The Rain and The Shade

June 25, 2011

What is Microsoft Azure VM Role and what it is Not

Filed under: VM Role,Windows Azure — ovaisakhter @ 12:18 pm

Some months back I heard about the Platform as a Service initiative from Microsoft in the PDC. It seemed exciting especially the VM role. I started thinking about the possible scenarios this feature can be used. Such as possibility to host our own servers like SharePoint 2010 or MS Dynamics CRM on the cloud.

A friend of mine who is not as lazy as I am jumped to the opportunity and uploaded a VM on Azure and started running a number of instances on it. He installed MS CRM, SharePoint on the instances connected them to his local domain with Windows Azure Connect. Life seemed as it should be and suddenly the dreams shattered. I received a very distressful Skype message from him.

After some conversation which is not mention able here, I got to know the problem was whenever he changed any configuration on VM roles all the instances were reinitialized or in other words were reverted to the “base image”. Initially I participated in his verbal bashing of Microsoft but later on when I thought it I realized that this cannot be a bug this has to be by design.

Then I started to look into it a bit further. Found this amazing video from Channel 9 series called Cloud Cover. http://bit.ly/iyImpC one sentence in the video cleared the whole scenario for me. “VM roles are an extension to the worker roles”.

Worker roles can be simply put an Azure version of Windows Services. These are long running processes which are used to perform resource demanding batch operations running on Microsoft Azure operating system. They are stateless but they can use one of storage mechanism provided by Windows Azure (Blobs, Table Storage or SQL Azure etc.).

The VM role is an extension to the same concept with the difference that in this case you can use your own operating system. You make a Virtual Machine, (and do some abracadabra with csupload utility) and upload it to Azure. Do some configuration and vala your VM in running in Azure, and if you need two of them change the configuration and now there are two of them and so on and so forth. As Azure is responsible of starting and disposing of these instances so it is not possible to these instances to maintain state. So each time an instance is started it is started as pure as the “base image”. You can contaminate it a bit with the Startup tasks but that about it.

But the question is where should we use it? , Let us look at one example of a potential use of this offering.

You have a video sharing website. You use a utility to encode all the uploaded videos before they are published. This utility does not (as most of the available ones) support the Azure Operating System. You can setup the encoding process on a VM and run it on Azure using the VM role. Just keep in mind that the processed videos should be persisted on either Azure storage or on your in-premises storage (you can use Azure Connect for this also) as soon as you are done. The value addition is that you can start I with a single instance and scale it to hundreds if and then required. You can also increase the instances for a certain period (I don’t know when people share people share more videos, after Holiday season may be)  and then scale down when they are not needed. You can scale to service 1000 clients to 1000000 and then back to 1000 in one night.

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