Azure Websites, with MySQL - Free?

One of the first things that caught my eye when the Websites feature of Microsoft Azure was announced was “oh, you can use that for a small personal website, or two”. And so you can – after all, it supports PHP and MySQL.

Couple of minor issues though – the first being, management of the MySQL database is a bit of a pain, as there is no management tooling. However, that said, you can use the excellent MySQL Workbench from MySQL themselves – if it will stop crashing all the time.

Once you get past that bit, and actually throw something up there, you find more niggles.

After a bit of digging, you will hit some limitations of the “free” MySQL offering:

  • Up to 20MB Database
  • Maximum of 4 connections
  • Single database

Anything above these limits you have to pay – although the Microsoft Azure Websites portal pages really do not make this clear. Details are here if you are interested.

The size and database limits I can understand. The connection count is pitifully low, and for most projects makes it impossible to actually leverage anything on this.

I think what bugs me the most is that Microsoft have elected to use a third party for this feature, but don’t detail anything (apart from a small “you accept ClearDB’s terms” note on the create page and anything up from the freebie package isn’t handled “within” the Azure portal.

Maybe things will improve before it leaves preview … maybe not. I’ll stick to a more traditional MySQL install for now I think.

When is a cloud not a cloud?

There are so many different vendors out there now pushing cloud platforms, but what exactly are they offering? And when is a cloud, not a cloud?

Most of them are, in fact, nothing more than slightly enhanced virtual servers, offering no more reliability that if you had such a package (or, in some cases, less as they overload the hosts).

What should a cloud platform offer?

Increased reliability, for one – it should really be a VPS with added mobility so that should a host fail, it migrates and comes back online (seamlessly, with no administrative intervention) with only a minor blip.

Rapid scaling – if you need to increase memory, or disk space this should all be possible with minimal hassle, no server moves and again, with nothing more than a slight hiccup.

Good management – rather critical for any work loads in the cloud. At a minimum you need to know the CPU / Memory demand, network traffic etc. The provider should, in all cases, strictly monitor the overhead on the hosts, and migrate VM’s off (transparently!) to other nodes when things get tight – every platform supports this from Xen, to Hyper-V to VMWare, so they have no excuse.

Why is it then that so many companies are offering their VPS packages as “cloud” packages? They really are just latching onto the buzz words and hoping people don’t notice. It’s about time that companies stopped trying to offer sub-standard offerings, and actually invested in providing a robust platform.

Lets take a look at one platform that I am actually using myself – UK2.

I have a number of instances on this “cloud” VPS platform. But I have to say, it’s far from cloudy.

The machines run pretty much like you would expect from any “normal” VPS platform – and when issues occur with the hosts, they are hard shutdown and migrated with little warning from their support staff, and they regularly get issues where the hosts max out on memory consumption causing there to be a risk your VPS will suddenly disappear. (And when it happens, you have to bug support relentlessly to get it moved to another host – nothing happens automatically).

That, and their control panel seriously sucks. MASSIVELY sucks. Most of it doesn’t even work reliably, with their console taking a nap almost all the time. Perfect for when things are not going your way. The only reliable way I have found to use their control panel is using Chrome, with both 32-bit and 64-bit JVM installs. And even then its a bit touch and go.

So is this a cloud platform? In my opinion, no.

Come on Microsoft, get synchronised Virtual Roles sorted so I can move over …

Web Privacy-where do we draw the line?

It was only a week or so ago that the government announced their plans to monitor electronic communications – being emails, texts etc.

And now we have another privacy matter in the news – ISPs being asked to restrict content, although at the minute this is being limited to adult sites and illegal downloads.

But I do wander where people’s common sense lies.

People were complaining that they did not want the government to see the SMS and e-mail messages that they sent and received; but they were completely missing the fact that not only do many people *already* get visibility of this information, but the government was only going to make the “meta” information available – not the content – without a warrant. In essence, they would know that you sent something to someone, but without probable cause, they couldn't do anything about it.

Surely this shouldn't offend or upset the majority of people, unless they have something to hide?

And surely they already know that their ISP or mobile provider already has access to the entire contents of their messages – and of course, do you think that these companies hire people for their security awareness or character? Or just to get a job done?

If people want privacy, then they really need to wake up and realise that the “normal” mechanism we use to communicate daily – SMS, Email, Telephone, even the mail to a degree – can be intercepted by virtually anyway – government or non-government.


And now ISPs are responsible for filtering content.

To be honest, I really don't like this idea. At all.

The thought that our government can dictate what content is, and is not, available via the internet disturbs me greatly, and has this distinct feeling of heading towards something akin to the “Great Firewall of China”. Perhaps we are going to become a data island, and all traffic will be monitored, logged and allowed / denied at point of entry (edge switches etc)? Maybe the government will get the ability to key word monitor this traffic and red flag events and people?

While I do applaud the movement to try and clean up the internet – and specifically, remove the seedy elements of the internet, I do understand (as I bet many people do not) that these elements are wholly responsible for the early internet – and that without their continued investment the odds are that what we have today would not exist. Instead, we would probably still be using dial up BBS’s and Gopher.

I would much rather see ISPs (and in particular router manufacturers) releasing easy to use routers with more comprehensive firewalls and filtering routines. That way if people WANT to filter their traffic (i.e. to protect children and such), then they can. But no way do I see that this should be forced upon ISPs by legislation.


While I think that technology allows us to give away far more than we should (GPS data on twitter posts, foursquare checkins, Facebook, etc), I don’t think legislation is the way to control this. Perhaps education on users would be a better router, but no-one seems to be willing to step up and take the lead. Perhaps the technology vendors themselves need to start looking out for users’ privacy instead of the bottom line?

Or perhaps users just need to stop being so naive and thinking that vendors DO look out for their privacy, and that everything is safe?

I moved .. again

Well, once again I found myself moving around the country – now I’m back in Scotland (best place to be if you ask me). You would have thought after moving the number of times I have, that I would have it down to a fine art – but no matter how much planning you do, things crop up to catch you out.

This time the move itself went without too much of a hitch thanks to the help of some good friends, but there were problems with the phone line. And more problems, and problems once again. Third time lucky it seems – lets hope it stays working. At least the broadband is now enabled on it … (but it’s slow … argh the joys of being the middle of no where!).

Now the boiler is playing up – the second time in a week. Not a great sign, but have to keep my chin up and pushing onwards. Guess it can always get worse eh?

As the broadband is up, and I have a desk / computer setup (only taken a couple of weeks Winking smile), I’ll probably get around to publishing the handful of articles I’ve written for my blog … if I can find them…

David vs Goliath (InstallAware vs Embarcadero)

Everyone who reads my blog knows my history; and they know that I’ve worked with InstallAware several times in the past. I’ve also been a strong supporter of both InstallAware and Embarcadero (simply as the latter purchased Delphi … which I still regard as a superb development IDE but that's a different topic).

I’ve recently come across this blog post on the InstallAware blog; detailing a current legal spat that has developed (or is developing) between these two companies – and I have to say, I am appalled. That Embarcadero can treat other companies that they have worked closely with (well, I guess it was with Borland / CodeGear but would have expected the legal agreements to follow …) the way they are.

During the blog post, Sinan lays out the chequered history of various behind the scenes business movement – much of which will have been totally unknown to people on the “outside”. But he also opens the doors onto what is going on now – and it all stems from an attempt to patent troll (whereby InstallAware was held liable – standard practice unfortunately in this game, but still you would expect a degree of assistance).

What you wouldn't have expected is their attitude to things – basically a different rule for themselves vs what they expect from others. Not providing access to their own tooling, to a registered tech partner, but expecting what appears to be a life-long enduring contract for InstallAware to provide access to (and hosting of) various components that they see fit to use. Without providing any compensation for these.

It makes me wander what their next move will be – and just goes to remind me that business these days is all legal – it does seem that true innovation is dead. Perhaps this is what the future will be once everyone gets their hands on software patents?

GIT-Adding new files

Have to say this is a remarkably easy operation in GIT. Drop the files in the directory, open the GIT GUI and you’ll see it marked under unstaged changes.


Double click the file, and it will move to staged changes – that is, it will be committed to the repository when you commit.

Then click Commit.

Note: If the files are not listed, click Rescan.

Note 2: When you commit, you commit to your local repository – you then need to “push” to the remote repository.

GIT-Getting Started

Using GIT for the first time can be exceptionally confusing – its a different world to a lot of the source control systems out there!

First off, download the GIT GUI; for this post, I’m running the Windows version.

You’ll need to create an SSH key if you haven't already got one for connecting to your GIT server; to do this click Help then select Show SSH Key. If you have an active key, it will show here – if not, click Generate Key.

Next, we need to sort out a repository.


Select Create New Repository.
You will need to specify a local path for the repository.

Once you have a repository up, you need to “pull” from the central store – click Remote, then Add. Fill in the details given to you by your GIT repository admin.


And you should be good to go.

More to follow on general usage Smile

Visual Studio-My favourite extensions

I spend my life working in Microsoft Visual Studio – and that’s no exaggeration. I work in it pretty much all day (day job => developer, kinda obvious), but then I also spend a fair bit of time outside of work doing development – be it for friends / family, but more so these days as the freelance developer that I still try and keep going.

Now, I’ve been working with Visual Studio since the early days of .NET framework – so that's back to 2003 (so 2002 release I think?), and over that time I’ve tried lots of different extensions – some good, some very bad.

These days I’m using:

Telerik JustCode [Website] [My thoughts]
A refactoring, code stat, cleanup and all round absolutely “can not do without” tool. I love this tool, and I have to say, it’s one I don’t object to paying for.

VSCommands [Website]
I look at this as basically what Microsoft should include in Visual Studio, but don’t. Another un-grudged paid for extension.

Most real-users of Visual Studio will have encountered this one now. I’m not a MASSIVE fan, but really, you can’t get away without it with some projects these days. Personally think it will just be another tool that ends up being a mess …

Python Tools for Visual Studio [Website]
I’ve been (un)lucky to have been required to do a fair amount of Python work in the last year, and I found this plugin while I was (ironically) finishing the particular project. And it made my life so much easier – working in familiar IDE doesn’t half help your productivity!

There are also a few “external” tools that I use rather often (yes, I do use OTHER PEOPLES tools instead of just re-inventing the wheel all the time!!)

CleanProject [Website]
A small tool to strip all the crap out from Visual Studio project directories – perfect for when you need to email it or slam it into DropBox etc.

2012 is with us !

So, without much ado, it seems that 2012 has arrived. Kind of snuck up on us didn’t it? Well, I think it has – can’t say that 2011 felt like it lasted as long as it should have!

2010 wasn’t much of a year.
2011 wasn’t great either.

Here’s hoping that 2012 will be a good one. Got lots of plans, lots of ideas, lots to push for – but lets see if I can actually get there this year!

Hope everyone had a good Christmas and New Year break, but unfortunately it’s almost time to return to work!!

Microsoft App Hub.. Poor UI?

Last night I was looking to deploy an update to an existing beta group for a Windows Mobile 7 app (deployed, obviously, through App Hub)… easy I thought – there has to be a way to simply throw a new build into the group and have the Marketplace handle the roll out.


After a moan on twitter, I decided to have a Google around to make sure that I wasn’t being a fool. This lead me to a forum post on the App Hub itself – here if you are interested.

This, would you believe it, confirms that you can NOT update an existing, running beta.
Hmm. That's daft. Surely I should be able to update a RUNNING beta – even if I have to “stop” it (unpublish), then update it and re-publish?

Even stopping a beta doesn’t remove it from your App Hub Dashboard. Which is equally stupid, as I’ve not only had to create ANOTHER beta group submission for my 2nd release (and soon a 3rd), but now my Dashboard is starting to get cluttered.

And it seems I’m not the only one that finds this situation rather strange – I’m still trying to work out where Microsoft came up with the bizarre figure of 90 days for a Beta cycle – especially when you can’t update it. Surely a Beta should be updated a lot while you are patching things and getting feedback?

I would love to say that this is the only “poor” aspect to App Hub – but I have to say, I find it generally lacking. It’s really lacking and significant features (or should I dare say, integration with Visual Studio for the developers among us), and it does not feel “complete” at all. I can only hope that Microsoft hurry up and pushes out an updated version soon – but I’m not holding my breath.

Oh, and should I point out to those that don’t know … developers have to pay to be in the Microsoft developer programme and get access to App Hub – so its not as if there is no incentive to Microsoft to sort this!