Azure Every Day, Azure Data Week, and More Azure

As you likely know, I am a Principal Consultant at Pragmatic Works. This year we have been doing some great things with Azure for our customers. Beyond that we have produced a lot of content and have an event coming up that I want to talk about. So, one step at a time.

Azure Every Day

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We are producing daily videos covering a variety of Azure topics. They are typically 3-5 minutes long and you can read the content in the Pragmatic Works blog as well.

Check out the YouTube channel here if you want to see all the videos we have published so far. I am going to republish my Azure Every Day blogs and videos here as a lead up to the next exciting event.

Azure Data Week

Get ready for the only 100% virtual Azure Conference – October 8 – 12. Five days, 25 sessions, all on Azure. Join Pragmatic Works  as we launch this new conference. The cost is only $29 and you will have access to the sessions for year. Microsoft and Pragmatic Works will be speaking on topics such as Power BI, Azure Data Factory, Security in Azure, and Azure roadmaps.

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More Azure

So if you want to check out what we are doing in Azure, have a look at Pragmatic Works and our team. We are doing more events with Microsoft over the next few months including regional training sessions on SQL Managed Instances, Azure Data Bricks, and Azure migration strategy. Ping me directly or reach out to Pragmatic Works if you are interested in our events or joining our team.

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ExpressRoute and VPNs in Azure

In this edition of Azure Every Day, I’d like to discuss networking and interacting between your data center and Azure. Two options you have are ExpressRoute and VPNs and I’d like to point out some reasons why you may choose one option over another or use a combination of both.

Let me start with a quick overview of what these components are and where they may fit strategically in your organization.

Overview of VPNs

First, let’s look at VPNs, which support a couple types of interaction and run over public internet. One VPN gateway is site to site integration, meaning you plug your data center into Azure on a VPN and have them trust each other. This is a common way to start out with Azure.

Or you can use a point to site gateway, which means you want to take your laptop and have it secured using a VPN into Azure and both these VPNs are supported across the platform. Which you choose depends on what makes sense for you. If you have a mobile workforce, you may need to do a lot of point to site work, for instance.

Overview of ExpressRoute

ExpressRoutes, unlike VPNs, run on dedicated private network fiber. To make ExpressRoute happen, you’ll need a connectivity partner (like AT&T or Verizon) to provide the private fiber connection between your assets and the Azure cloud. ExpressRoute is appealing from both a performance and security standpoint, but it’s not always something you can easily scale out due to cost implications and there’s more work involved.

Check out Azure Data Week coming in October 2018

Comparing ExpressRoute and VPN

Let’s look at some comparisons:

  • SLA – VPNs and ExpressRoute run 99.95% SLA in most cases.
  • Bandwidth – ExpressRoute offers a wide range of connectivity options as it ranges from 15 megabytes/second to 10 gigabytes/second. VPNs are more limited, ranging from 100 megabytes/second up to 1.25 gigabytes/second. But this is changing as Microsoft is constantly working to improve the capabilities of both.
  • Security – To keep your data secure, VPNs use IPSec and IKE protocols and are typically fine for doing anything you want to do. But if you have a requirement or security that says your data can’t be pushed over the public internet, you would need to go to an ExpressRoute.
  • Third Party Access – With ExpressRoute you can access some hosting organizations, like Rackspace, and take advantage of connections within their data centers.
  • Office 365 – ExpressRoute allows you to take advantage of using some co-locating capabilities to do ExpressRoute connectivity to Azure and it will also cover Office 365.

Bottom line is, because of the complexity and cost of all these scenarios, it’s common to leverage multiple types of connectivity to Azure based on your needs for your business. You need to keep in mind all factors, such as security, performance and SLA capabilities. VPNs can be turned on quickly, where using ExpressRoute will take a lot more work to implement.

Choose wisely to make the best, most cost-effective choice for your organization which meets your business requirements and needs.

4 Usage Scenarios for Bots

So, what do you really know about bots or how they can help your organization? You may be thinking, Pragmatic Works is all about data, why would they be excited about bots? Because interacting with your data is what bots is all about. With them, you can interact with your data in ways you never thought possible.

Something new on the scene for Microsoft is the Azure Bot Service. There are many patterns for creating a bot app, so your users can interact with it in a conversational way. A bot may be as simple as basic pattern matching with a response, or it may be a sophisticated weaving of artificial intelligence techniques with complex conversational state tracking and integration to existing business services.

Let’s look at 4 common bot patterns:

Information Retrieval

Simply put; ask questions, get answers. I’m sure you’ve gone to a site and a little bot pops up asking, how can I help you today? Then you put in a question about what you’re looking for. The bot is designed to look at the information in your question, retrieve the necessary info and give you an answer. As a business, it enhances your capabilities to provide opportunity and context for your users. You get customer interaction without having to hire people to do so.

Check out Azure Data Week coming in October 2018

Transactional

Here, you look up something and you want to do an action. Take a bot that runs your bank, for example. Through Q & A interaction, you can conduct a transaction, maybe open a savings account at the bank. For your organization, this helps drive people to a decision and helps them through a process to conduct a transaction.

Advice

Bots can provide guidance/advice based on the question asked. So, it’s tax season and I can ask my tax advisor (who’s my bot) a question like:  “Will claiming my dog as a dependent increase my chances of being audited?” The bot will be able to look and see expert advice by using “dog” and “dependent” in the same sentence and give advice – which will likely be, it’s a bad idea. As a business, you can put together information and interaction and provide advice to your users.

Social Conversation

Here, you can have interaction with sentiment. You’re a restaurant owner and someone types into your site that the food was awful, who should I talk to? The bot service can look at that context, interact with them and offer an apology and something to fix the issue, a gift card, perhaps. Or ask if they’d like to leave a message for the cook or manager.

These are just a few ways you can use bots to leverage the data and wealth of information you have in your organization. They allow you to produce rich interactions with users in your organization. Azure Bot Service has many key features, such as templates, flexible development and tools and services to make it easy to build bots for your applications.

A Quick Intro to DevOps in Azure

Today, I’d like to discuss DevOps in Azure and tell you why you should consider using DevOps when you start moving to Azure. What DevOps is, can be hard to define. Everyone seems to know what it is, but no one can seem to define it in a simple way. Microsoft’s definition is: DevOps brings together people, processes, and technology, automating software delivery to provide continuous value to your users.

People seem to agree that it’s about people, processes and products being merged together. But coming from a background of app dev, as well as database and server work, I think it’s about removing the barrier between our development and operations teams, so they can actively work together. This often means cross-over individuals who understand both sides of those worlds and can bring them together.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as to why this is important in Azure:

Infrastructure can now be code.

Why does infrastructure as code matter? Well, as an infrastructure guy, I need to understand things like JSON and ARM templates and why they are important. DevOps simplifies my management process. If you go through the Microsoft infrastructure exam for Azure, you’ll quickly find that they support all types of interaction about the infrastructure code, like PowerShell, CLI, JSON or REST, so whatever makes sense in your environment, as well as the tools around it.

The ability to build tests and deploy apps with automation.

You can containerize your applications and deploy them using several different tools within Azure, such as Docker. When you move to the cloud, it’s important to consider how you can take advantage of that and how to consider that in your environment.

Also, from a coding standpoint, you have the ability to use Git Hub in the cloud as you look at global development teams and the ability to disperse across the country and to work effectively together.

Check out Azure Data Week coming in October 2018

With DevOps in Azure, you’re going to build in your operational needs; make sure you’re doing logging and that you have all the telemetry and metrics you need to continually improve your product.

You’ll be able to do this faster and in small increments. The end game in DevOps is that you’re able to deploy updates to apps and deploy new features for the users and the business, without the huge impacts we see in many of today’s environments.

Customer Roadblocks to Azure

When I speak with customers, I often find they share common roadblocks to using Azure. I recently sat down with our Consulting Sales Manager in Texas, to ask what he hears from customers, to see if together, we can shed some light to clear up some of these Azure roadblocks.

Security

The first thing on everyone’s mind is security. Is the cloud a secure environment? The answer is “yes”. In most cases, it’s more secure than an on-premises environment. We’ve all heard of break-ins and even about big companies that had their own private cloud but couldn’t keep it safe.

Microsoft does a great job, with all the compliance they’ve done, of making Azure a secure environment for your data and to protect the privacy of the people in it. Microsoft has spent a lot of resources on security, it’s in their best interest, so take it off your plate and let them handle it for you.

Control

The next big roadblock is control. How do I control my environment? I’m putting it up in the cloud with everyone else. Azure helps solve this with its cloud-ready management tools. The second question within this roadblock is, why do I have to maintain two separate environments? The management tools that Azure put in place, makes those environments very similar, instead of having two divergent environments.

I also tell customers about how hybrid helps, along with these management tools, like Management Studio, SCOM and Operations Management, which are all ready for hybrid use. It’s incredibly helpful that Microsoft put a lot of components into Management Studio to help manage your data assets, as well as some of the files and other components within Azure.

Microsoft understands that enterprises can’t, or don’t feel comfortable, going in all at once. Hybrid helps people ease in and therefore, removes this roadblock.

Azure Storage – Hot, Cold, Archive

There’s a lot of talk about storage options. When working with customers, I often introduce them to Azure through storage, since it’s a great way to leverage cloud assets in a positive, non-threatening way.

In Azure there are 3 types of storage within Azure blob storage. Today, I’d like to show how you can use storage as you start to look at using Azure more effectively in your organization. When looking at these types of storage, you need to think about how often and how quickly you want to access that data, as well as its role.

Hot Storage

The original Azure blob storage. Here, you put data into the blob storage account and you’re able to access that data with many options in storage from that access. Hot storage is a great option that allows you the basic storage options, such as accepting files from a customer as part of your data warehouse load or if you want to drop files up there to keep in place for a while. You can easily access the data and can read and write to it and get the best performance for doing that.

Cool Storage

Introduced by Azure to get some cost reductions into the environment. Think of it as a high availability back up scenario. This is a good option for storing data that doesn’t need to be readily accessed often. The performance is there as far as getting your data quickly when you do need it but note you will pay a higher price for extraction of that data when needed. This is what Microsoft uses to manage the cost of the storage.

Archive Storage

This is truly an archive storage option. When you put the data up there, you’re not planning to get it back out. There’s no read access, but a write to only storage area. A good option for a full board disaster recovery or compliance and auditing scenarios, where you may need to retain 10 years of that data, but you’re not going to take it out. If you want to get that data out, you’ll need to change the storage account type.

The thing to remember is this does not happen quickly, so as part of any solution, you’ll need to put how many hours into recovery as your window. If you do need to open it, for an audit for instance, it may take a few days, but the data is there.

With all these options, you can get your offline storage for whatever you’re doing. From a backup or recovery standpoint, it gives you that security. Understanding these options, as far as accessibility, cost and performance, is important to decide what you need for your organization.

Thoughts on data, business analytics, and the SQL Server community

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