The Marriage of Cloud and Mobility

Anybody that follows me or my blog knows that I’m a huge proponent of using a cloud platforms such as Windows Azure to power new mobility applications.  Windows Azure offers so many great features that it seems silly to me to not even at least consider Windows Azure as a way to power a Windows Phone, iOS, or Android application.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Tim Huckaby for a Bytes by MSDN video.  In this session Tim and I discuss helping customers to adopt Windows Azure, creating logical environments (development, QA, production, etc.) in Windows Azure, and some insights into using Windows Azure with Windows Phone applications.

Bytes by MSDN Interview - Michael Collier

Be sure to follow the links below for a quick way to get started today with Windows Azure and Windows Phone.

Detroit Day of Azure – Presentations

On Saturday (3/24/2012) I was honored to be a speaker at Day of Azure in Detroit.  The community in the Heartland is amazing!  The event sold out!!  It is great to see 144 passionate people attend a daylong event to learn more about the possibilities with cloud computing and Windows Azure.

A huge “thank you” should go out to David Giard and the other volunteers at Day of Azure for putting on such a great event. They really did a wonderful spreading the word and hosting the event.  Oh, and the BBQ for lunch . . . oh so very good!

I gave two sessions at Day of Azure – “Windows Phone 7 and Windows Azure – A Match Made in the Cloud” and “Building Hybrid Applications with Windows Azure”.  I was asked by several attendees if I’d be making the presentation available, and so I am.  You can take a look these, and a few other of my presentations, over on SlideShare.

The Hybrid Windows Azure Application

Windows Phone 7 and Windows Azure – A Match Made in the Cloud

MSDN Webcast: Windows Azure Office Hours, featuring Mike Benkovich

Last Friday I had the pleasure of joining Mike Benkovich for his weekly Windows Azure Office Hours webcast.  Windows Azure Office Hours is a webcast where Mike interviews a Windows Azure expert and also answers questions posted to the site (before the show and LIVE)!  I was honored to join the list of guests that included Mike Woods, Adam Grocholski, Paul Stubbs, Mark Russinovich, and Scott Klein.

For the Windows Azure Office Hours last Friday, Mike and I discussed a wide range of topics related to Windows Azure.  We discussed how I got started working with Windows Azure, my involvement with the excellent Windows Azure Boot Camps, and we spent quite a bit of time talking about the NuGet packages from Microsoft’s Developer Platform Evangelism team that help Windows Phone developers easily use Windows Azure.

During our conversation, I walked through a full demo that showed how to use the NuGet packages.  The demo showed how to quickly create a simple Windows Phone application that uses Windows Azure Access Control Services (ACS) to secure the application.  I also showed how to easily use Windows Azure tables, blobs, and queues from the Windows Phone app, and to do so securely by using a proxy web service that is secured with ACS.  All that was done in about 20 minutes!

Watch a recording of the webcast or download it now.

If you’d like to explore the tools and NuGet packages I showed, please check out the list of resources below.

Resources

Your Apportunity: Windows Phone + Windows Azure

It’s the last few weeks of the year.  Hopefully those “death march” projects are finally over.  It’s time to lay off the Mt. Dew, at least a little, and spend some relaxing, learning, and finally do those fun side projects you’ve wanted to do all year but never had the time to do.  One of those projects should be taking time to learn about Windows Phone or Windows Azure.  Mobile and cloud computing were all the rage in 2011, and it’ll surely continue in 2012.

It’s no secret I love working with Windows Azure.   As much as I love working with Windows Azure, it can be a hard technology to actually “see”.  After all, it’s “the cloud”, right?  Without some sort of user interface, it can be hard to get excited about the benefits Windows Azure can offer.

This is where Windows Phone enters the story.  I personally use a Windows Phone and find it to be an excellent product.  It’s also happens to be a platform that is actually really easy to write applications for.  As a developer at heart, I enjoy trying to create fun applications and Windows Phone gives me a fun new environment to create those applications.

When creating Windows Phone applications, you’ll often find yourself needing to get data to your application or save data from your application.  You already know Windows Azure offers many great options for working with data, it seems only natural to leverage Windows Azure as a platform to help build a Windows Phone application.  You can access data by connecting to a WCF service that is fronting a SQL Azure database.  Or, you may decide that a NoSQL approach to your data needs is best, and in that case you can use Windows Azure’s table storage service.  If you need to store items that don’t fit a NoSQL or relational data model, let’s say pictures taken from Windows Phone, then you can use Windows Azure’s blob storage.

It’s easy to get started doing just this.  To do so, the appropriate toolsets will be needed.

If you’re looking for some nice libraries and controls that can make building Windows Phone applications that use features of Windows Azure such as storage or Access Control Services, be sure to check out some of the new NuGet packages Microsoft recently released.  The easiest way to get started is by watching Cloud Cover episode 66.  In that episode Wade Wegner and Steve Marx provide an overview of using these NuGet packages.  Definitely worth checking out!

Once the application is created, you’ll  want to publish the application to the Windows Phone marketplace so that you can share your creation with friends, family, and hopefully a few million other Windows Phone users.  Microsoft has been running a promotion for a few months now that offers developers that submit new Windows Phone applications to the marketplace a chance to win a slick new Samsung Series 7 Slate PC.  So not only can you have fun writing a Windows Phone application, share that app with a lot of people, but also potentially win a cool new slate PC!  Since the application uses Windows Azure, you earn an extra entry to the contest!  As Charlie Sheen would say, “WINNING!”

To enter the contest, go to http://bit.ly/MangoOffer to register, and use the promo code “MCOLL”.  You’ll find all the contents details there.  The contest ends on December 31, 2011 – so get slinging that code now peoples!

Go Mango!

It’s no secret, I love my Windows Phone 7 phone!  I dumped my (and my wife’s) iPhones about a year ago now in favor of the new Windows Phone 7 (Samsung Focus).  I haven’t regretted that decision once.  Now, with the new Mango updates to Windows Phone 7, I’m even more in love than ever before.

As a developer, one of the things I love about my Windows Phone 7 is that it is really easy to write applications for it.  I already have Visual Studio 2010, already know .NET, and know just enough Silverlight to be dangerous.  Since I work with Windows Azure all the time now, being able to easily combine my Windows Phone 7 apps with the power, flexibility, and ease of Windows Azure just warms the cockles of my geeky heart!

If you haven’t joined in on the fun yet, now is a great time!  Why, you say?  Well, besides being one of the cool kids and earning the admiration of all your friends, you can also win a slick Samsung Series 7 Slate!  From now until the end of 2011, for every new Windows Phone 7 Mango app you submit, you’ll be entered to win 1 of 5 Samsung Series 7 Slates.  Nice!  But wait . . . there’s more!  If you submit 5 apps you’ll also be entered to win free advertising for the app of your choice.

Don’t forget – Windows Azure makes a great platform for powering your Windows Phone 7 apps!  You’ve got a world-class Content Delivery Network, powerful storage services (tables, blobs, queues, and SQL Azure), flexible compute instances (e.g. for serving up your WCF services that your app will consume), easy to use authentication via Access Control Services (for simply integrating with Facebook, Google, Windows Live ID, etc.), and the Windows Azure Marketplace full of fantastic data sets.

So what are you waiting for!  Go get all the tools you need and get in on the action now by signing up at http://bit.ly/MangoOffer.

Also, be sure to sign up at http://bit.ly/oPTiN to be notified of all the latest and greatest promotions and events from the fine folks at Microsoft User Community.

Windows Azure and Windows Phone 7 Firestarter

On Saturday, August 13th I will be speaking at the Windows Azure and Windows Phone 7 Firestarter in Columbus, OH.  The firestarter is an all day event designed to give developers a jumpstart on creating exciting Windows Phone 7 applications that leverage the power and flexibility of the Windows Azure platform. 

If you’re a developer that is looking to get started with building a Windows Phone 7 application, then this is going to be a great FREE event for you.  If all this talk about “going to the cloud” has you excited, or even a little confused, then this firestarter will help get you going in the right direction.  The day will feature 4 sessions – 2 on Windows Phone 7 and 2 on Windows Azure.  There will also have dedicated time set aside for you to work on labs to help you hone your skills and gain some valuable hands-on experience.  After all, the best way to learn about a technology is to use it, right?  If the labs aren’t your thing, then use the time to sling some code and create a great application.  We’ll be around to help you!

At the firestarter I am honored to be joined by Microsoft evangelists Brian Prince and Jeff Blankenburg, as well as Windows Phone 7 expert Sam Basu.  The firestarter will be held from 8:30am – 5:00pm at the Microsoft office in Columbus.  Please visit http://wazwp7firestarter.eventbrite.com to sign up for this event.

See you there!

P.S.  If you’re in the Columbus, OH area and want to get even more involved with Windows Azure or Windows Phone 7, be sure to check out the Central Ohio Cloud Computing User Group and the Central Ohio Windows Phone User Group.

Update to Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7

Today Microsoft is releasing the third update to the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7. This is the third update in less than 2 months! It is great to see the teams moving so quickly to get new updates out. The second update (v1.1) included a little bit of new functionality, namely support for the Microsoft Push Notification Service, bug fixes, and some usability enhancements. This third update (v1.2) is a much more substantial update to the toolkit. Wade Wegner recently teased a few of these updates. Let’s take a quick look at some of them.

Support for Access Control Services

From the start you’ll notice at least two new software requirements: Windows Identity Foundation Runtime and Microsoft Windows Identity Foundation SDK. If you don’t have the WIF Runtime or SDK, the dependency checker will detect the missing software and provide you direct links to pages where you can download the appropriate version for your environment.

The Windows Identify Foundation (WIF) is used in support of what just may be the most exciting new feature of the toolkit – built-in support for Windows Azure Access Control Services. To get started, one of the first things you’ll want to do is create an ACS (v2) namespace. You can do that by opening the developer portal at http://windows.azure.com and going to the “Service Bus, Access Control & Caching” section.

You’ll need to grab the ACS namespace and management service key. To get that, you’ll want to click the desired namespace in the main window, and then the green “Access Control Service” button in the top ribbon. Additional details on this process can be found in toolkit’s documentation. Enter the namespace and key into the wizard when prompted. The toolkit will handle the rest for you. Pretty nice, huh?

Now you can have your Windows Phone 7 application integrate with Windows Live, Yahoo!, and Google. For mobile users that are likely to have social identities to begin with, this gives them an easy on-ramp to your application! They can easily select the identity provider of choice.

Google

Yahoo!

Windows Live ID

Once you authenticate, you’ll be prompted to complete the process by storing some information from the identity provider in a new Users table created on your behalf by the toolkit wizard.

Support for Windows Azure Queues

Another great feature of the latest revision is support for Windows Azure Queues. This essentially completes the trifecta – support for Windows Azure tables, blobs, and now queues. Just like you can with tables and blobs, the toolkit now allows you to list existing queues in your storage account.

You can easily list queues in your account.

The toolkit also contains an easy sample to show how to add a new message to the queue.

If you add, then you should be able to delete too.  By selecting the “dequeue” button, that’s exactly what will happen.  The topmost message in the queue is removed from the queue.

Improved User Interface

Finally, really nice update to the toolkit is a much more stylistic user interface. Previously the toolkit’s web admin interface was pretty, well, generic – straight out of the default ASP.NET MVC project styling.  This latest update has a much improved UI that makes using the toolkit a lot more enjoyable experience.

Troubleshooting

This version of the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7 comes with much more help relating to some problems you might encounter. One that I’m very happy to see mentioned is help for those with Resharper installed. If you have Resharper installed and try to use the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7, you’ll likely run into a less than optimal experience – either errors when creating a new project and/or problems simply starting a new project. While the problem still exists, the 1.2 version of the troubleshooting documentation of the toolkit points out the problem and provides instructions on how to disable Resharper while you use the toolkit. I’m sure the team is hard at work on a permanent solution.

The v1.2 update looks to be a pretty impressive update to the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7.  Be sure to check it out – I think you’ll enjoy it too!