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Learning Microsoft Azure Review


I was recently asked by Packt Publishing to do a review of their title Learning Microsoft Azure, and so I did.

It wasn’t the first time I did a review on an Azure book, I also reviewed Microsoft Azure Development Cookbook, Second Edition, and you can see my review here.

This time, it is an introductory book, where the reader is introduced to Microsoft Azure, and guided as he/she develops a full solution for an imaginary industrial bakery, from end to end, including a mobile app. It covers technologies such as ASP.NET MVC 5, Windows Phone 8, Entity Framework Code First and Web API, always using C# and .NET as the backing framework. At the end of each chapter, there’s a questions and answers page where we can assess our level of understanding of the topics that were discussed in it.

The author is Geoff Webber-Cross (@webbercross), which also authored another book on Azure and Windows Phone.

Chapter 1: Getting Started with Microsoft Azure

The first chapter, as we might expect, does an introduction to cloud computing and the Microsoft Azure service, presents a decision framework for aiding in selecting a cloud service as opposed to on-premises, guides the reader in creating an Azure account including it’s many services and costs, and lists the most relevant terms that we will be encountering throughout the book.

Chapter 2: Designing a System for Microsoft Azure

Here we are presented with the sample scenario, its objectives and requirements and the architectural vision of it. Different views on the system and its subsystems are presented and for each the technical decisions are explained.

Chapter 3: Starting to Develop with Microsoft Azure

Next we setup the development environment, choose a Visual Studio edition, download the required SDK and create a project to be published in our Azure account. Visual Studio Online is also presented and it’s integration with Azure, namely, in order to ensure continuous integration and delivery.

Chapter 4: Creating and Managing a Windows Azure SQL Server Database

Here we get an overview of the SQL functionality of Azure, how to create and manage databases using the portal, Visual Studio and the SQL Server Management Studio, then we learn how to use Entity Framework Code First to access and manipulate its data, and to migrate to and from different versions using the Migrations API.

Chapter 5: Building Azure MVC Websites

This chapter explains how we can build an MVC application using OAuth authentication (social accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and Microsoft Live). It goes on explaining how we can set up custom domains and SSL certificates for HTTPS and how to integrate the Azure Active Directory for single sign-on and custom permissions.

Chapter 6: Azure Website Diagnostics and Debugging

This one is about diagnosing problems and debugging our applications. It presents the basic built-in tracing and logging features of Azure and how we can obtain this information and goes on to show how we can use table storage and blobs for custom storing of structured logs and its querying. Kudu is briefly introduced and at the end we learn how to do remote debugging.

Chapter 7: Azure Service Bus Topic Integration

Next up is Service Bus, Azure’s enterprise service bus service. We learn how to configure it, create and manage topics using the portal and how to use the service from our MVC application and expose it as a service.

Chapter 8: Building Worker Roles

The next chapter is about Worker Roles, a feature of Azure Websites that performs disconnected (non web-related) tasks. The reader is guided in creating a Worker Role with Visual Studio, executing it in the Emulator and publishing it to Azure. The example presented builds on the Service Bus topics discussed in the previous chapter. We also learn about other scheduling mechanism of Azure, Scheduler jobs, and implement an example using Queues.

Chapter 9: Cloud Service Diagnostics, Debugging, and Configuration

Here we learn about configuring and using the diagnostics features of Cloud Services, again expanding the concepts introduced in chapter 6. We talk about IntelliTrace and Remote Debugging and on how to connect to our virtual machines with Remote Desktop. Finally we are given an example on how to use script tasks to automate common needs.

Chapter 10: Web API and Client Integration

This chapter introduces ASP.NET Web API, Microsoft’s latest technology for building REST web services and SignalR, for asynchronous, duplex, real-time communication between web clients and the server. The provided example shows how to integrate these two technologies to broadcast messages to connected clients, including a desktop Windows Presentation Framework (WPF) application. In the end we learn how to use the Active Directory to authorize accesses to our services.

Chapter 11: Integrating a Mobile Application Using Mobile Services

Coming closer to the end, this chapter walks the reader on the various aspects of building a mobile client that connects to the cloud using Azure Mobile Services. We see how to implement a mobile-enabled web application and Web API service, how to publish it and how to implement a matching Windows Phone application, fully featured with push notifications. It also guides us on configuring the mobile service with Active Directory for authentication. At the end we are shown how to build a Windows Store app to interact with our application.

Chapter 12: Preparing an Azure System for Production

The final chapter puts everything in place, explains how to setup different build configurations for different deployment environments and how to build and deliver deployment packages for Azure. At the very end we get a deployment checklist that may come in handy if ever we run into problems.


Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It doesn’t cover all of Azure, but it does a very decent job in explaining how one can build a real-life application that works and handles most typical concerns, including support for mobile devices.