Top 5 Windows Azure Annoyances

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7217_Windows-Azure-logo-v_6556EF52In the past couple of months I've had the joy/pain/challenge of working with Windows Azure on a few different projects and I've managed to rack up both experience and bills for nearly every service.  While Microsoft's cloud might look bright and fluffy from safe in your on-premise data center, when flying around up here at 30,000 feet the ride can be a bit bumpy.  So here are my Top 5 Windows Azure annoyances.

  1. Free doesn't mean freedom.  Microsoft has been great about offering trials of their cloud services to developers via MSDN, conference participation, or just clicking on the right link at the right times.  But that free 3-month trial doesn't mean you're going to be able to chalk up a 25% reduction in your datacenter costs.  There are limits to the service usage, such as only being able to create small VMs to bandwidth restrictions.  Most of these limits are spelled out fairly clearly when you sign up, while others you may just find by stumbling across them.  The problem with this method of reaching your limit is that once its hit, you're basically done.  One of my Azure VM based projects hit a bandwidth limit on the free account and so the account got disabled the night before the demo to our customers.  We created a Pay-as-you-go account but found that we couldn't move the VMs to that subscription.  Instead we had to download the VHD blobs from the Azure Storage account on the free subscription, upload them to the PAYG subscription and then rebuild the disks and VMs.  To Microsoft's credit, once the VHD images were uploaded, the VMs and networks were rebuilt in about an hour.  But those uploads took more than 8 hours for 120G.  

  2. Pay For What You Use - NOT!  The lure of cloud services is the perception that you can scale up and down your implementation and only pay for what you use.  This is actually a bit of a misnomer.  With Windows Azure you pay by the hour (or fraction thereof) for every service you create whether its being used or not.  This resulted in me getting a $50 bill for a web role that I deployed once while writing some sample code and then never touched.  Again, to Microsoft's credit they were kind enough to refund my money but a word to the wise, be careful with that Publish button in Visual Studio.

  3. Windows Azure Active Directory Lives Forever - This is one of Microsoft's newest services and if I do say so, one of their least fully baked ones.  Of particular issue is the fact that once you create a Directory in WAAD you can't delete it.  This wouldn't be as big of an issue if not for point number 2, as long as it exists you have to pay for it.  The only course of action is to contact Azure support and ask them to remove it for you.  

  4. MSDN Free Incidents - An operator is NOT standing by.  Another great feature of Windows Azure is that MSDN subscribers get free limited Azure service that include support incidents.  The number of support incidents is based on your subscription level and is generally between 2 and 4.  However, if you're like me you tend to do your tinkering (and your blogging) at night.  Unfortunately, it seems that MSDN technical support is only available during regular business hours, Monday-Friday.  

  5. Portal Your Way Into the Past.  Microsoft has done a pretty good job of making their Azure management portal easy to use and with a nice user interface.  This is great until you want to go a bit beyond simple.  Then boys and girls you get to step into the WayBack machine and head over to the original Silverlight based portal.  You remember Sliverlight, that great web technology that Microsoft pushed around the world as the next amazing development environment only to abandon it like a sinking Costa cruise ship for the immensely more hyped HTML 5.  Well even Microsoft itself didn't get saved from the sudden shift in direction and so many of the features you might need to use will require you to load up the older portal including managing Access Control Service or using Azure Connect.

These annoyances aside, I'm actually very excited about where Microsoft is going with Azure and the features are coming out fast and furious, if not occasionally a bit rough.  Hopefully the next release (Build perhaps?) will address some of these issues.  In the meantime, lets here from you.  Have you been using Azure?  What isn't working well for you?  Do other providers do a better job?

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Paul Ballard

Paul Ballard is a Chief Architect specializing in large scale distributed system development and enterprise software processes. Paul has more than twenty years of development experience including being a former Microsoft MVP, a speaker at technical conferences such as Microsoft Tech-Ed and VSLive, and a published author. Prior to working on the Windows platform, he built software using a vast array of technologies including Java, Unix, C, and even OS/2.