The New Windows Azure Management Portal: A Quick Guide

The New Windows Azure Management Portal: A Quick Guide

Walk through the new HTML5-based Windows Azure portal

Have you heard the buzz about the new Windows Azure Management Portal? The Silverlight app-based portal of yesterday has been replaced with a slick HTML5 website with much better accessibility from iPads (see Figure 1), iPhones, and Android-based devices and is great from the desktop, too. Gone are the days of being able to browse your Azure-hosted website on your mobile device but not be able to check on your Web Role's status. In this article, I'll give you a tour of the new preview version of the Azure Management Portal, which Microsoft made available in early June 2012.

Figure 1: iPad Showing the New Windows Azure Management Portal
Figure 1: iPad Showing the New Windows Azure Management Portal

Getting to the New Portal

You access the new portal the same way you've always accessed it, by visiting http://windows.azure.com. However, if you haven't yet switched over to the new portal, you'll need to opt in by clicking the Visit the Preview Portal link in the center of the status bar at the bottom of the window, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Switching to the new Azure Management Portal
Figure 2: Switching to the new Azure Management Portal

All Items Tab

When you first arrive at the portal, you'll see the high-level status in a paginated "all items" grid that lists all your cloud services (formerly compute), SQL databases (formerly SQL Azure), and storage accounts (formerly Azure Storage -- blobs, tables, queues). A bar on the left lets you quickly dive into specific services, such as Cloud Services, SQL Databases, and Storage. More tabs will be added for new services as they become available and as your account is enabled to use them.

You can sort the grid's contents by name, type, status, subscription, or location simply by clicking the column header. You can filter items in the grid by clicking the magnifying class in the rightmost column header and typing the characters you want to search for. The search will match values in the Name, Type, Status, or Location columns that contain the entered text (notably absent at the time of this writing is the ability to filter by subscription). A nice touch is the highlighting of the matched characters in the filter, as shown in Figure 3. Clicking the name of any of the services listed in the grid will take you to the detailed dashboard for that particular service. (We'll return to this topic shortly.)

Figure 3: Viewing the All Items tab
Figure 3: Viewing the All Items tab

Still on the main All Items tab, if you click the drop-down icon in the top-right corner of the window, to the right of your Live ID, you'll see options to navigate to other Azure-related areas outside of the portal, as shown in Figure 4. These options include those on MSDN and options for viewing your account billing details.

Figure 4: The top menu bar in Azure Management Portal's All Items tab
Figure 4: The top menu bar in Azure Management Portal's All Items tab

Clicking the + NEW button at the bottom of the All Items window lets you create new deployments (see Figure 5), SQL databases, and storage as well as provision the newer services -- such as Web Sites, Virtual Machines, and Networks. This bottom bar is context-sensitive to the item you selected in the grid. For example, if you selected a cloud service, you can delete it or perform a Virtual IP (VIP) swap operation without leaving this top-level view. Similarly, when a storage account is selected, you can use it to quickly get to the account keys.

Figure 5: Options for creating new services
Figure 5: Options for creating new services

Going Back to the Previous Portal Version

At the time of this writing, the portal is still in Preview mode, and not all functionality available from the previous portal is available in the new one. You can easily return to the previous version of the Azure Management Portal by clicking the green Preview link at the top center of the portal page, then clicking Take me to the previous portal in the box that appears, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Going back to the previous Azure portal version
Figure 6: Going back to the previous Azure portal version

Cloud Services

Clicking the Cloud Services tab on the main Azure portal page takes you to a new view that's basically the same grid seen in the All Items view, except that the grid now displays only your Cloud Services. Clicking a cloud service name in the grid within either the All Items tab or the Cloud Services tab will take you to the dashboard for that service and also change the items in the tab bar on the left to a list of all your cloud services, as shown in Figure 7. The main area of the dashboard displays a graph of the metrics (aka performance counters) configured for collection by your cloud service.

Figure 7: The dasboard for a single cloud service
Figure 7: The dasboard for a single cloud service

By default, the dashboard displays only one metric: the aggregate CPU usage for each of your roles. You can add more metrics (including Data In/Out and Disk Read/Write Throughput) by clicking the Monitor tab above the graph, and in the view that appears clicking Add Metrics in the bottom context bar. In either the dashboard or the monitor views, you can change which metrics are plotted by clicking the circle (which might appear filled in with gray if not plotted, or with a checkmark when plotted) that appears to the left of the metric name.

From the context bar at the bottom of the cloud services view, you can deploy a new service. From here you can also stop, delete, or deploy an update to the selected service.

The cloud services view offers other useful tabs, including Configure, Scale, Instances, Linked Resources, and Certificates. Configure provides a first-class experience for managing the cloud service settings (e.g., from your Windows Azure Service Configuration Schema .cscfg file), which in the previous portal version meant carefully editing an XML file in a narrow text box. The Scale tab gives you a familiar slider to adjust the instance count for your roles, and the Instances tab lets you quickly view the status of individual instances, manage them, and remote desktop into them. Linked Resources lets you add to the dashboard other services such as SQL databases and storage accounts that provide functionality to your cloud service. The Certificates tab lets you manage the certificates needed by your cloud service.

SQL Databases

Clicking the SQL Databases tab on the main portal page will take you to a view that's similar to the All Items view. The differences are that in this view only your SQL databases are displayed in the grid, as shown in Figure 8, and the view provides a top-level tab to switch between viewing databases in the grid and viewing servers.

Figure 8: The SQL Databases tab
Figure 8: The SQL Databases tab

Clicking an individual database in the databases view (Databases tab) lets you view a dashboard that displays the database's current size. In the individual database view, you also have access to the Scale tab, which lets you change the database's edition and maximum size. Clicking an individual server from the server view on the Servers tab, then clicking the Configure tab at the top, lets you configure the firewall settings that restrict access to your SQL databases from external IP addresses and from Windows Azure services, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Configuring firewall rules for a SQL Database server
Figure 9: Configuring firewall rules for a SQL Database server

Storage

You can access a view of your storage accounts via the Storage tab on the main portal page. When you click the Storage tab, you'll again see the familiar grid filtered to display only your storage accounts. You can drill into a particular storage account by clicking its name in the grid. This lets you view a dashboard containing usage and availability metrics, as well as two tabs. From the Monitor tab you can choose from a number of additional metrics to track and plot, as shown in Figure 10. From the Configure tab, you enable or disable the collection of monitoring metrics, logging of read/write/delete requests, and enable or disable geo-replication.

Figure 10: Some of the available Azure storable metrics
Figure 10: Some of the available Azure storable metrics

A Better Azure Portal

The new Windows Azure Management Portal, even in its preview form, offers a much more streamlined approach to managing your Azure services, from a much broader array of clients than the previous version of the portal. I recommend you check out the portal—the experience is truly many times better than the previous version.

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