Getting Started with Azure (developer perspective)

So there’s a common question I’ve been getting a lot lately, and that’s “I want to learn Azure, where do I start?” And this is ultimately a very reasonable question, because as much as the cloud has permuted much of the digital world, there are still some organizations who have only recently started to adopt it.

There are many reasons people would choose to adopt the cloud, scalability, cost, flexibility, etc. But for today’s post I’m going to focus on the idea that you have already decided to go to the Azure Cloud and are looking for resources to ramp up. So I wanted to provide those here:

MS Learn: The site provides videos, reading, and walk-through’s that can assist with learning this type of material:

MS Learn for Specific Services: There are several common services out there that many people think of when they think of the cloud, and I wanted to provide some resources here to help with those:

EDX Courses: EDX is a great site with a lot of well made courses, and there are a wealth of options for Azure and Cloud, here are a few I thought relevant, but it is not an exhaustive list.

  • Architecting Distributed Applications: One common mistake, that many make with regard to the cloud is that they think of it as “just another data center”, and that’s just not true. To build effective and scalable applications, they need to be architected to take advantage of distributed compute. This course does a great job of laying out how to make sure you are architected to work in a distributed fashion.
  • Microsoft Azure Storage: A great course on the basics of using Azure Storage.
  • Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines: The virtual machine is the cornerstone of azure, and provides many options to build an scale out effectively. This is a good introduction into the most basic service in Azure.
  • Microsoft Azure App Service: The most popular service in Azure, App Service enables developers to deploy and configure apps without worrying about the machine running under-the-covers. A great overview.
  • Microsoft Azure Virtual Networks: As I mentioned above, Software Based Networking is one of the key pieces required for the cloud and this gives a good introduction into how to leverage it.
  • Databases in Azure: Another key component of the cloud is the Database, and this talks about the options for leveraging platform-as-a-service offerings for databases to eliminate your overhead for maintaining the vms.
  • Azure Security and Compliance: A key component again is security, as the digital threats are constantly evolving, and Azure provides a lot of tools to protect your workload, this is an essential piece of every architecture.
  • Building your azure skills toolkit: A good beginner course for how to get your skills up to speed with Azure.

Additional Tools and Resources, I would recommend the following:

Those are just some of the many resources that can be helpful to starting out with Azure and learning to build applications for the cloud. It is not an exhaustive list, so if you have a resource you’ve found helpful, please post it in the comments below.

Building a Solr Cluster with TerraForm – Part 1

So it’s no surprise that I very much have been talking about how amazing TerraForm is, and recently I’ve been doing a lot of investigation into Solr and how to build a scalable Solr Cluster.

So given the kubernetes template I wanted to try my hand at something similar. The goals of this project were the following:

  1. Build a generic template for creating a Solr cloud cluster with distributed shard.
  2. Build out the ability to scale the cluster for now using TerraForm to manually trigger increases to cluster size.
  3. Make the nodes automatically add themselves to the cluster.

And I could do this just using bash scripts and packer. But instead wanted to try my hand at cloud init.

But that’s going to be the end result, I wanted to walkthrough the various steps I go through to get to the end.  The first real step is to get through the installation of Solr on  linux machines to be implemented. 

So let’s start with “What is Solr?”   The answer is that Solr is an open source software solution that provides a means of creating a search engine.  It works in the same vein as ElasticSearch and other technologies.  Solr has been around for quite a while and is used by some of the largest companies that implement search to handle search requests by their customers.  Some of those names are Netflix and CareerBuilder.  See the following links below:

So I’ve decided to try my hand at this and creating my first Solr cluster, and have reviewed the getting started. 

So I ended up looking into it more, and built out the following script to create a “getting started” solr cluster.

sudo apt-get install -y apt-transport-https ca-certificates curl software-properties-common
sudo apt-get install -y gnupg-curl
sudo wget https://www.apache.org/dist/lucene/solr/8.0.0/solr-8.0.0.zip.asc | sudo apt-key add

sudo apt-get update -y
sudo apt-get install unzip
sudo wget http://mirror.cogentco.com/pub/apache/lucene/solr/8.0.0/solr-8.0.0.zip

sudo unzip -q solr-8.0.0.zipls
sudo mv solr-8.0.0 /usr/local/bin/solr-8.0.0 -f
sudo rm solr-8.0.0.zip -f

sudo apt-get install -y default-jdk

sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/solr-8.0.0/bin/solr
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/solr-8.0.0/example/cloud/node1/solr
sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/solr-8.0.0/example/cloud/node2/solr
sudo /usr/local/bin/solr-8.0.0/bin/bin/solr -e cloud -noprompt

The above will configure a “getting started solr cluster” that leverages all the system defaults and is hardly a production implementation. So my next step will be to change this. But for the sake of getting something running, I took the above script and moved it into a packer template using the following json. The above script is the “../scripts/Solr/provision.sh”

{
  "variables": {
    "deployment_code": "",
    "resource_group": "",
    "subscription_id": "",
    "location": "",
    "cloud_environment_name": "Public"
  },
  "builders": [{   
    "type": "azure-arm",
    "cloud_environment_name": "{{user `cloud_environment_name`}}",
    "subscription_id": "{{user `subscription_id`}}",

    "managed_image_resource_group_name": "{{user `resource_group`}}",
    "managed_image_name": "Ubuntu_16.04_{{isotime \"2006_01_02_15_04\"}}",
    "managed_image_storage_account_type": "Premium_LRS",

    "os_type": "Linux",
    "image_publisher": "Canonical",
    "image_offer": "UbuntuServer",
    "image_sku": "16.04-LTS",

    "location": "{{user `location`}}",
    "vm_size": "Standard_F2s"
  }],
  "provisioners": [
    {
      "type": "shell",
      "script": "../scripts/ubuntu/update.sh"
    },
    {
      "type": "shell",
      "script": "../scripts/Solr/provision.sh"
    },
    {
      "execute_command": "chmod +x {{ .Path }}; {{ .Vars }} sudo -E sh '{{ .Path }}'",
      "inline": [
        "/usr/sbin/waagent -force -deprovision+user && export HISTSIZE=0 && sync"
      ],
      "inline_shebang": "/bin/sh -e",
      "type": "shell"
    }]
}

The only other script mentioned is the “update.sh”, which has the following logic in it, to install the cli and update the ubuntu image:

#! /bin/bash

sudo apt-get update -y
sudo apt-get upgrade -y

#Azure-CLI
AZ_REPO=$(sudo lsb_release -cs)
sudo echo "deb [arch=amd64] https://packages.microsoft.com/repos/azure-cli/ $AZ_REPO main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/azure-cli.list
sudo curl -L https://packages.microsoft.com/keys/microsoft.asc | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get install apt-transport-https
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install azure-cli

So the above gets me to a good place for being able to create an image with it configured.

For next steps I will be doing the following:

  • Building a more “production friendly” implementation of Solr into the script.
  • Investigating leveraging cloud init instead of the “golden image” experience with Packer.
  • Building out templates around the use of Zookeeper for managing the nodes.


Configuring Terraform Development Environment

So I’ve been doing a lot of work with a set of open source tools lately, specifically TerraForm and Packer. TerraForm at its core is a method of implementing truly Infrastructure as Code, and does so by providing a simple function style language where you can create basic implementations for the cloud, and then leverage resource providers to deploy. These resource providers allow you to deploy to variety of cloud platforms (the full list can be found here). It also provides robust support for debugging, targeting, and supports a desired state configuration approach that makes it much easier to maintain your environments in the cloud.

Now that being said, like most open source tools, it can require some configuration for your local development environment and I wanted to put this post together to describe it. Below are the steps to configuring your environment.

Step 1: Install Windows SubSystem on your Windows 10 Machine

To start with, you will need to be able to leverage bash as part of the Linux Subsystem. You can enable this on a Windows 10 machine, by following the steps outlined in this guide:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/wsl/install-win10

Once you’ve completed this step, you will be able to move forward with VS Code and the other components required.

Step 2: Install VS Code and Terraform Plugins

For this guide we recommend VS Code as your editor, VS code works on a variety of operating systems, and is a very light-weight code editor.

You can download VS Code from this link:

https://code.visualstudio.com/download

Once you’ve downloaded and installed VS code, we need to install the VS Code Extension for Terraform.

Then click “Install” and “Reload” when completed. This will allow you to have intelli-sense and support for the different terraform file types.

Step 3: Opening Terminal

You can then perform the remaining steps from the VS Code application. Go to the “View” menu and select “integrated terminal”. You will see the terminal appear at the bottom:

By default, the terminal is set to “powershell”, type in “Bash” to switch to Bash Scripting. You can default your shell following this guidance – https://code.visualstudio.com/docs/editor/integrated-terminal#_configuration

Step 4: Install Unzip on Subsystem

Run the following command to install “unzip” on your linux subsystem, this will be required to unzip both terraform and packer.

sudo apt-get install unzip

Step 5: Install TerraForm

You will need to execute the following commands to download and install Terraform, we need to start by getting the latest version of terraform.

Go to this link:

https://www.terraform.io/downloads.html

And copy the link for the appropriate version of the binaries for TerraForm.

Go back to VS Code, and enter the following commands:

wget {url for terraform}
unzip {terraform.zip file name}
sudo mv terraform /usr/local/bin/terraform
rm {terraform.zip file name}
terraform --version

Step 6: Install Packer

To start with, we need to get the most recent version of packer. Go to the following Url, and copy the url of the appropriate version.

https://www.packer.io/downloads.html

Go back to VS Code and execute the following commands:

wget {packer url} 
unzip {packer.zip file name} 
sudo mv packer /usr/local/bin/packer
rm {packer.zip file name}

Step 7: Install Azure CLI 2.0

Go back to VS Code again, and download / install azure CLI. To do so, execute the steps and commands found here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/cli/azure/install-azure-cli-apt?view=azure-cli-latest

Step 8: Authenticating against Azure

Once this is done you are in a place where you can run terraform projects, but before you do, you need to authenticate against Azure. This can be done by running the following commands in the bash terminal (see link below):

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/azure-government/documentation-government-get-started-connect-with-cli

Once that is completed, you will be authenticated against Azure and will be able to update the documentation for the various environments.

NOTE: Your authentication token will expire, should you get a message about an expired token, enter the command, to refresh:

az account get-access-token 

Token lifetimes can be described here – https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/develop/active-directory-token-and-claims#access-tokens

After that you are ready to use Terraform on your local machine.

Building out Azure Container Registry in Terraform

So I’ve previously done posts on the TerraForm template that I built to support creating a kubernetes cluster. The intention behind this was to provide a solution for standing up a kubernetes cluster in Azure Government. To see more information on that cluster I have a blog post here.

Now one of the questions I did get with it, is “How do we integrate this with Azure Container Registry?” And for those not familiar, Azure Container Registry is a PaaS offering that Azure provides that allows you to push your container images to a docker registry and not have to manage the underlying VM, patching, updates, and other maintenance. This allows you to just pay for the space to store the container images, which admittedly are very small.

The first part of implementing this logic was to create the Container Registry in TerraForm by using the following.

A key note is that the use of the “count” variable is to enable that this registry will not be created unless you create a “lkma” which is the VM that operates as the master.

resource "azurerm_container_registry" "container-registry" {
  count = "${lookup(var.instance_counts, "lkma", 0) == 0 ? 0 : 1}"
  name                = "containerRegistry1"
  resource_group_name = "${azurerm_resource_group.management.name}"
  location            = "${var.azure_location}"
  admin_enabled       = true
  sku                 = "Standard"

  depends_on = ["azurerm_role_assignment.kub-ad-sp-ra-kv1"]
}

So honestly didn’t require that much in the way of work. For the next part it is literally just adding a few lines of code to enable the connection between the registry and the kubernetes cluster. Those lines are the following :

echo 'Configure ACR registry for Kubernetes cluster'
kubectl create secret docker-registry <SECRET_NAME> --docker-server $5 --docker-email $6 --docker-username=$7 --docker-password $8
echo 'Script Completed'

So really that is about it. I’ve already made these changes to the GitHub template, so please check it out. The above lines of code allow a user principal information that I pass to the script to be used to connect the azure container registry to my cluster. That’s really about it.

Creating Terraform Scripts from existing resources in Azure Government

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of work with TerraForm lately, and one of the questions I’ve gotten a lot is the ability to create terraform scripts based on existing resources.

So the use case is the following: You are working on projects, or part of an organization that has a lot of resources in Azure, and you want to start using terraform for a variety of reasons:

  • Being able to iterating in your infrastructure
  • Consistency of environment management
  • Code History of changes

The good new is there is a tool for that. The tool can be found here on github along with a list of pre-requisites.  I’ve used this tool in Azure Commercial and have been really happy with the results. I wanted to use this with Azure Commercial.

NOTE => The Pre-reqs are listed on the az2tf tool, but one they didn’t list I needed to install was jq, using “apt-get install jq”.

Next we need to configure our environment for running terraform.  For me, I ran this using the environment I had configured for Terraform.  In the Git repo, there is a PC Setup document that walks you through how to configure your environment with VS code and Terraform.  I then was able to clone the git repo, and execute the az2tf tool using a Ubuntu subsystem on my Windows 10 machine. 

Now, the tool, az2f, was built to work with azure commercial, and there is one change that has to be made for it to leverage azure government 

Once you have the environment created, and the pre-requisites are all present, you can open a “Terminal” window in vscode, and connect to Azure Government. 

In the ./scripts/resources.sh and ./scripts/resources2.sh files, you will find the following on line 9:

ris=`printf “curl -s  -X GET -H \”Authorization: Bearer %s\” -H \”Content-Type: application/json\” https://management.azure.com/subscriptions/%s/resources?api-version=2017-05-10” $bt $sub`

Please change this line to the following:

ris=`printf “curl -s  -X GET -H \”Authorization: Bearer %s\” -H \”Content-Type: application/json\” https://management.usgovcloudapi.net/subscriptions/%s/resources?api-version=2017-05-10” $bt $sub`

You can then run the “az2tf” tool by running the following command in the terminal:

./az2tf.sh -s {Subscription ID} -g {Resource Group Name}

This will generate the script, and you will see a new folder created in the structure marked “tf.{Subscription ID}” and inside of it will be all configuration steps to setup the environment.