Which of the 295,680 platform combinations will you create on Microsoft Azure?

Which of the 295,680 platform combinations will you create on Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure isn’t a platform. Like every other public cloud, it’s an environment and set of components you’ll use to construct your platform. It’s more like an operating system that you build on, versus some integrated product you just start using. And that’s exciting. Which platform will you create? Let’s look at what a software platform is, how I landed on 295,680 unique configurations — 10,036,224,000 configurations if you add a handful of popular 3rd party products — and the implications of all this.

What’s a software platform?

Let’s not overthink this. When I refer to a software platform, I’m thinking of the technologies that come together to help you deploy, run, and manage software. This applies whether we’re talking about stuff in your data center or in the public cloud. It applies to serverless systems or good ol’ virtual machines.

I made a map of the non-negotiable capabilities. One way or another, you’re stitching these things together. You need an app runtime (e.g. VMs, FaaS, containers), databases, app deployment tools, infrastructure/config management, identity systems, networking, monitoring, and more. Pretty much all your running systems depend on this combination of things.

How many platform combinations are there in Microsoft Azure?

I’m not picking on Microsoft here; you face the same decision points in every cloud. Each customer realistically, each tenant in your account chooses among the various services to assemble the platform they want. Let’s first talk about only using Microsoft’s first-party services. So, assume you aren’t using any other commercial or OSS products to build and run your systems. Unlikely, but hey, work with me here.

For math purposes, let’s calculate unique combinations by assuming your platform uses one thing from each category. The exception? App runtimes and databases. I think it’s more likely you’re using at least a pair of runtimes (e.g. Azure App Service AND Azure Kubernetes Service, or, Windows VMs AND Linux VMs), and a pair of databases. You may be using more, but I’m being conservative.

295,680 unique platforms you can build on Azure using only native services. Ok, that’s a lot. Now that said, I suspect it’s VERY unlikely you’ll only use native cloud services to build and run software. You might love using Terraform to deploy infrastructure. Or MongoDB Atlas for a managed MongoDB environment. Kong may offer your API gateway of choice. Maybe Prometheus is your standard for monitoring. And don’t forget about all the cool managed services like Twilio, Auth0, or Algolia. The innovation outside of any one cloud will always be greater than the innovation within that cloud. You want in on some of that action! So what happens if I add just a few leading non-Azure services to your platform?

Yowza. 10 billion platform combinations. You can argue with my math or approach, but hopefully you get my point.

And again, this really isn’t about any particular cloud. You can end up in the same place on AWS, Digital Ocean, or Alibaba. It’s simply the result of all the amazing choices we have today.

Who cares?

If you’re working at a small company, or simply an individual using cloud services, this doesn’t really matter. You’ll choose the components that help you deliver software best, and go with it.

Where this gets interesting is in the enterprise. You’ve got many distinct business units, lots of existing technology in use, and different approaches to using cloud computing. Done poorly, your cloud environment stands to be less secure, harder to maintain, and more chaotic than anything you have today. Done well, your cloud environment will accelerate time-to-market and lower your infrastructure costs so that you can spend more time building software your customers love.

My advice? Decide on your tenancy model up-front, and purposely limit your choices.

In the public cloud, you can separate user pools (“tenants”) in at least three different ways:

  1. Everyone in one account. Some companies start this way, and use role-based access or other in-account mechanisms (e.g. resource groups) to silo individual groups or apps. On the positive side, this model is easier to audit and developers can easily share access to services. Challenges here include a bigger blast radius for mistakes, and greater likelihood of broad processes (e.g. provisioning or policy changes) that slow individuals down.
  2. Separate-but-equal sub accounts. I’ve seen some large companies use child accounts or subscriptions for each individual tenant. Each tenant’s account is set up in the same way, with access to the same services. Every tenant owns their own resources, but they operate a standard “platform.” On the plus side, this makes it easier to troubleshoot problems across the org, and enforce a consistent security profile. It also makes engineer rotation easier, since each team has the same stack. On the downside, this model doesn’t account for unique needs of each team and may force suboptimal tech choices in the name of consistency.
  3. Independent sub accounts. A few weeks ago, I watched my friend Brian Chambers explain that each of 30 software teams at Chick-fil-A has their own AWS account, with a recommended configuration that tenants can use, modify, or ignore. Here, every tenant can do their own thing. One of the benefits is that each group can cater their platform to their needs. If a team wants to go entirely serverless, awesome. Another may be all in on Kubernetes. The downside of this model is that you can’t centralize things like security patching, and you can end up with snowflake environments that increase your costs over time.

Finally, it’s wise to purposely limit choices. I wrote about this topic last month. Facing too many choices can paralyze you, and all that choice adds only incremental benefits. For mature categories like databases, pick two and stop there. If it’s an emerging space, offer more freedom until commoditization happens. Give your teams some freedom to build their platform on the public cloud, but put some guardrails in place.

Connecting your Java microservices to each other? Here’s how to use Spring Cloud Stream with Azure Event Hubs.

Connecting your Java microservices to each other? Here’s how to use Spring Cloud Stream with Azure Event Hubs.

You’ve got microservices. Great. They’re being continuous delivered. Neato. Ok … now what? The next hurdle you may face is data processing amongst this distributed mesh o’ things. Brokered messaging engines like Azure Service Bus or RabbitMQ are nice choices if you want pub/sub routing and smarts residing inside the broker. Lately, many folks have gotten excited by stateful stream processing scenarios and using distributed logs as a shared source of events. In those cases, you use something like Apache Kafka or Azure Event Hubs and rely on smart(er) clients to figure out what to read and what to process. What should you use to build these smart stream processing clients?

I’ve written about Spring Cloud Stream a handful of times, and last year showed how to integrate with the Kafka interface on Azure Event Hubs. Just today, Microsoft shipped a brand new “binder” for Spring Cloud Stream that works directly with Azure Event Hubs. Event processing engines aren’t useful if you aren’t actually publishing or subscribing to events, so I thought I’d try out this new binder and see how to light up Azure Event Hubs.

Setting Up Microsoft Azure

First, I created a new Azure Storage account. When reading from an Event Hubs partition, the client maintains a cursor. This cursor tells the client where it should start reading data from. You have the option to store this cursor server-side in an Azure Storage account so that when your app restarts, you can pick up where you left off.

There’s no need for me to create anything in the Storage account, as the Spring Cloud Stream binder can handle that for me.

Next, the actual Azure Event Hubs account! First I created the namespace. Here, I chose things like a name, region, pricing tier, and throughput units.

Like with the Storage account, I could stop here. My application will automatically create the actual Event Hub if it doesn’t exist. In reality, I’d probably want to create it first so that I could pre-define things like partition count and message retention period.

Creating the event publisher

The event publisher takes in a message via web request, and publishes that message for others to process. The app is a Spring Boot app, and I used the start.spring.io experience baked into Spring Tools (for Eclipse, Atom, and VS Code) to instantiate my project. Note that I chose “web” and “cloud stream” dependencies.

With the project created, I added the Event Hubs binder to my project. In the pom.xml file, I added a reference to the Maven package.

 <dependency>
  <groupId>com.microsoft.azure</groupId>
  <artifactId>spring-cloud-azure-eventhubs-stream-binder</artifactId>
  <version>1.1.0.RC5</version>
</dependency>

Now before going much farther, I needed a credentials file. Basically, it includes all the info needed for the binder to successfully chat with Azure Event Hubs. You use the az CLI tool to generate it. If you don’t have it handy, the easiest option is to use the Cloud Shell built into the Azure Portal.

From here, I did az list to show all my Azure subscriptions. I chose the one that holds my Azure Event Hub and copied the associated GUID. Then, I set that account as my default one for the CLI with this command:

az account set -s 11111111-1111-1111-1111-111111111111

With that done, I issued another command to generate the credential file.

az ad sp create-for-rbac --sdk-auth > my.azureauth

I opened up that file within the Cloud Shell, copied the contents, and pasted the JSON content into a new file in the resources directory of my Spring Boot app.

Next up, the code. Because we’re using Spring Cloud Stream, there’s no specific Event Hubs logic in my code itself. I only use Spring Cloud Stream concepts, which abstracts away any boilerplate configuration and setup. The code below shows a simple REST controller that takes in a message, and publishes that message to the output channel. Behind the scenes, when my app starts up, Boot discovers and inflates all the objects needed to securely talk to Azure Event Hubs.

 @EnableBinding(Source.class)
@RestController
@SpringBootApplication
public class SpringStreamEventhubsProducerApplication {

public static void main(String[] args) {
SpringApplication.run(SpringStreamEventhubsProducerApplication.class, args);
}

@Autowired
private Source source;

@PostMapping("/messages")
public String postMsg(@RequestBody String msg) {

this.source.output().send(new GenericMessage<>(msg));
return msg;
}
}

How simple is that? All that’s left is the application properties used by the app. Here, I set a few general Spring Cloud Stream properties, and a few related to the Event Hubs binder.

 #point to credentials
spring.cloud.azure.credential-file-path=my.azureauth
#get these values from the Azure Portal
spring.cloud.azure.resource-group=demos
spring.cloud.azure.region=East US
spring.cloud.azure.eventhub.namespace=seroter-event-hub

#choose where to store checkpoints
spring.cloud.azure.eventhub.checkpoint-storage-account=serotereventhubs

#set the name of the Event Hub
spring.cloud.stream.bindings.output.destination=seroterhub

#be lazy and let the app create the Storage blobs and Event Hub
spring.cloud.azure.auto-create-resources=true

With that, I had a working publisher.

Creating the event subscriber

It’s no fun publishing messages if no one ever reads them. So, I built a subscriber. I walked through the same start.spring.io experience as above, this time ONLY choosing the Cloud Stream dependency. And then added the Event Hubs binder to the pom.xml file of the created project. I also copied the my.azureauth file (containing our credentials) from the publisher project to the subscriber project.

It’s criminally simple to pull messages from a broker using Spring Cloud Stream. Here’s the full extent of the code. Stream handles things like content type transformation, and so much more.

 @EnableBinding(Sink.class)
@SpringBootApplication
public class SpringStreamEventhubsConsumerApplication {

public static void main(String[] args) {
SpringApplication.run(SpringStreamEventhubsConsumerApplication.class, args);
}

@StreamListener(Sink.INPUT)
public void handleMessage(String msg) {
System.out.println("message is " + msg);
}
}

The final step involved defining the application properties, including the Storage account for checkpointing, and whether to automatically create the Azure resources.

 #point to credentials
spring.cloud.azure.credential-file-path=my.azureauth
#get these values from the Azure Portal
spring.cloud.azure.resource-group=demos
spring.cloud.azure.region=East US
spring.cloud.azure.eventhub.namespace=seroter-event-hub

#choose where to store checkpoints
spring.cloud.azure.eventhub.checkpoint-storage-account=serotereventhubs

#set the name of the Event Hub
spring.cloud.stream.bindings.input.destination=seroterhub
#set the consumer group
spring.cloud.stream.bindings.input.group=system3

#read from the earliest point in the log; default val is LATEST
spring.cloud.stream.eventhub.bindings.input.consumer.start-position=EARLIEST

#be lazy and let the app create the Storage blobs and Event Hub
spring.cloud.azure.auto-create-resources=true

And now we have a working subscriber.

Testing this thing

First, I started up the producer app. It started up successfully, and I can see in the startup log that it created the Event Hub automatically for me after connecting.

To be sure, I checked the Azure Portal and saw a new Event Hub with 4 partitions.

Sweet. I called the REST endpoint on my app three times to get a few messages into the Event Hub.

Now remember, since we’re dealing with a log versus a queuing system, my consumers don’t have to be online (or even registered anywhere) to get the data at their leisure. I can attach to the log at any time and start reading it. So that data is just hanging out in Event Hubs until its retention period expires.

I started up my Spring Boot subscriber app. After a couple moments, it connected to Azure Event Hubs, and read the three entries that it hadn’t ever seen before.

Back in the Azure Portal, I checked and saw a new blob container in my Storage account, with a folder for my consumer group, and checkpoints for each partition.

If I sent more messages into the REST endpoint, they immediately appeared in my subscriber app. What if I defined a new consumer group? Would it read all the messages from the beginning?

I stopped the subscriber app, changed the application property for “consumer group” to “system4” and restarted the app. After Spring Cloud Stream connected to each partition, it pumped out whatever it found, and responded immediately to any new entries.

Whether you’re building a change-feed listener off of Cosmos DB, sharing data between business partners, or doing data processing between microservices, you’ll probably be using a broker. If it’s an event bus like Azure Event Hubs, you now have an easy path with Spring Cloud Stream.

Want to yank configuration values from your .NET Core apps? Here’s how to store and access them in Azure and AWS.

Want to yank configuration values from your .NET Core apps? Here’s how to store and access them in Azure and AWS.

Creating new .NET apps, or modernizing existing ones? If you’re following the 12-factor criteria, you’re probably keeping your configuration out of the code. That means not stashing feature flags in your web.config file, or hard-coding connection strings inside your classes. So where’s this stuff supposed to go? Environment variables are okay, but not a great choice; no version control or access restrictions. What about an off-box configuration service? Now we’re talking. Fortunately AWS, and now Microsoft Azure, offer one that’s friendly to .NET devs. I’ll show you how to create and access configurations in each cloud, and as a bonus, throw out a third option.

.NET Core has a very nice configuration system that makes it easy to read configuration data from a variety of pluggable sources. That means that for the three demos below, I’ve got virtually identical code even though the back-end configuration stores are wildly different.

AWS

Setting it up

AWS offers a parameter store as part of the AWS Systems Manager service. This service is designed to surface information and automate tasks across your cloud infrastructure. While the parameter store is useful to support infrastructure automation, it’s also a handy little place to cram configuration values. And from what I can tell, it’s free to use.

To start, I went to the AWS Console, found the Systems Manager service, and chose Parameter Store from the left menu. From here, I could see, edit or delete existing parameters, and create new ones.

Each parameter gets a name and value. For the name, I used a “/” to define a hierarchy. The parameter type can be a string, list of strings, or encrypted string.

The UI was smart enough that when I went to go add a second parameter (/seroterdemo/properties/awsvalue2), it detected my existing hierarchy.

Ok, that’s it. Now I was ready to use it my .NET Core web app.

Using from code

Before starting, I installed the AWS CLI. I tried to figure out where to pass credentials into the AWS SDK, and stumbled upon some local introspection that the SDK does. Among other options, it looks for files in a local directory, and those files get created for you when you install the AWS CLI. Just a heads up!

I created a new .NET Core MVC project, and added the Amazon.Extensions.Configuration.SystemsManager package. Then I created a simple “Settings” class that holds the configuration values we’ll get back from AWS.

public class Settings
{
public string awsvalue { get; set; }
public string awsvalue2 { get; set; }
}

In the appsettings.json file, I told my app which AWS region to use.

{
"Logging": {
"LogLevel": {
"Default": "Warning"
}
},
"AllowedHosts": "*",
"AWS": {
"Profile": "default",
"Region": "us-west-2"
}
}

In the Program.cs file, I updated the web host to pull configurations from Systems Manager. Here, I’m pulling settings that start with /seroterdemo.

public class Program
{
public static void Main(string[] args)
{
CreateWebHostBuilder(args).Build().Run();
}

public static IWebHostBuilder CreateWebHostBuilder(string[] args) =>
WebHost.CreateDefaultBuilder(args)
.ConfigureAppConfiguration(builder =>
{
builder.AddSystemsManager("/seroterdemo");
})
.UseStartup<Startup>();
}

Finally, I wanted to make my configuration properties available to my app code. So in the Startup.cs file, I grabbed the configuration properties I wanted, inflated the Settings object, and made it available to the runtime container.

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
services.Configure<Settings>(Configuration.GetSection("properties"));

services.Configure<CookiePolicyOptions>(options =>
{
options.CheckConsentNeeded = context => true;
options.MinimumSameSitePolicy = SameSiteMode.None;
});
}

Last step? Accessing the configuration properties! In my controller, I defined a private variable that would hold a local reference to the configuration values, pulled them in through the constructor, and then grabbed out the values in the Index() operation.

        private readonly Settings _settings;

public HomeController(IOptions<Settings> settings)
{
_settings = settings.Value;
}

public IActionResult Index()
{
ViewData["configval"] = _settings.awsvalue;
ViewData["configval2"] = _settings.awsvalue2;

return View();
}

After updating my View to show the two properties, I started up my app. As expected, the two configuration values showed up.

What I like

You gotta like that price! AWS Systems Manager is available at no cost, and there appears to be no cost to the parameter store. Wicked.

Also, it’s cool that you have an easily-visible change history. You can see below that the audit trail shows what changed for each version, and who changed it.

The AWS team built this extension for .NET Core, and they added capabilities for reloading parameters automatically. Nice touch!

Microsoft Azure

Setting it up

Microsoft just shared the preview release of the Azure App Configuration service. This managed service is specifically created to help you centralize configurations. It’s brand new, but seems to be in pretty good shape already. Let’s take it for a spin.

From the Microsoft Azure Portal, I searched for “configuration” and found the preview service.

I named my resource seroter-config, picked a region and that was it. After a moment, I had a service instance to mess with. I quickly added two key-value combos.

That was all I needed to do to set this up.

Using from code

I created another new .NET Core MVC project and added the Microsoft.Extensions.Configuration.AzureAppConfiguration package. Once again I created a Settings class to hold the values that I got back from the Azure service.

public class Settings
{
public string azurevalue1 { get; set; }
public string azurevalue2 { get; set; }
}

Next up, I updated my Program.cs file to read the Azure App Configuration. I passed the connection string in here, but there are better ways available.

public class Program
{
public static void Main(string[] args)
{
CreateWebHostBuilder(args).Build().Run();
}

public static IWebHostBuilder CreateWebHostBuilder(string[] args) =>
WebHost.CreateDefaultBuilder(args)
.ConfigureAppConfiguration((hostingContext, config) => {
var settings = config.Build();
config.AddAzureAppConfiguration("[con string]");
})
.UseStartup<Startup>();
}

I also updated the ConfigureServices() operation in my Startup.cs file. Here, I chose to only pull configurations that started with seroterdemo:properties.

 public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
//added
services.Configure<Settings>(Configuration.GetSection("seroterdemo:properties"));

services.Configure<CookiePolicyOptions>(options =>
{
options.CheckConsentNeeded = context => true;
options.MinimumSameSitePolicy = SameSiteMode.None;
});
}

To read those values in my controller, I’ve got just about the same code as in the AWS example. The only difference was what I called my class members!

private readonly Settings _settings;

public HomeController(IOptions<Settings> settings)
{
_settings = settings.Value;
}

public IActionResult Index()
{
ViewData["configval"] = _settings.azurevalue1;
ViewData["configval2"] = _settings.azurevalue2;

return View();
}

I once again updated my View to print out the configuration values, and not shockingly, it worked fine.

What I like

For a new service, there’s a few good things to like here. The concept of labels is handy, as it lets me build keys that serve different environments. See here that I created labels for “qa” and “dev” on the same key.

I saw a “compare” feature which looks handy. There’s also a simple search interface here too, which is valuable.

Pricing isn’t yet available, no I’m not clear as to how I’d have to pay for this.

Spring Cloud Config

Setting it up

Both of the above service are quite nice. And super convenient if you’re running in those clouds. You might also want a portable configuration store that offers its own pluggable backing engines. Spring Cloud Config makes it easy to build a config store backed by a file system, git, GitHub, Hashicorp Vault, and more. It’s accessible via HTTP/S, supports encryption, is fully open source, and much more.

I created a new Spring project from start.spring.io. I chose to include the Spring Cloud Config Server and generate the project.

Literally all the code required is a single annotation (@EnableConfigServer).

 @EnableConfigServer
@SpringBootApplication
public class SpringBlogConfigServerApplication {

public static void main(String[] args) {
SpringApplication.run(SpringBlogConfigServerApplication.class, args);
}
}

In my application properties, I pointed my config server to the location of the configs to read (my GitHub repo), and which port to start up on.

server.port=8888
spring.cloud.config.server.encrypt.enabled=false
spring.cloud.config.server.git.uri=https://github.com/rseroter/spring-demo-configs

My GitHub repo has a configuration file called blogconfig.properties with the following content:

With that, I started up the project, and had a running configuration server.

Using from code

To talk to this configuration store from my .NET app, I used the increasingly-popular Steeltoe library. These packages, created by Pivotal, bring microservices patterns to your .NET (Framework or Core) apps.

For the last time, I created a .NET Core MVC project. This time I added a dependency to Steeltoe.Extensions.Configuration.ConfigServerCore. Again, I added a Settings class to hold these configuration properties.

public class Settings
{
public string property1 { get; set; }
public string property2 { get; set; }
public string property3 { get; set; }
public string property4 { get; set; }
}

In my appsettings.json, I set my application name (to match the config file’s name I want to access) and URI of the config server.

{
"Logging": {
"LogLevel": {
"Default": "Warning"
}
},
"AllowedHosts": "*",
"spring": {
"application": {
"name": "blogconfig"
},
"cloud": {
"config": {
"uri": "http://localhost:8888"
}
}
}
}

My Program.cs file has a “using” statement for the Steeltoe.Extensions.Configuration.ConfigServer package, and then used the “AddConfigServer” operation to add the config server as a source.

public class Program
{
public static void Main(string[] args)
{
CreateWebHostBuilder(args).Build().Run();
}

public static IWebHostBuilder CreateWebHostBuilder(string[] args) =>
WebHost.CreateDefaultBuilder(args)
.AddConfigServer()
.UseStartup<Startup>();
}

I once again updated the Startup.cs file to load the target configurations into my typed object.

public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
{
services.Configure<CookiePolicyOptions>(options =>
{
options.CheckConsentNeeded = context => true;
options.MinimumSameSitePolicy = SameSiteMode.None;
});

services.Configure<Settings>(Configuration);
}

My controller pulled the configuration object, and I used it to yank out values to share with the View.

public HomeController(IOptions<Settings> mySettings) {
_mySettings = mySettings.Value;
}
Settings _mySettings {get; set;}

public IActionResult Index()
{
ViewData["configval"] = _mySettings.property1;
return View();
}

Updating the view, and starting the .NET Core app yielded the expected results.

What I like

Spring Cloud Config is a very mature OSS project. You can deliver this sort of microservices machinery along with your apps in your CI/CD pipelines — these components are software that you ship versus services that need to be running — which is powerful. It offers a variety of backends, OAuth2 for security, encryption/decryption of values, and much more. It’s a terrific choice for a consistent configuration store on every infrastructure.

But realistically, I don’t care which of the above you use. Just use something to extract environment-specific configuration settings from your .NET apps. Use these robust external stores to establish some rigor around these values, and make it easier to share configurations, and keep them in sync across all of your application instances.

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Categories: .NET, AWS, Cloud, General Architecture, Microservices, Microsoft Azure, Pivotal, Spring

Go “multi-cloud” while *still* using unique cloud services? I did it using Spring Boot and MongoDB APIs.

Go “multi-cloud” while *still* using unique cloud services? I did it using Spring Boot and MongoDB APIs.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “multi-cloud”? Ok, besides stupid marketing people and their dumb words. You might think of companies with on-premises environments who are moving some workloads into a public cloud. Or those who organically use a few different clouds, picking the best one for each workload. While many suggest that you get the best value by putting everything on one provider, that clearly isn’t happening yet. And maybe it shouldn’t. Who knows. But can you get the best of each cloud while retaining some portability? I think you can.

One multi-cloud solution is to do the lowest-common-denominator thing. I really don’t like that. Multi-cloud management tools try to standardize cloud infrastructure but always leave me disappointed. And avoiding each cloud’s novel services in the name of portability is unsatisfying and leaves you at a competitive disadvantage. But why should we choose the cloud (Azure! AWS! GCP!) and runtime (Kubernetes! VMs!) before we’ve even written a line of code? Can’t we make those into boring implementation details, and return our focus to writing great software? I’d propose that with good app frameworks, and increasingly-standard interfaces, you can create great software that runs on any cloud, while still using their novel services.

In this post, I’ll build a RESTful API with Spring Boot and deploy it, without code changes, to four different environments, including:

  1. Local environment running MongoDB software in a Docker container.
  2. Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB with MongoDB interface.
  3. Amazon DocumentDB with MongoDB interface.
  4. MongoDB Enterprise running as a service within Pivotal Cloud Foundry

Side note: Ok, so multi-cloud sounds good, but it seems like a nightmare of ops headaches and nonstop dev training. That’s true, it sure can be. But if you use a good multi-cloud app platform like Pivotal Cloud Foundry, it honestly makes the dev and ops experience virtually the same everywhere. So, it doesn’t HAVE to suck, although there are still going to be challenges. Ideally, your choice of cloud is a deploy-time decision, not a design-time constraint.

Creating the app

In my career, I’ve coded (poorly) with .NET, Node, and Java, and I can say that Spring Boot is the fastest way I’ve seen to build production-quality apps. So, I chose Spring Boot to build my RESTful API. This API stores and returns information about cloud databases. HOW VERY META. I chose MongoDB as my backend database, and used the amazing Spring Data to simplify interactions with the data source.

From start.spring.io, I created a project with dependencies on spring-boot-starter-data-rest (auto-generated REST endpoints for interacting with databases), spring-boot-starter-data-mongodb (to talk to MongoDB), spring-boot-starter-actuator (for “free” health metrics), and spring-cloud-cloudfoundry-connector (to pull connection details from the Cloud Foundry environment). Then I opened the project and created a new Java class representing a CloudProvider.

package seroter.demo.cloudmongodb;

import org.springframework.data.annotation.Id;

public class CloudProvider {
        
        @Id private String id;
        
        private String providerName;
        private Integer numberOfDatabases;
        private Boolean mongoAsService;
        
        public String getProviderName() {
                return providerName;
        }
        
        public void setProviderName(String providerName) {
                this.providerName = providerName;
        }
        
        public Integer getNumberOfDatabases() {
                return numberOfDatabases;
        }
        
        public void setNumberOfDatabases(Integer numberOfDatabases) {
                this.numberOfDatabases = numberOfDatabases;
        }
        
        public Boolean getMongoAsService() {
                return mongoAsService;
        }
        
        public void setMongoAsService(Boolean mongoAsService) {
                this.mongoAsService = mongoAsService;
        }
}

Thanks to Spring Data REST (which is silly powerful), all that was left was to define a repository interface. If all I did was create an annotate the interface, I’d get full CRUD interactions with my MongoDB collection. But for fun, I also added an operation that would return all the clouds that did (or did not) offer a MongoDB service.

package seroter.demo.cloudmongodb;

import java.util.List;

import org.springframework.data.mongodb.repository.MongoRepository;
import org.springframework.data.rest.core.annotation.RepositoryRestResource;

@RepositoryRestResource(collectionResourceRel = "clouds", path = "clouds")
public interface CloudProviderRepository extends MongoRepository<CloudProvider, String> {
        
        //add an operation to search for a specific condition
        List<CloudProvider> findByMongoAsService(Boolean mongoAsService);
}

That’s literally all my code. Crazy.

Run using Dockerized MongoDB

To start this test, I wanted to use “real” MongoDB software. So I pulled the popular Docker image and started it up on my local machine:

docker run -d -p 27017:27017 --name serotermongo mongo

When starting up my Spring Boot app, I could provide database connection info (1) in an app.properties file, or, as (2) input parameters that require nothing in the compiled code package itself. I chose the file option for readability and demo purposes, which looked like this:

#local configuration
spring.data.mongodb.uri=mongodb://0.0.0.0:27017
spring.data.mongodb.database=demodb

#port configuration
server.port=${PORT:8080}

After starting the app, I issued a base request to my API via Postman. Sure enough, I got a response. As expected, no data in my MongoDB database. Note that Spring Data automatically creates a database if it doesn’t find the one specified, so the “demodb” now existed.

I then issued a POST command to add a record to MongoDB, and that worked great too. I got back the URI for the new record in the response.

I also tried calling that custom “search” interface to filter the documents where “mongoAsService” is true. That worked.

So, running my Spring Boot REST API with a local MongoDB worked fine.

Run using Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB

Next up, I pointed this application to Microsoft Azure. One of the many databases in Azure is Cosmos DB. This underrated database offers some pretty amazing performance and scale, and is only available from Microsoft in their cloud. NO PROBLEM. It serves up a handful of standard interfaces, including Cassandra and MongoDB. So I can take advantage of all the crazy-great hosting features, but not lock myself into any of them.

I started by visiting the Microsoft Azure portal. I chose to create a new Cosmos DB instance, and selected which API (SQL, Cassandra, Gremlin, MongoDB) I wanted.

After a few minutes, I had an instance of Cosmos DB. If I had wanted to, I could have created a database and collection from the Azure portal, but I wanted to confirm that Spring Data would do it for me automatically.

I located the “Connection String” properties for my new instance, and grabbed the primary one.

With that in hand, I went back to my application.properties file, commented out my “local” configuration, and added entries for the Azure instance.

#local configuration
#spring.data.mongodb.uri=mongodb://0.0.0.0:27017
#spring.data.mongodb.database=demodb

#port configuration
server.port=${PORT:8080}

#azure cosmos db configuration
spring.data.mongodb.uri=mongodb://seroter-mongo:<password>@seroter-mongo.documents.azure.com:10255/?ssl=true&replicaSet=globaldb
spring.data.mongodb.database=demodb

I could publish this app to Azure, but because it’s also easy to test it locally, I just started up my Spring Boot REST API again, and pinged the database. After POSTing a new record to my endpoint, I checked the Azure portal and sure enough, saw a new database and collection with my “document” in it.

Here, I’m using a super-unique cloud database but don’t need to manage my own software to remain “portable”, thanks to Spring Boot and MongoDB interfaces. Wicked.

Run using Amazon DocumentDB

Amazon DocumentDB is the new kid in town. I wrote up an InfoQ story about it, which frankly inspired me to try all this out.

Like Azure Cosmos DB, this database isn’t running MongoDB software, but offers a MongoDB-compatible interface. It also offers some impressive scale and performance capabilities, and could be a good choice if you’re an AWS customer.

For me, trying this out was a bit of a chore. Why? Mainly because the database service is only accessible from within an AWS private network. So, I had to properly set up a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) network and get my Spring Boot app deployed there to test out the database. Not rocket science, but something I hadn’t done in a while. Let me lay out the steps here.

First, I created a new VPC. It had a single public subnet, and I added two more private ones. This gave me three total subnets, each in a different availability zone.

Next, I switched to the DocumentDB console in the AWS portal. First, I created a new subnet group. Each DocumentDB cluster is spread across AZs for high availability. This subnet group contains both the private subnets in my VPC.

I also created a parameter group. This group turned off the requirement for clients to use TLS. I didn’t want my app to deal with certs, and also wanted to mess with this capability in DocumentDB.

Next, I created my DocumentDB cluster. I chose an instance class to match my compute and memory needs. Then I chose a single instance cluster; I could have chosen up to 16 instances of primaries and replicas.

I also chose my pre-configured VPC and the DocumentDB subnet group I created earlier. Finally, I set my parameter group, and left default values for features like encryption and database backups.

After a few minutes, my cluster and instance were up and running. While this console doesn’t expose the ability to create databases or browse data, it does show me health metrics and cluster configuration details.

Next, I took the connection string for the cluster, and updated my application.properties file.

#local configuration
#spring.data.mongodb.uri=mongodb://0.0.0.0:27017
#spring.data.mongodb.database=demodb

#port configuration
server.port=${PORT:8080}

#azure cosmos db configuration
#spring.data.mongodb.uri=mongodb://seroter-mongo:<password>@seroter-mongo.documents.azure.com:10255/?ssl=true&replicaSet=globaldb
#spring.data.mongodb.database=demodb

#aws documentdb configuration
spring.data.mongodb.uri=mongodb://seroter:<password>@docdb-2019-01-27-00-20-22.cluster-cmywqx08yuio.us-west-2.docdb.amazonaws.com:27017
spring.data.mongodb.database=demodb

Now to deploy the app to AWS. I chose Elastic Beanstalk as the application host. I selected Java as my platform, and uploaded the JAR file associated with my Spring Boot REST API.

I had to set a few more parameters for this app to work correctly. First, I set a SERVER_PORT environment variable to 5000, because that’s what Beanstalk expects. Next, I ensured that my app was added to my VPC, provisioned a public IP address, and chose to host on the public subnet. Finally, I set the security group to the default one for my VPC. All of this should ensure that my app is on the right network with the right access to DocumentDB.

After the app was created in Beanstalk, I queried the endpoint of my REST API. Then I created a new document, and yup, it was added successfully.

So again, I used a novel, interesting cloud-only database, but didn’t have to change a lick of code.

Run using MongoDB in Pivotal Cloud Foundry

The last place to try this app out? A multi-cloud platform like PCF. If you did use something like PCF, the compute layer is consistent regardless of what public/private cloud you use, and connectivity to data services is through a Service Broker. In this case, MongoDB clusters are managed by PCF, and I get my own cluster via a Broker. Then my apps “bind” to that cluster.

First up, provisioning MongoDB. PCF offers MongoDB Enterprise from Mongo themselves. To a developer, this looks like a database-as–a-service because clusters are provisioned, optimized, backed up, and upgraded via automation. Via the command line or portal, I could provision clusters. I used the portal to get myself happy little instance.

After giving the service a name, I was set. As with all the other examples, no code changes were needed. I actually removed any MongoDB-related connection info from my application.properties file because that spring-cloud-cloudfoundry-connector dependency actually grabs the credentials from the environment variables set by the service broker.

One thing I *did* create for this environment — which is entirely optional — is a Cloud Foundry manifest file. I could pass these values into a command line instead of creating a declarative file, but I like writing them out. These properties simply tell Cloud Foundry what to do with my app.

---
applications:
- name: boot-seroter-mongo
  memory: 1G
  instances: 1
  path: target/cloudmongodb-0.0.1-SNAPSHOT.jar
  services:
  - seroter-mongo

With that, I jumped to a terminal, navigated to a directory holding that manifest file, and typed cf push. About 25 seconds later, I had a containerized, reachable application that connected to my MongoDB instance.

Fortunately, PCF treats Spring Boot apps special, so it used the Spring Boot Actuator to pull health metrics and more. Above, you can see that for each instance, I saw extra health information for my app, and, MongoDB itself.

Once again, I sent some GET requests into my endpoint, saw the expected data, did a POST to create a new document, and saw that succeed.

Wrap Up

Now, obviously there are novel cloud services without “standard” interfaces like the MongoDB API. Some of these services are IoT, mobile, or messaging related —although Azure Event Hubs has a Kafka interface now, and Spring Cloud Stream keeps message broker details out of the code. Other unique cloud services are in emerging areas like AI/ML where standardization doesn’t really exist yet. So some applications will have a hard coupling to a particular cloud, and of course that’s fine. But increasingly, where you run, how you run, and what you connect to, doesn’t have to be something you choose up front. Instead, first you build great software. Then, you choose a cloud. And that’s pretty cool.

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Categories: AWS, Cloud, Cloud Foundry, DevOps, Docker, General Architecture, Microservices, Microsoft Azure, Pivotal, Spring

2018 in Review: Reading and Writing Highlights

2018 in Review: Reading and Writing Highlights

Well, that was quite a year. Maybe for you too. I ended up speaking at a half-dozen events, delivered 2+ new Pluralsight courses, helped organize a conference, kept writing news and such for InfoQ.com, blogged a bit, was granted the Microsoft MVP award again, and wrote a book. At work, I played a small part in helping Pivotal become a public company, and somehow got promoted to Vice President.

For the 11th year in a row, I thought it’d be fun to list out what I enjoyed writing and reading this year.

Things I Wrote

I kept up a decent pace of writing this year across InfoQ, my personal blog, and the Pivotal blog. Here are a few things I enjoyed writing.

[Book] Modernizing .NET Applications. I’ve told anyone that would listen that I’d never write another book. Clearly, I’m a filthy liar. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity this year, and it gave me a chance to write down some things bouncing around in my head.

[InfoQ] Recap of AWS re:Invent 2018 Announcements. re:Invent is such an industry-defining event each year. It was a lot of work to read through the announcements and synthesize it all into one piece. I think it turned out ok.

[InfoQ] The InfoQ eMag: Testing Your Distributed (Cloud) Systems. I need to do more of these, but here’s a collection of articles I commissioned and curated into a single downloadable asset.

[Blog] 10 Characteristics of a Successful Internal IT Champion. Being a champion for change can be a challenging experience. Especially in IT departments. Here’s some advice for you.

[Blog] Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? This was a series of five blog posts in five days that looked an unexpected workloads that run on Pivotal’s flagship platform. I look for any excuse to keep up my coding chops!

[Blog] Creating a continuous integration pipeline in Concourse for a test-infused ASP.NET Core app. Whoever gets good code to production fastest, wins! Here, it was fun to play with one of my favorite continuous integration tools (Concourse) and my favorite programming framework (.NET).

[Blog] How to use the Kafka interface of Azure Event Hubs with Spring Cloud Stream. Microsoft’s been sticking standard facades in front of their proprietary services, so I thought it’d be useful to try one out.

[Pivotal Blog] You Deserve a Continuously Integrated Platform. Here’s Why It Matters. Build it, or buy it? It’s an age-old debate. In this post, I explained why certain things (like app platforms) should be bought from those who have expertise at building them.

[Pivotal Blog] You’re Investing In .NET, and so Are We. Pivotal Is Now a Corporate Sponsor of The .NET Foundation. I was happy to see Pivotal take a bigger step to help .NET developers. This post looks at what we’re doing about it, besides just throwing money at the .NET Foundation.

Things I Read

Over the course of 2018, I read 35 books on a variety of topics. Here’s a subset of the ones that stood out to me the most.

Grant, by Ron Chernow. This book is a monster in size, but maybe the best thing I read in 2018. Meticulously research but entirely readable, the book walks through U.S. Grant’s incredible life. Unbelievable highs, crushing lows.

Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Safe to say this was the most impactful business-y book that I read in 2018. While attention was paid to effectively giving feedback, the bulk of the book was about receiving feedback. I’ve read very little about that, and this book completely changed my thinking on the topic.

Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations, by Nichole Forsgren (@nicolefv), Jez Humble (@jezhumble), and Gene Kim (@RealGeneKim). Clearly put, this book explains the findings and methods behind a long-standing DevOps survey. Besides laying out their methods, Forsgren and team thoroughly explain the key capabilities that separate the best from the worst. If you’ve been lacking the ammunition to initiate a software revolution at your company, it’s time to purchase and devour this book.

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, by David Garrow. I was historically ignorant about this time period, and needed to correct that. What a powerful book about a complex, flawed, courageous individual who carried an unparalleled burden while under constant scrutiny. Well-written, eye-opening book.

Discrimination and Disparities, by Thomas Sowell. I followed up the previous book with this one. Wanted to hear more on this topic. Sowell is an insightful economist, and explores the role that discrimination does, and doesn’t, play in disparities we see around us. He attempts to escape emotional appeals and find rational answers.

Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems, by Martin Kleppmann (@martinkl). This should be foundational reading for anyone designing or building distributed systems. It’s wonderfully written, comprehensive, and extremely useful. Buy this book.

Streaming Systems: The What, Where, When, and How of Large-Scale Data Processing, by Tyler Akidau (@takidau), Slava Chernyak, Reuven Lax (@reuvenlax). This book has some complex ideas, but it’s a must-read for those shifting their mindset from static data to data in motion. The authors have an approachable writing style, that makes even the most dense topics relatable.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Question for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown (@DJamesBrown). I think this was my favorite book of 2018. The author made me care deeply about the characters, and the writing was legitimately thrilling during the races. It was also insightful to read about a Seattle that was barely in the public consciousness at the time.

Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, by Steve Alten (@meg82159). I admittedly didn’t know about this book series until the movie came out in 2018, but who doesn’t love giant sharks? The book wasn’t the same as the movie; it was better. Fun read.

The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Parts of Any Bold Venture, by Scott Belsky (@scottbelsky). Good book. Really, a series of short, advice-filled chapters. Belsky deftly uses his own experiences as an entrepreneur and investor to help the reader recognize the leader’s role during the highs and lows of a company/project/initiative.

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas). I read a book about a freakin’ prehistoric shark, yet this book about a 16th century monk had some of the most thrilling moments I read this year. My knowledge of Martin Luther was limited to “something something Reformation” and “something something 95 theses”, but this book helped me recognize his massive contribution to the world. We owe many of the freedoms we have today to Luther’s courageous stand.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou (@JohnCarreyrou). Wow, what a book. I was peripherally aware of this company (Theranos) and storyline already, but this book is an eye-opening account of what really happened. I’m not even sure there’s a “good intentions” angle here, as it just seems like bad people doing bad things.

Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great, by Carmine Gallo (@carminegallo). If you’re wondering why your career is stagnant, there’s a chance it’s because you’re a subpar communicator. Gallo makes the case that moving others to action is the quintessential skill of this century. His book uses tons of anecdotes to drive the point home, and he sprinkles in plenty of actionable advice.

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change, by Camille Fournier (@skamille). This is a book aimed at new managers of technical teams. There’s some general advice in here that’s useful for managers of any type of team, but it’s most helpful if you lead (or want to empathize with) a tech team. Fournier’s experience shines through, in this easy-to-read book.

How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin J. Schmidt. Good book that outlined the massive impact of Christianity on Western society. Regardless of what you believe (or don’t!), it’s impressive to recognize that Christianity elevated the value of human life (by bringing an end to infanticide, child abandonment, gladiator battles) and women’s rights, introduced orphanages, old-age homes, and hospitals, erected the first universities, colleges, and public school systems, and ushered in a new era of art, science, and government. Wild stuff.

To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, by Daniel H. Pink (@DanielPink). Most of us are selling something, whether we recognize it or not. Pink lays out the reality, and why our ability to move others is key to success. And importantly, he offers some legitimately useful ways to make that happen.

The F*It List: Lessons fro a Human Crash Test Dummy, by Eric Byrnes (@byrnes22). I knew Byrnes, the colorful professional baseball player. I did not know Eric Byrnes, the uber-athlete and ultra-marathoner. He’s got a refreshing approach to life, and wrote a compelling autobiography. Thanks to @wearsy for the recommendation.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown). This book stands to have the biggest impact on my life in 2019. It’s about constantly stopping and evaluating whether we’re working on the right things. On purpose. I’m giving myself permission to be more selective in 2019, and will be more mindful about where I can make the biggest impact.

The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission, by Jim Bell (@Jim_Bell). Thanks to this book and the movie “The Farthest”, I became obsessed with the Voyager missions. I even did a couple talks about it to tech audiences this year. Bell’s book is detailed, exciting, and inspirational.

The Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World, 1776-1914, by Gavin Weightman. I read about how artificial intelligence will upend the world and economy as we know it, so I thought it’d be smart to look at the last world-changing revolution. This was a fascinating book and I learned a lot. It still blows me away that many comforts of our current life are fairly recent inventions.

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin. The authors call out five questions at the heart of the business strategy: what’s your winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, what capabilities must be in place, and what management systems are required. I found the book engaging, relevant, and motivational.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz (@bhorowitz). This book stressed me out, but in a good way. Horowitz doesn’t tiptoe around the tension of building and sustaining something. The book is absolutely full of useful advice that really landed for me.

High Output Management, by Andy Grove. Best business book that I read all year. It’s also one that Horowitz refers to a lot in his book (above). Every manager should read this. Grove focuses on value and outcomes, and lays out what good management looks like.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity, by Mark Clark (@markaclark). Mark’s a mesmerizing speaker that I’ve heard in-person a few times. Here, he makes a well-rounded, logical, compelling case for Christian faith.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel H Pink (@DanielPink). Sheesh, two Pink books in the same year? The man writes a good tome, what can I say? This is a book about timing. What time of day we should perform certain activities. When and how to “start” things, when to end. And how to synchronize teams. As always, an engaging read that made me rethink my approaches.

Showstopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft, by G Pascal Zachary. If you didn’t think a story about creating Windows NT could be compelling, THINK AGAIN. Part history lesson and part adventure tale, this book provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes featuring some characters you’ll recognize.
I probably say this every year, but sincerely, thank you all for being on this journey with me. Each day, I learn so much from the people (virtually and physically) around me. Let’s all have a 2019 where we learn a lot and make those around us better.

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Categories: Year in Review

Deploying a platform (Spring Cloud Data Flow) to Azure Kubernetes Service

Deploying a platform (Spring Cloud Data Flow) to Azure Kubernetes Service

Platforms should run on Kubernetes, apps should run on PaaS. That simple heuristic seems to resonate with the companies I talk to. When you have access to both environments, it makes sense to figure out what runs where. PaaS is ideal when you have custom code and want an app-aware environment that wires everything together. It’s about velocity, and straightforward Day 2 management. Kubernetes is a great choice when you have closely coordinated, distributed components with multiple exposed network ports and a need to access to infrastructure primitives. You know, a platform! Things like databases, message brokers, and hey, integration platforms. In this post, I see what it takes to get a platform up and running on Azure’s new Kubernetes service.

While Kubernetes itself is getting to be a fairly standard component, each public cloud offers it up in a slightly different fashion. Some clouds manage the full control plane, others don’t. Some are on the latest version of Kubernetes, others aren’t. When you want a consistent Kubernetes experience in every infrastructure pool, you typically use an installable product like Pivotal Container Service (PKS).  But I’ll be cloud-specific in this demo, since I wanted to take Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) for a spin. And we’ll use Spring Cloud Data Flow as our “platform” to install on AKS.

To start with, I went to the Azure Portal and chose to add a new instance of AKS. I was first asked to name my cluster, choose a location, pick a Kubernetes version, and set my initial cluster size.

For my networking configuration, I turned on “HTTP application routing” which gives me a basic (non-production grade) ingress controller. Since my Spring Cloud Data Flow is routable and this is a basic demo, it’ll work fine.

After about eleven minutes, I had a fully operational Kubernetes cluster.

Now, this is a “managed” service from Microsoft, but they definitely show you all the guts of what’s stood up to support it. When I checked out the Azure Resource Group that AKS created, it was … full. So, this is apparently the hooves and snouts of the AKS sausage. It’s there, but I don’t want to know about it.

The Azure Cloud Shell is a hidden gem of the Microsoft cloud. It’s a browser-based shell that’s stuffed with powerful components. Instead of prepping my local machine to talk to AKS, I just used this. From the Azure Portal, I spun up the Shell, loaded my credentials to the AKS cluster, and used the kubectl command to check out my nodes.

Groovy. Let’s install stuff. Spring Cloud Data Flow (SCDF) makes it easy to build data pipelines. These pipelines are really just standalone apps that get stitched together to form a sequential data processing pipeline. SCDF is a platform itself; it’s made up of a server, Redis node, MySQL node, and messaging broker (RabbitMQ, Apache Kafka, etc). It runs atop a number of different engines, including Cloud Foundry or Kubernetes. Spring Cloud Data Flow for Kubernetes has simple instructions for installing it via Helm.

I issued a Helm command from the Azure Cloud Shell (as Helm is pre-installed there) and in moments, had SCDF deployed.

When it finished, I saw that I had new Kubernetes pods running, and a load balancer service for routing traffic to the Data Flow server.

SCDF offers up a handful of pre-built “apps” to bake into pipelines, but the real power comes from building your own apps. I showed that off a few weeks ago, so for this demo, I’ll keep it simple. This streaming pipeline simply takes in an HTTP request, and drop the payload into a log file. THRILLING!

The power of a platform like SCDF comes out during deployment of a pipeline. See here that I chose Kubernetes as my underlying engine, created a load balancer service (to make my HTTP component routable) via a property setting, and could have optionally chose different instance counts for each component in the pipeline. Love that.

If you have GUI-fatique, you can always set these deploy-time properties via free text. I won’t judge you.

After deploying my streaming pipeline, I saw new pods shows up in AKS: one pod for each component of my pipeline.

I ran the kubectl get services command to confirm that SCDF built out a load balancer service for the HTTP app and assigned a public IP.

SCDF reads runtime information from the underlying engine (AKS, in this case) and showed me that my HTTP app was running, and its URL.

I spun up Postman and sent a bunch of JSON payloads to the first component of the SCDF pipeline running on AKS. 

I then ran a kubectl logs [log app’s pod name] command to check the logs of the pipeline component that’s supposed to write logs.

And that’s it. In a very short period of time, I stood up a Kubernetes cluster, deployed a platform on top of it, and tested it out. AKS makes this fairly easy, and the fact that it’s vanilla Kubernetes is nice. When using public cloud container-as-a-service products or installable software that runs everywhere, consider Kubernetes a great choice for running platforms. 

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Categories: Cloud, DevOps, Microservices, Microsoft Azure, OSS, Pivotal, Spring

My new book on modernizing .NET applications is now available!

My new book on modernizing .NET applications is now available!

I might be the first person to write a technical book because of peer pressure. Let me back up. 

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by smart folks at Pivotal. Many of them write books. We usually buy copies of them to give out at conferences. After one of conferences in May, my colleague Nima pointed out that folks wanted a book about .NET. He then pushed all the right buttons to motivate me.

So, I signed a contract with O’Reilly Media in June, started writing in July, and released the book yesterday.

Modernizing .NET Applications is a 100-page book that for now, is free from Pivotal. At some point soon, O’Reilly will put it on Safari (and other channels). So what’s in this book, before you part with your hard-earned email address?

Chapter 1 looks at why app modernization actually matters. I define “modernization” and give you a handful of reasons why you should do it. Chapter 2 offers an audit of what .NET software you’re running today, and why you’re motivated to upgrade it. Chapter 3 takes a quick look at the types of software your stakeholders are asking you to create now. Chapter 4 defines “cloud-native” and explains why you should care. I also define some key characteristics of cloud-native software and what “good” looks like. 

Chapter 5 helps you decide between using the .NET Framework or .NET Core for your applications. Then in Chapter 6, I lay out the new anti-patterns for .NET software and what things you have to un-learn. Chapter 7 calls out some of the new components that you’ll want to introduce to your modernized .NET apps. Chapter 8 helps you decide where you should run your .NET apps, with an assessment of all the various public/private software abstractions to choose from. Chapter 9 digs into five specific recipes you should follow to modernize your apps. These include event storming, externalized configuration, remote session stores, token-based security schemes, and apps on pipelines. Finally, Chapter 10 leaves you with some next steps.

I’ve had the pleasure/pain of writing books before, and have held off doing it again since our tech information consumption patterns have changed. But, it seems like there’s still a hunger for long-form content, and I’m passionate about .NET developers. So, I invested in a topic I care about, and hopefully wrote a book in a way that you find enjoyable to read.

Go check it out, and tell me what you think!

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Categories: .NET, Cloud, Cloud Foundry, DevOps, Microsoft Azure, Pivotal

Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? Part 5 – .NET Framework apps

Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? Part 5 – .NET Framework apps

Looking for a host suitable for .NET Framework apps? Windows Server virtual machines are almost your only option. The only public cloud PaaS product that offers a higher abstraction than virtual machines is Azure’s App Service. And that’s not really meant to run an entire enterprise portfolio. So … what to do? Don’t say “switch to .NET Core and run on all the Linux-based platforms” because that’s cheating. What can you do today? The best option you don’t know about is Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF). In this post, I’ll show you how to easily deploy and operate .NET apps in PCF on any infrastructure.

This is part five of a five part series. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my exploration of workloads you might not expect to see on a cloud-native platform like PCF.

About PAS for Windows

Quickly, I want to tell you about Pivotal Application Service (PAS) for Windows. Recall that PCF is really made up of two software abstractions atop a sophisticated infrastructure management platform (BOSH): Pivotal Application Service (for apps) and Pivotal Container Service (for raw containers). PAS for Windows extends PAS with managed Windows Server instances. As an operator, you can deploy, patch, upgrade, and operate Windows Server instances entirely through automation. For developers, you get a on-demand, scalable host that supports remote debugging and much more. I feel pretty safe saying that this is better than whatever you’re doing today for Windows workloads!

PAS for Windows extends PAS and uses all the same machinery

Deploying a WCF application to PCF

Let’s do this. First, I confirmed that I had a Windows “stack” available to me. In my PCF environment, I ran a cf stacks command.

Yup, all good. I created a new Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) application targeting .NET Framework 4.0. All of your apps aren’t using the latest framework, so why should my sample? Note that you can run all types of classic .NET projects in PCF: ASP.NET Web Forms, MVC, Web API, WCF, console, and more.

My WCF service doesn’t need to change at all to run in PCF. To publish to PCF, I just need to provide a set of command line parameters, or, write a manifest with those parameters. My manifest looked like this:

---
applications:
- name: blog-demo-wcf
memory: 256M
instances: 1
buildpack: hwc_buildpack
stack: windows2016
env:
betaflag: on

There’s a buildpack just for .NET apps on Windows and all I have to do is push the code itself. About fifteen seconds after typing cf push, my WCF service was packaged up and loaded into a Windows Server container.

Browsing the endpoint returned that familiar page of WCF service metadata. 

Operating your .NET app on PCF

It’s one thing to deploy an app, it’s another thing to manage it. PCF makes that pretty easy. After deploying a .NET app, I see some helpful metadata. It shows me the stack, buildpack, and any environment variables visible to the app.

How long does it take you to get a new instance of your .NET app into production today? Weeks? Months? I just scaled up from one to three Windows container instances in less than ten seconds. I just love that.

Any app written in any language gets access to the same set of PCF functionality. Your .NET Framework apps get built-in log aggregation, metrics and monitoring, autoscaling, and more. All in a multi-tenant environment. And with straightforward access to anything in the marketplace through the Service Broker interface. Want your .NET Framework app to talk to Azure’s Cosmos DB or Google Cloud Spanner? Just use the broker.

Oh, and don’t forget that because PAS for Windows uses legit Windows Server containers, each app instance gets its own copy of the file system, registry, and GAC. You can see this by SSH-ing into the container. Yes, I said you could SSH in. It’s just a cf ssh command.

That’s a full Windows file system, and I can even spin up Powershell in there. Crazy times.

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Categories: .NET, Cloud, Cloud Foundry, DevOps, Pivotal, WCF/WF

Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? Part 4 – Data pipelines

Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? Part 4 – Data pipelines

Streaming is all the rage! No, not binge-watching Arrested Development on Netflix. Rather, I mean data stream processing: ingesting and handling infinite datasets. Instead of chewing through a nightly or weekly batch of records, you’re doing near real-time processing. Done correctly, this helps you improve data quality and make faster decisions. But how do you arrange the sequence of steps to process that data? Data pipelines! In this post, I’ll show you that this is yet another unexpected workload that runs pretty darn well on Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF).

So far in this series, we’ve looked at other workloads ranging from Docker images to batch jobs.

Let’s build a pipeline that processes a stream of shipment data that flows out of a relational database, gets enriched with additional info, and finally gets written to a log.

Spinning up Spring Cloud Data Flow on PCF

You could do streaming a few ways in PCF. You could manually deploy a PCF-managed instance of RabbitMQ, Solace PubSub+, or Apache Kafka. Or connect to a cloud-based broker like Azure Service Bus or Google Pub/Sub through a Service Broker. Any of those options give you a messaging backbone, but a data pipeline often involves a sequence of orchestrated steps. One turnkey solution that combines lightweight messaging with smart orchestration is Spring Cloud Data Flow (SCDF).

While it’s not that challenging to install SCDF yourself, PCF bundles it all up into a single package. All it takes is deploying the “Data Flow Server” from the PCF marketplace.

After BOSH built and deployed the Spring Cloud Data Flow server and dependent services (database, Redis cache, RabbitMQ instance), I also provisioned an instance of PostgreSQL from Crunchy Data. This is the source to my data stream.

That was easy.  From this screen on PCF Apps Manager, I could click through and log into the SCDF dashboard. From here, I loaded all the Spring Cloud Stream App Starters. These are “just” Spring Boot apps, but we can use these to build data streams. We can build our own apps to, but it’s great to pre-load these starters. Note that everything I’m doing with this dashboard you can also do with a CLI.

With that, I had everything I needed to build out my data pipeline. 

Building and deploying a data pipeline

Before building my pipeline, I wanted to prep my PostgreSQL database. To do this, I built a simple ASP.NET Core app that created a data table and added records. I deployed this to PCF, bound it to the Crunchy Data instance, and now had a way to instantiate my relational database and add rows.

I wanted to enrich data as part of my data pipeline. When a “shipment” record comes out of PostgreSQL, it has an identifier for which warehouse it came from. I wanted to use that ID to look up the US state associated with the warehouse. I could try and use an out-of-the-box App Starter to do it, or just build my own. I chose the latter. What’s wicked is these are just Spring Cloud Stream apps. I created a new app from start.spring.io, created a POJO that represents a “warehouse shipment”, added an annotation and a method, and assembled the jar file. No other configurations needed! 

@EnableBinding(Processor.class)
@SpringBootApplication
public class DemoPipelineEnricherApplication {

  public static void main(String[] args) {
     SpringApplication.run(DemoPipelineEnricherApplication.class, 
  args);
  }

  @StreamListener(Processor.INPUT)
  @SendTo(Processor.OUTPUT)
  public shipment EnrichShipment(shipment s) {
    switch(s.warehouse_id) {
    case 400:
        s.warehouse_location="CA";
        break;
    case 401:
        s.warehouse_location="WA";
        break;
    case 402:
        s.warehouse_location="TX";
        break;
    case 403:
        s.warehouse_location="FL";
        break;
    }
    return s;
  }
}

To make this app available to my new data pipeline, I needed to register it with the SCDF server. That means the jar file needed to be visible to the server. I uploaded the jar file to GitHub (better choices include the Maven repo, or another legit artifact repository) and registered it:

It’s pipeline time! I designed a pipeline that started with a JDBC source, sent the individual rows to my “enricher” app, and then routed the results to the application log. For fun, I also tapped that result stream to count how many messages came in for each US state.

The pipeline definition is something you can add to source control and version like any other deployment artifact. My pipeline looks like:

warehouse-stream=jdbc
--spring.datasource.username='[username]'
--spring.datasource.url='jdbc:postgresql://[url]:5432/shipments'
--jdbc.max-rows-per-poll=5 --jdbc.query='SELECT * FROM WarehouseShipments WHERE
is_read=FALSE' --jdbc.update='UPDATE WarehouseShipments SET is_read=TRUE WHERE
is_read=FALSE;' --spring.datasource.password='[password]' |
demo-enricher | log 

What’s cool is that after creating the stream, I had all sorts of deployment options for each app in the pipeline. That means that each app could have its own instance count and resource allocation. Much better than coarsely scaling the whole pipeline when just one component needs to scale! 

After deploying the streams, I saw the underlying Spring Boot apps deployed to my PCF environment. SCDF is pretty sophisticated but still an easy-to-use platform!

I continually added records to my PostgreSQL database, and saw them immediately stream through SCDF on PCF. Each individual message got enriched with additional details before printing out to the log.

In this post, we saw that data pipelines have a natural home in PCF. Spring Cloud Data Flow is an ideal replacement for heavyweight ESB products in certain scenarios, and a replacement for ETL in others. Give it a try on PCF, Kubernetes, or other runtimes.

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Categories: Cloud, Cloud Foundry, OSS, Pivotal, Spring

Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? Part 3 – Background, batch, and scheduled jobs

Wait, THAT runs on Pivotal Cloud Foundry? Part 3 – Background, batch, and scheduled jobs

So far in this series of posts, we’ve seen that Pivotal Cloud Foundry (PCF) runs a lot more than just web applications. Not every app has a user-facing front-end component. Some of your systems run in the background or on a schedule and perform a variety of important tasks. In this post, I’ll take a look at how to deploy background workers, on-demand batch tasks, and scheduled jobs.

This is the third in a five part series of posts:

Deploying and running background workers

Pivotal Cloud Foundry makes it easy to run workers that don’t have a routable address. These background jobs might listen to a database and respond to data changes, or respond to messages in a work queue. Let’s demonstrate the latter. 

I built a .NET Core console app that’s responsible for pulling “loan” records from RabbitMQ and processing them. You can built these background jobs is any programming language supported by Cloud Foundry.

What’s nice is that background jobs have access to all the useful PCF capabilities that web apps do. One such capability? Service Brokers! Devs love using Service Brokers to provision and access backing services. My background job needs access to RabbitMQ and I don’t want to hard-code any connection details. No big deal. I first spun up an on-demand RabbitMQ instance via the PCF Service Broker.

My .NET Core app uses the Steeltoe Service Connector (and the RabbitMQ .NET Client) to load service broker connection info and talk to my instance.

static void Main(string[] args){            
//pull service broker configuration
var builder = new ConfigurationBuilder()
.AddEnvironmentVariables()
.AddCloudFoundry();

var configuration = builder.Build();
//get our fully loaded service
var services = new ServiceCollection();
services.AddRabbitMQConnection(configuration);
var provider = services.BuildServiceProvider();
ConnectionFactory f = provider.GetService<ConnectionFactory>();

//connect to RMQ
using (var connection = f.CreateConnection())
using (var channel = connection.CreateModel())
{
channel.QueueDeclare(queue: "loans", durable: true, exclusive: false, autoDelete: false, arguments: null);
var consumer = new EventingBasicConsumer(channel);

//fire up when a new message comes in
consumer.Received += (model, ea) => {
var body = ea.Body;
var message = Encoding.UTF8.GetString(body);
Console.WriteLine("[x] Received loan data: {0}", message);
};
channel.BasicConsume(queue: "loans", autoAck: true, consumer: consumer);
Console.ReadLine();
}
}

Apps deployed to Cloud Foundry are typically accompanied by a YAML manifest. You can provide the parameters on the CLI, but versioned, source-controlled manifests are a better way to go. For these background jobs, the manifests are simple. Note two key things: the no-route parameter is “true” so that we don’t get a route assigned, and the health-check-type is set to “process” so that the orchestrator monitors process availability and doesn’t try to ping a non-existent web endpoint. Also notice that I bound my app to the previously-created RabbitMQ service instance.

---  
applications:
- name: core-demo-background
memory: 256M
no-route: true
health-check-type: process
services:
- seroter-rmq

After a quick cf push, my background app was running, and bound to the RabbitMQ instance.

This job quietly sits and waits for work to do. What’s neat is this can also take advantage of PCF’s autoscale capability, and scale by monitoring RabbitMQ queue depth, for example. For now, one instance is plenty. I logged into RabbitMQ and sent in a couple sample “loan” messages.

Sure enough, when I viewed the aggregated application logs for my background job, I saw the content of each read message printed out. 

These sorts of workers are a useful part of most systems, and PCF offers a resilient, manageable place to run them.

Deploying and running on-demand batch tasks

How many useful, random scripts do your system administrators have sitting around? You know, the ones that create users, reset demo environments, or purge FTP shares. Instead of having those scripts buried on administrator desktops, you can run these one-off batch jobs in PCF.

I created another .NET Core console application. This one pretends to sweep expired files from a shared folder. I deployed this application to PCF with a –no-start command since I want to trigger it on demand.

cf push --no-start

Now, to trigger the job, I need to know the start command. This depends on how you deployed it. Since I used the .NET Core buildpack, I want to start up the app one time to discover how PCF starts up the app.

That command showed me where the .NET Core executable lives in the container. I stopped the app again, and switched over the “Tasks” view in the PCF Apps Manager interface. I can do all these things via the CLI as well, but I’m a sucker for a nice UX. There’s a “run task” button that lets me define a one-off task definition.

Here I gave the task a name, pasted the start command I found above, and that was it! When I hit, “run”, PCF instantiated a new container instance and shut down the container when the task was complete. And that’s what I saw. There was a log entry indicating a successful job run, and the application logs showed the output of the task. Nice!

This is a great option for one-off jobs and scripts. Consolidate them in PCF, and get all the availability and auditing you need.

Deploying and running scheduled jobs

Finally, some of those one-off jobs may not be as one-off as you thought! Instead of asking your admin to trigger a task once a day to purge expired files, how about you schedule the job to run on a schedule? 

PCF also offers a scheduling component to trigger tasks (or API calls!) on a recurring basis. On the same “tasks” tab of the PCF Apps Manager UX, there’s a “jobs” section for scheduled tasks. Besides giving the job a name and a command (the same as the task command above), you enter a Cron expression for the schedule itself. The expression is in a MIN HOUR DAY-OF-MONTH MONTH DAY-OF-WEEK format. For example “15 * ? * * *” means you should run the job every 15 minutes, and “30 10 * * 5” means you should run the job at 10:30am every Friday. My job below is set to run every minute.

We’re all building lots of web apps nowadays, but you have lots of need for event-driven or scheduled background work. PCF may surprise you as an entirely suitable platform for those workloads.

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Categories: .NET, Cloud, Cloud Foundry, Messaging, Pivotal