build

In our scenario, let’s say my organization is on Office 365. The company encourages cross-team collaboration and would like to build an app that allows employees to send kudos to fellow employees.

An employee can find the app on SharePoint. He or she can launch the app on desktop browsers or different mobile devices. The app allows a user to send kudos to a coworker and shows a list of kudos users sent and received.

Figure 1. The kudos app we will be building in this walkthrough
Figure 1. The kudos app we will be building in this walkthrough

Let’s build this app with Cloud Business App!

Create a Cloud Business App project

Let’s create a Cloud Business App project. We are creating an app for Office 365, so you can find the Cloud Business App template under Office/SharePoint for both VB and C#. This categorization is based on the language used in the middle tier; the client is HTML and JavaScript.

Let’s name the project KudosApp and choose OK.

Figure 2. Create a new Cloud Business App project in Visual Studio     Figure 2. Create a new Cloud Business App project in Visual Studio

You first need an Office 365 developer site to start building apps for Office/SharePoint. If you don’t have an account for development, you can sign up for free 30-day trial at dev.office.com. If you are a MSDN subscriber, you will receive the subscription as a benefit.

Enter your SharePoint development site here and choose OK.

Figure 3. Enter your Office 365 developer site     Figure 3. Enter your Office 365 developer site

Once created, you will find a Cloud Business App is comprised of four projects in the solution:

  1. Server project, which is a basic ASP.NET project used to add tables and connect to data sources
  2. Standard SharePoint project, which provides a connection to Office 365
  3. HTML client project, a JavaScript project in which you define the UI for your app
  4. A Cloud Business App project, which ties all the other projects together
Figure 4. Solution Explorer     Figure 4. Solution Explorer

Define data

Let’s start by defining the data model for our app. In Cloud Business App, you can create new tables or attach to external data sources such as SQL, Odata, and SharePoint assets. In our scenario, we send and receive kudos, so let’s create a table for kudos. Choose Create new table.

Figure 5. Add a new table in the Table Design     Figure 5. Add a new table in the Table Designer

Name the table Kudos and add two fields:

  • KudosTo (Person)
  • Message (String)

The Table Designer provides a set of business types, such as PhoneNumber, Email, and Person. They include specific validation logic and visualizations both in the tooling and runtime.

Figure 6. Add some fields in the Table Designer     Figure 6. Add some fields in the Table Designer

There is a growing trend in integrating social features into modern business applications. Cloud Business App makes it easy by integrating with the SharePoint Newsfeed feature.

With the title of the Kudos table selected, you can enable social under the Social category in Properties window. Select Post when Created. When a kudos is created, the app will post the activity to Newsfeed.

Figure 7. Enable Social feature in your a     Figure 7. Enable Social feature in your app

Create queries

In our app, we want to show kudos sent by me, as well as the kudos I received. We can create two queries for these. Choose Add Query button in the tool bar of the Table Designer.

Figure 8. Choose "Query" button to add a custom query for this table     Figure 8. Choose “Query” button to add a custom query for this table

In Query Designer, name the query KudosSent. We want the query to return all kudos created by me, so let’s filter it by setting CreatedBy equals to Current User. Let’s also sort it by the Created field.

Figure 9. Customize the query with the Query Designer     Figure 9. Customize the query with the Query Designer

We will create another query via the context menu of the Kudos table in Solution Explorer.

Figure 10. Add another query via the context menu     Figure 10. Add another query via the context menu

This time, we will name the query KudosReceived and filter by setting KudosTo equals Current User.

Figure 11. Customize another query     Figure 11. Customize another query

Create a browse screen

Now that we’ve defined the data model, let’s design the UI for the app. Create a screen via the context menu on Screens node in Solution Explorer.

Figure 12. Add a screen via the context menu     Figure 12. Add a screen via the context menu

The Add New Screen dialog box will appear. Cloud Business App provides three screen templates that represent common UI patterns for browsing, viewing, adding, and editing data. Let’s start with a browse screen that shows all kudos sent by me.

Select Browse Data Screen, name the screen WelcomeToKudos and select KudosSent query as the screen data. Choose OK.

Figure 13. Create a screen by choosing a screen template     Figure 13. Create a screen by choosing a screen template

A screen is created for you. In the Screen Designer, you see a Screen Content Tree in the middle that represents the visual elements in the UI. Visual elements are bound to a data on the Data Members List on the left.

For example, in this screen, we have list visual showing values from the KudosSent data set.

Figure 14. Your UI elements are laid out in the Screen Designer     Figure 14. Your UI elements are laid out in the Screen Designer

We can also choose to render the data set as a Table or a Tile List visual. Let’s use Tile List.

Figure 15. Change the visual control     Figure 15. Change the visual control

The node under the Tile List indicates what fields will show up in a tile.

Figure 16. We will display kudos as a tile list     Figure 16. We will display kudos as a tile list

Since this is a list of kudos sent by me, let’s delete the Created By field. We will also delete the ModifiedBy and Modified fields.

Figure 17. Customize the tile list     Figure 17. Customize the tile list

You may have noticed that Cloud Business App automatically created audit fields for you (Created, CreatedBy, Modified, and ModifiedBy). It is a common requirement in business apps, so the tool handles it for you (you can turn it off in the Table Designer).

In the tile, the Kudos To field is rendered with a Person Viewer control. We can customize what will show up in the Person Viewer via the Properties window. Change the Display Mode to Name with picture and title.

Figure 18. Customize the look-and-feel of a visual control     Figure 18. Customize the look-and-feel of a visual control

Let’s also change the font and alignment of the Created field. Select Created. In Properties window, change Font Style to Small and Text Alignment to Right.

Figure 19. Customize the font and alignment of a visual control     Figure 19. Customize the font and alignment of a visual control

Create an add screen

We have a list of kudos sent by me. Let’s create some UI to add kudos. In WelcomeToKudos screen, add a button in the Command Bar.

Figure 20. Add a button to the screen     Figure 20. Add a button to the screen

The Add Button dialog box will appear.

Figure 21. Add Button dialog box     Figure 21. Add Button dialog box

You can write your own method for this button using JavaScript code or, in our case, we can select from a set of commonly used features. In the Choose an existing method dropdown menu, select KudosSent.addAndEditNew.

We are saying that, when the button is chosen, we will add a new record to the KudosSent data set via a new screen we are about to create. Choose OK.

Figure 22. Choose an existing method     Figure 22. Choose an existing method

The tool will guide us to create a new screen for adding a kudos. Name the screen SendKudos and choose OK.

Figure 23. Create a screen to add a kudo     Figure 23. Create a screen to add a kudo

A new screen (SendKudos) is now created.

Figure 24. New screen created in the Screen Designer     Figure 24. New screen created in the Screen Designer

Let’s check what we’ve got so far! Press F5 to run the app.

Figure 25. Run the application     Figure 25. Run the application

We have an empty list and an add button on the screen. Let’s add a kudos. Choose Add Kudos. The Send Kudos screen (rendered as a dialog box) will appear.

Figure 26. UI to add a kudo     Figure 26. UI to add a kudo

Note that all layouts adapt well to different form factors. Resizing the browser window gives you an idea of how the app looks on a phone or tablet. Everything is optimized for touch, but works equally well on a desktop browser using keyboard and mouse.

Figure 27. App in a small form factor     Figure 27. App in a small form factor

Customize the UI while running in the browser

In the Send Kudos dialog box, Message is rendered as a text box. We want to change it to a text area. Also, since we only have two fields in the screen, we don’t need to show two columns in bigger form factors. For these types of UI tweaks on the screen, I can quickly make these changes without closing the browser and press F5 again.

Go back to the designer (without closing the browser) and change the Message fields to use Text Area control.

Figure 28. Customize the UI in Visual Studio while the app is running     Figure 28. Customize the UI in Visual Studio while the app is running

Let’s also change the KudosTo display mode to show picture and title.

Figure 29. Customize the visual control     Figure 29. Customize the visual control

Now, let’s remove the columns. Drag Kudos To and Message out of the columns layout, then delete columns layout.

Figure 30. Customize the UI layout     Figure 30. Customize the UI layout

Choose Save All in the designer and refresh the browser. Choose Add Kudos again. All the UI changes are now reflected in the app. This provides an efficient iterative design experience.

Let’s add a Kudos. The Kudos To value can be selected using an auto-complete text box based on Active Directory.

Figure 31. Choose a person from the auto complete text box     Figure 31. Choose a person from the auto complete text box

Choose Save and the newly added kudos will appear in the list.

Figure 32. A kudo is created in the app     Figure 32. A kudo is created in the app

Notice, you can see additional Office 365 integration here. When you hover your mouse over the person, it shows presence information. You can send an IM, e-mail, or schedule a meeting right here.

Figure 33. Presence information inside of the tile     Figure 33. Presence information inside of the tile

Create a screen tab

Now we have a list of kudos sent by me. Let’s also add a list of kudos I received. We can show the two lists on the same screen using two different screen tabs.

Close the browser and return to Visual Studio. Open the WelcomeToKudos screen. Notice our tile list is currently under a screen tab called Kudos List. By default, every screen has one screen tab. The tab UI will not show in the app unless you have more than one screen tab.

Figure 34. By default, there is one screen tab in the screen     Figure 34. By default, there is one screen tab in the screen

Let’s add another screen tab. Choose the Tabs node and select Add Tab.

Figure 35. Add a new screen tab     Figure 35. Add a new screen tab

A new screen tab is now added.

Figure 36. New screen tab is created     Figure 36. New screen tab is created

In Properties window, change the Display Name of first screen tab to Kudos Sent and the second screen tab to Kudos Received.

Figure 37. Change the display name of the screen tabs     Figure 37. Change the display name of the screen tabs

Add new data to the screen

Now, we need to add the list of kudos I received under the newly created screen tab. Recall we created a KudosReceived query earlier. Let’s include that query on the screen. Choose Add Data Item button in the toolbar.

Figure 38. Add a data member to the screen     Figure 38. Add a data member to the screen

In the Add Data Item dialog box, select KudosReceived and choose OK.

Figure 39. Select a data member to add to the screen     Figure 39. Select a data member to add to the screen

The query now appears in the Data Members List.

Figure 40. A new data member is added to the sc     Figure 40. A new data member is added to the screen

Drag the query under the second screen tab on the Screen Content Tree.

Figure 41. Create UI for the newly added data member     Figure 41. Create UI for the newly added data member

Like we did with the first list, let’s change the Kudos Received list to a Tile List. Customize the tile to show only Created By, Message, and Created.

Figure 42. Customize the tile list     Figure 42. Customize the tile list

Press F5 again to see the changes. Now, there are two screen tabs on the screen.

Figure 43. App displays 2 screen tabs     Figure 43. App displays 2 screen tabs

If you send a kudos to yourself, you will see it in the second screen tab.

Figure 44. Kudos Received tab shows all kudos created by the current user     Figure 44. Kudos Received tab shows all kudos created by the current user

Remember when we created the Kudos table, we enabled the social feature. Now, if we open the Newsfeed page, we will see some posts by the app.

Write business logic

So far, we have a completely functional app now without writing a single line of code!

Cloud Business App lets you focus your energy on the unique value of the app: the business logic. Let’s say we don’t want you to be able to send kudos to yourself and we want to write some validation logic for that.

Open the Kudos table. Business logic is written on the middle tier, which is represented by the server project in your solution. The Table Designer provides you with entry points into the data pipeline of your app.

Open the Write Code dropdown menu in the tool bar, you will find a list of code entry points for business logic. Choose KudosSet_Validate.

Figure 45. Entry points for writing business logic     Figure 45. Entry points for writing business logic

It will take you to the code entry point in the Code Editor.

Figure 46. Write validation logic     Figure 46. Write validation logic

Write the following code.

if (entity.KudosTo == Application.Current.User.Email)
{
  results.AddPropertyError("You cannot send kudos to yourself", 
  entity.Details.Properties.KudosTo);
}

Now, run the app and try to send a kudos to yourself. You will get the validation error.

Figure 47. Validation logic is invoked in the running app   Figure 47. Validation logic is invoked in the running app

Publish the app

Finally, when I’m ready to publish this app to my organization, I can choose the Cloud Business App project and select Publish. I can follow the Publish Wizard to step through different deployment options.

Figure 48. Publish your app   Figure 48. Publish your app

The app is in the app catalog and can be installed on one or more sites for people to use.

Figure 49. The app is published to the app catalog   Figure 49. The app is published to the app catalog

Conclusion

To summarize, you saw a highly productive experience for defining data and screens that enable you to quickly get an app up and running. The app has a professional looking UI that blends with SharePoint and is integrated with a set of Office 365 services. This allows you to focus on your business logic and get more done.

To learn more about Cloud Business Apps, visit Apps for Office and SharePoint Dev Center and Cloud Business Apps on MSDN.