To the cloud

Azure in Action by Chris Hay and Brian H Prince

This is a really good introduction to Azure and was just what I needed to get up to speed in this area. I wanted a book that would tell me how to write Azure applications – the book covers Azure web and worker roles, but at the same time I wanted to get some understanding of how it all works under the covers. The book tries to do all of these things.

The book has six sections.

“Welcome to the Cloud” is a good discussion of the advantages of moving your application to the cloud – in particular scalability and you pay only for machines when they are doing work.

“Understand the Azure Service Model” talks about the basic Azure configuration and deployment model.

“Running your site with web roles” demonstrates, via some examples, the basic web role. In this role, your application runs on top of a hosted IIS. The chapter covers the various trust models and the ability to call out into native code.

“Working with BLOB storage” covers the basic storage service underlying Azure. Binary storage is demonstrated using a video encoding service, and the authors look under the covers at the REST API that sits underneath the Microsoft client library. Some of the Azure implementation details are covered when the authors talk about how the load balancer is used to ensure that incoming requests are prevented from seeing replication happening under the covers.

“Working with structured data” covers Azure table storage and moves onto SQL Azure. Again the authors demonstrate the technology by way of good code examples, and also poke into the REST API.

“Doing work with messages” talks about using worker roles and message queues to move work out of the web role and into processing that can be decoupled. This chapter also covers monitoring the application, both to record problems and to determine when the applications needs to be scaled out (more instances). This is always a better solution than scaling up (using a bigger and faster, and therefore more expensive virtual machine instance).

The book is a informative and easy read with a chatty style. My only reservation would be how up to date it is  – Azure seems to be changing rapidly and any book is probably going to get out of date fairly quickly. However, it looks like a good introduction before diving into the various Microsoft training materials.

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