Aaronontheweb

Hacking .NET and Startups

Managing Your Windows Azure Services from OS X, Linux, or Windows Using the Command Line Interface (CLI)

June 8, 2012 06:14 by Aaronontheweb in Azure, Node // Tags: , , // Comments (4)

A lot of exciting things were announced at today’s Meet Windows Azure event, and one of the things I wanted to share with you is how you can now use our cross-platform Windows Azure Command Line Interface (CLI), part of our Node SDK, to administer your hosted services, VMs, and websites all from the comfort of your favorite terminal.

For the purposes of this blog post I’m going to use iTerm on OS X as my terminal of choice and I’ve also run all of these commands off of the DOS / PowerShell terminals in Windows 7.

Installing the CLI

The Windows Azure CLI is written in Node.JS, so it’s cross-platform by design. To install it you need to have Node.JS and NPM (node package manager) installed.

Once you have both of those, you can just install the CLI using Git and NPM:

$ git clone git://github.com/WindowsAzure/azure-sdk-for-node.git

$ cd ./cli-tools

$ sudo npm install –g

It’s important to do a global install using the –g flag; that way the CLI will always be accessible regardless of what your current working directory is on the terminal.

You can also install the Windows Azure CLI directly via NPM itself:

$ sudo npm install azure -g

Connecting to your Windows Azure Account

With the tools installed, you can now start exploring the SDK. Simply type the following on your terminal to see the full list of commands available in the CLI:

$ azure

In order to effectively leverage any of these, you need to import you Windows Azure account settings and import them into the CLI. You only need to do this once.

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This will open up the browser to a page on the Windows Azure portal which will download a .publishSettings file specific to your Azure account automatically. Once it’s downloaded, then you need to import it using the azure account import command.

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Once that’s finished, you’re good to go and can start using the CLI to administer your services!

 

Creating and Managing Windows Azure Websites

Now that we have our account criteria, we can start creating new websites, hosted services, or virtual machines.

If you’re a new Azure customer, you’ll probably want to start with Windows Azure websites – they’re the simplest to set up, cheapest to run, and easiest to deploy.

One small hitch: before you can use the CLI to create Azure websites, you need to create your first one via the new Windows Azure Management Portal. You’ll also need to Git publishing credentials via the web portal too.

I’m going to create a new website by using the azure site create command:

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I used the --git flag to tell the Azure web portal “yes, I want to enable Git publishing for this website” which is one of the cool new features.

I can list all of my current Windows Azure websites using the azure site list command – if you have multiple accounts the CLI will list them per-account.

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I can also manage my currently running sites, so for instance if I wanted to download my diagnostic logs for a specific site I could run azure site log download and grab the raw data for my performance logs.

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You can see a full reference for the Windows Azure CLI here.

Working with Windows Azure VMs

The most sweeping change made in today’s announcements was the inclusion of Windows Azure Virtual Machines; even though it’s still in “preview mode,” you can manage it via the CLI if you have access to the preview (you can apply for Windows Azure Preview Features here.)

I’m going to create a new Linux VM using the CLI.

First thing I want to do is check the list of available VM images, which I can do by running the azure vm image list command.

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So you can see the list of default images here – I’m going to use the CentOS image because I’m feeling all Linuxy today.

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So I create a new CentOS VM in our US-West data center and I even set up a username and password for administering the box (although I forgot to pass the –-ssh flag, which would add SSH to the box.)

The syntax for creating a new VM is azure vm create <dns-name> <image> <userName> [password].

If I want to check in on the status of this instance, I can just run the azure vm show <name> command to get the details.

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Since I don’t want a bunch of people on the Internet hacking into my brand new VM, I’m going to go ahead and delete it via the CLI using the azure vm delete <name>.

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Note: when you use --blob-delete command, this deletes the VM’s hard drive image from your storage account permanently.

Working with Hosted Services

You can also manage our signature PaaS offerings on Windows Azure too, our hosted services. I’m already running some of these on my personal Azure account, so I’m going to run the azure service list command to see a list of hosted services:

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If I wanted to I could delete hosted services, add new management certificates, and so forth.

Wrapping Up

Our announcements yesterday changed the game with Azure, and using the CLI I now have a level of control and visibility over all of my VMs, websites, and services a mere terminal away from my fingertips. This is a game-changer.

If you need a full reference for the Windows Azure CLI, click here.

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How to Use the Azure npm Package Locally without the Azure Compute Emulator

February 6, 2012 05:28 by Aaronontheweb in Azure, Node // Tags: , , , // Comments (2)

One thing that is a little dicey about the Windows Azure SDK for Node 1 is that it by default it depends on being run inside of Azure itself or the compute emulator.

The Azure npm package looks for environment variables parsed from web.config and won’t find them if you run your node application via the node [entrypoint].js commandline.

So why would you want to run your Node application outside the Azure emulator if you’re utilizing the Azure npm package? If you’re using Cloud9 to develop and deploy Node applications to Windows Azure, then that’s one reason.

Another is that IIS eats any error messages your Node application throws by default2 and on some occasions errors don’t always get logged to server.js/logs/[n].txt, so occasionally you have to debug by running the stand-alone node server where you get verbose error messages to console.

To work around this, you can set your tableClient / storageClient / queueClient object to target a specific account directly.

//Emulator
var tableClient = azure.createTableService(ServiceClient.DEVSTORE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, ServiceClient.DEVSTORE_STORAGE_ACCESS_KEY, ServiceClient.DEVSTORE_TABLE_HOST);

//Live account
var tableClient = azure.createTableService(‘aaronnodedemo’,’scary-looking-access-key’,’ [account].table.core.windows.net’);

When you do this you lose the ability to let Azure .config transforms enable you to switch between production and staging easily, but this can be a necessary evil for debugging tricky bugs ;)


1“azure” is the name of the associated npm package

2I’m sure there’s a way to change that behavior in the IISnode configuration settings

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Code Camp Talks: Intro to Node.JS and Building Web Apps with Express

February 2, 2012 17:15 by Aaronontheweb in Node, Azure // Tags: , , , // Comments (0)

This past weekend at SoCal Code Camp I gave two presentations back-to-back on Node.JS: “Intro to Node.JS” and “Building Web Apps with Express.”

I don’t have much to add on what I did at the sessions other than to mention just how surprised I was at how enthusiastic people were to see Microsoft involved with the Node effort and how eager everyone was to learn Node. I was thoroughly impressed.

Below are links to my slides and code samples for both talks – enjoy!

Intro to Node.JS

Source code: Github or Cloud9

 

 

Building Web Apps with Express

 

 

Let me know if you have any questions!

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How to Automatically Utilize Multicore Servers with Node on Windows Azure

January 17, 2012 11:31 by Aaronontheweb in Azure, Azure, Node, Node // Tags: , , , // Comments (0)

One major advantage of developing Node applications for Windows Azure is the ability to have your Node apps managed directly by IIS via iisnode.

You can read more about the benefits of iisnode here, but I want to call out these two points specifically from the iisnode wiki:

Scalability on multi-core servers. Since node.exe is a single threaded process, it only scales to one CPU core. The iisnode module allows creation of multiple node.exe processes per application and load balances the HTTP traffic between them, therefore enabling full utilization of a server’s CPU capacity without requiring additional infrastructure code from an application developer.

Process management. The iisnode module takes care of lifetime management of node.exe processes making it simple to improve overall reliability. You don’t have to implement infrastructure to start, stop, and monitor the processes.

Scalability on multicore servers with Node typically requires developers to use the Node cluster module and write some code which spawns one node.exe process per available processor and write your own handlers for what to do in the event of a failed process and so forth.

Update: It occurred to me after I initially published this that many developers may not understand the need for multiple node.exe processes. If you read through my “Intro to Node.JS for .NET Developers“ you’ll get a better sense for how Node works under the hood – the gist of it is that Node handles all incoming HTTP requests on a single thread, and thus can only utilize a single core at any given time regardless of the number of available processors. Having multiple Node.exe processes handling HTTP requests allows for multiple event loop threads, all of which can be run in parallel across different processors. That’s why this technique is important for multicore systems.

IIS and iisnode can take care of this for you automatically without you having to write any code to do it (a good thing,) and on Windows Azure you can automate this via startup task (fork the source on Github:)

if "%EMULATED%"=="true" exit /b 0

REM Count the total number of available processors on this system
powershell -c "exit [System.Environment]::ProcessorCount"

REM set the default number of processes for our app pools in IIS equal to the 
number of available processors
%windir%\system32\inetsrv\appcmd set config -section:applicationPools 
-applicationPoolDefaults.processModel.maxProcesses:%ErrorLevel%

This startup task automatically determines the number of available processors on the CPU and tells IIS to set the number of worker processes in your Node application pools to use one process-per-core, thus allowing your Node applications to take advantage of every core on the system.

Adding Startup Tasks to Node Projects

If you want to use this startup task in your Node project, follow these steps:

image

  • The last thing you need to do is just include the startup task in your ServiceDefinition.csdef file, located in the root of your Node Azure Service. The Startup section of the file should look like this:
    <Startup>
      <!-- Included by default; installs everything you need to run Node on Azure -->
      <Task commandLine="setup_web.cmd" executionContext="elevated">
        <Environment>
          <Variable name="EMULATED">
            <RoleInstanceValue xpath="/RoleEnvironment/Deployment/@emulated" />
          </Variable>
        </Environment>
      </Task>
      <Task commandLine="setMaxProcessesToAvailableProcessors.cmd" 
        executionContext="elevated">
        <Environment>
          <Variable name="EMULATED">
            <RoleInstanceValue xpath="/RoleEnvironment/Deployment/@emulated" />
          </Variable>
        </Environment>
      </Task>
    </Startup>
    Once all of this is setup, go ahead and deploy your Node service to Azure and it will be able to take advantage of all of the cores on the VMs. The script will dynamically scale with the size of your role instance, so there is no need to alter it.

To verify that the script worked:

  • RDP into one of your Node + Azure instances;
  • Go to IIS Manager from the Windows Menu;
  • Go to Application Pools;
  • Right click on the Application Pool for your Node application and select Advanced Settings – your application pool will be the one that has Applications = 1 on the far right of the table; and lastly
  • Scroll down to Maximum Worker Processes and check the value – in the screenshot below I’m running on a pair of Medium Azure instances, which have two cores each and thus two processes.

image

image

And voila, you’re done.

Let me know if you have any questions!

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Troubleshooting “500 Internal Server Errors” in the Windows Azure Emulator when Working with Node.JS

January 13, 2012 17:12 by Aaronontheweb in Azure, Node // Tags: , , , // Comments (7)

On my primary development machine, where I have tweaked and prodded IIS multiple times for many projects over the past couple of years, I get the following 500 – Internal Server Error message when I try to fire up even the simplest “Hello World” Node.JS project included in the default template for each Windows Azure Node Web Role:

image

However, when I push the default “Hello World” Node.JS app to a production on Windows Azure, I have no issues whatsoever! So what’s the problem?

Cause

The issue is that the Windows Azure emulator:

  • Creates integrated AppPools for your Node roles in IIS (hosted in iisnode), which is intended for ASP.NET applications that take advantage of the HTTP request processing pipeline in IIS 7+ and
  • Runs the AppPools under an administrative process.

Under these settings, Windows thinks that each Node.exe process is trying to access the integrated IIS pipeline (which only .NET applications can do currently) under the process identity of  the Windows Azure emulator (which has administrative rights), which is not supported. This issue comes up with other CGI / non-.NET applications run in IIS besides Node too.

Here are a few ways to fix the problem:

Fix #1: Set Identity.Impersonation=False in <system.web> in your web.config file

In this instance, simply change the web.config file in the root of your Node.JS application directory to set Identity.Impersonation=False, like this:

<system.web>
	<identity impersonate="false"/>
</system.web>

Effectively this makes it such that your Node role doesn’t not assume the identity of the Windows Azure emulator (which runs in a process with administrative rights), so it runs under a local system process identity and no longer raises the error.

Remember that web.cloud.config affects your live settings on Windows Azure; you want to change just web.config which affects only your local settings when you run in the Windows Azure emulator.

Fix #2: Set validateIntegratedModeConfiguration=False in <system.webServer> in your web.config file

Another alternative is to simply tell IIS to suppress the error altogether, which you can do be editing the system.WebServer section of your web.config file:

<system.webServer>
<validation validateIntegratedModeConfiguration="false" />
</system.webServer>

Fix #3: Change the AppPool to Classic Mode

The final and preferred method is to change the AppPool to Classic Mode, which shuts off the application’s access to the integrated IIS processing pipeline regardless of process identity. You can do this via startup task:

%systemroot%\system32\inetsrv\APPCMD.EXE set app "Default Web Site/" /applicationPool:"Classic .NET AppPool"

Although this might be the most kosher method of fixing the issue in IIS, it also happens to be the most awkward to implement on Azure. I’d recommend using approach #1 or #2 instead given that this issue affects the local emulator only.

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Node.JS on Windows Azure Part 1: Setting Up Your Environment

January 9, 2012 19:14 by Aaronontheweb in Azure, Node // Tags: , , , // Comments (1)

Following Microsoft’s announcements regarding first-class Node.JS support on Windows Azure, I thought it would be helpful to walk newbie Node.JS and Windows Azure developers through the process of getting their Node.JS development environment set up, building their first simple Node.JS application, and then learning how to take advantage of popular NPM packages like Express to build actual web applications on Windows Azure.

If you need a primer on how Node.JS works and what Node is useful for, go ahead and check out my post from last week: “Intro to Node.JS for .NET Developers.”

Setting Up Your Node.JS + Windows Azure Environment

First, a big disclaimer: all of the Windows Azure deployment and packaging components require Windows in order to work. You will not be able to deploy your application to Windows Azure without a Windows Vista / 7 box.

That being said, the rest of the setup process is straight forward and all of the tools are free (with the exception of one possible text editor I am going to recommend.)

Step 1 – Install the Node.JS Tools for Windows Azure Tools via Web PI

The first thing you need to do is install the Node.JS tools for Windows Azure via Web Platform Installer – click here to install the tools.

image

This will install:

  • Node.JS for Windows;
  • Node Package Manager (NPM) for Windows; and
  • Windows Azure Powershell for Node.

If you already have a previous version of Node.JS for Windows installed (anything before the latest version, currently v0.6.6), you should uninstall it before running Web PI.

If for whatever reason you need to install Node.JS for Windows manually, you can do it via NodeJS.org.

Once the installation is finished, you should see the following item appear on your Windows bar:

image

Click on it and you’ll see a PowerShell command window fire up – this command window supports a number of Node + Azure-specific commands you can use for creating new roles and services.

image

We’ll get around to playing with PowerShell for Node a little later – next we need to set up your Windows Azure account.

Step 2 – Get a Windows Azure Account

In order to take advantage of Node.JS for Windows Azure you’re going to need to have… a Windows Azure account.

If you’re looking for a way to try Windows Azure for free, I recommend signing up for the three-month Windows Azure free trial.

If you’re in a startup and want access to some longer-term Windows Azure benefits, sign up for BizSpark, activate your BizSpark Windows Azure benefits, and get access to some more substantial Windows Azure benefits.

Step 3 – Install a Text Editor with JavaScript Syntax Highlighting

When you step into the world of Node.JS, you’re no longer in a universe where Visual Studio can really help you. Thus, we need to pick up a text editor to use in our Node.JS development.

I recommend that you pick one of the following:

  • Notepad++ – JavaScript syntax highlighting support, lightweight, simple formatting tools, and has a decent number of plug-ins. Cost: free.
  • Sublime Text – this is the community favorite for doing Node.JS; it’s cross-platform so it works on OS X, Linux, and Windows. Cost: free trial, but $59 for a single seat.

Install one of these two text editors and start playing around with it… You’ll get used to it.

Step 4 – Create Your First Node.JS + Azure Project

Now that you have your development environment all set up, now it’s time to create your first Node.JS on Azure project. The official Node.JS for Windows Azure guide will walk you through a lot of the same steps in more detail if you wish to use that instead.

Inside the PowerShell for Node.JS command window, do the following:

  • Create a directory for saving all of  your Node.JS projects – if you want to use “C:\Repositories\Node\” then you can just type mkdir C:\Repositories\Node inside of PowerShell and it will create the directory for you.
  • Change the current working directory to C:\Repositories\Node – type cd C:\Repositories\Node inside the PowerShell window.
  • Create a new Windows Azure service by typing New-AzureService [projectname] – this will automatically create a new [projectname] subdirectory and set it to the current working directory.
  • Create a new Node.JS Web Role (an Azure role that serves HTTP requests from within IIS) by typing Add-AzureNodeWebRole [rolename] – this will automatically create a set of folders under the [projectname]\[rolename] directory which contain everything you need to run your first Node.JS + Azure project.

Here’s what the output looks like in the command window:

image

Step 5 – Fire Up Your Node.JS Project in the Emulator

Just to make sure that our simple “Hello World” Node.JS project runs properly, we’re going to run it in the emulator before we do anything else with it.

Simply type “Start-AzureEmulator – launch” in the command line, and you’ll see a page like the one below:

image

Step 6 – Download and Import Your Windows Azure Publication Settings

In order to actually publish to Windows Azure, you have to download your .publishSettings file from the Windows Azure portal. Luckily, you can just do this using the Get-AzurePublishSettings command in the PowerShell window.

This will launch a new web browser window to this page on the Windows Azure portal, which will have you login to your Azure account and will then automatically ask you where you want to save your Windows Azure publication settings.

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Save your Windows Azure publication settings to C:\Repositories\Node\[projectname].

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Finally, you just need to import your publication settings in the Node.JS PowerShell Window like this:

Import-AzurePublishSettings C:\Repositories\[projectname]\[file-you-downloaded].publishSettings

You should see a message like this in the command window when the operation succeeds:

image

Step 7 – Publish (and then Take Down) Your “Hello World” Node.JS Project to Windows Azure

The last step before we start diving into Node.JS is getting some experience publishing Node.JS projects to Windows Azure – now that we’ve imported our .publishSettings file we can easily publish our little “Hello World” example directly to the Windows Azure account we set up earlier using the following command in the PowerShell terminal:

Publish-AzureService –name [NewServiceName] –location “North Central US” –launch

This will automatically publish the Windows Azure service in your current working directory (C:\Repositories\Node\[projectname]) to a new hosted service in the North Central United States Azure Data Center called “NewServiceName” with one small instance of the [rolename] Node.JS web role running. The –launch flag will automatically trigger the browser window to open to your service once it finishes deploying.

Here’s what the output window will look like in PowerShell upon a successful deployment:

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And you’ll see this in your browser window once the deployment is complete:

image

If you’re using the Windows Azure free trial or a BizSpark Windows Azure account, you can leave up your Node.JS “Hello World” project if you wish as you’re not going to incur a bill.

However, it’s generally a good practice to take down Windows Azure instances that aren’t doing actual work because in the future you will be billed for the amount of time of the instance is deployed… So to take down an Azure deployment we can either delete it through the Windows Azure management portal or through the following command in the Node.JS PowerShell:

Remove-AzureService

That’s it for this tutorial – the next lesson will show you how to get your hands dirty with the Node Package Manager and Express.JS for doing MVC-style websites in Node!

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Intro to Node.JS for .NET Developers

December 14, 2011 04:51 by Aaronontheweb in Azure, Node // Tags: , , , // Comments (7)

Node.js darkMicrosoft announced out-of-the-box support for Node.JS on Windows Azure on Tuesday; we pushed both an official Node.JS SDK for Windows Azure services (table storage, blob storage, and queues) and some tools for creating and managing Node.JS roles on Windows Azure, both of which are available through the official Windows Azure page on Github.

I’ve been playing around with Node for a short while and have the pleasure of working with some great startups that utilize Node heavily in production, so I wanted an opportunity to explain to my fellow .NET developers why they should be excited about Node support on Azure and how they can put it to work for them.

Node at a Glance

If you want to spend 90 minutes and get a full 100-level understanding of Node, check out The Node Beginner Book. If you’re fine with the footnotes, keep reading.

Node is an asynchronous distributed programming platform built on top of Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine (the same engine used to parse and execute client-side JavaScript inside Chrome.) Node is actually server-side JavaScript, but its syntax and prose are familiar to every web developer to some extent.

Node’s true innovation is its evented + asynchronous I/O model.

var http = require('http');
http.createServer(function (req, res) {
    res.writeHead(200, {'Content-Type': 'text/plain'});
    res.end(myJavascriptObject.getSomeStatusInfo());
}).listen(1337, "127.0.0.1");

The primary method of any Node application runs a single-threaded continuous event loop (the .listen method of the HTTP server), which farms out long-running tasks to worker threads (the anonymous function) which callback the main event loop once they’re finished:

nodejs for dotnet

There are three major advantages to this model:

  • The main event loop uses a single thread to handle multiple concurrent connections, which makes the overhead of Node.JS grow relatively slowly as the number of requests it has to serve increases as there’s no OS thread / process initialization overhead;
  • All long-running tasks (network I/O, data access, etc…) are always executed asynchronously on top of worker threads which return the results via callback to the event loop thread; and
  • JavaScript’s language features (functions as objects, closures, etc…) and Node’s programming model make this type of asynchronous / concurrent programming much easier to utilize – there’s no thread management, no synchronization mechanisms, and no message-passing nonsense. This eliminates a lot of pitfalls that most developers fall into when attempting to develop concurrent applications.

Using Node.JS with .NET

So, you’re a veteran ASP.NET MVC or WCF developer… Why should you be interested in taking a look at Node?

First, Node is fully supported in environments .NET developers are familiar with. Node runs on Windows; Node can be run as a managed module inside of IIS; and Node can now run on Windows Azure. There’s even a NPM package for having Node.JS interop with SQL Server.

Second, Node does a great job tackling vertical issues like real-time notifications, web sockets, and other scenarios that aren’t easily addressed through existing .NET technologies (although SignalR is pretty cool.)

Node isn’t a replacement for everything – frankly, it’s not a great solution for heavy web + database CRUD applications or for serving static content.

Here are some scenarios that I like for Node:

  • Handling multiple concurrent connections (web sockets, handling events from real-time messaging systems [ZeroMQ / Azure Service Bus], anything with socket programming…)
  • High-volume, small response-size systems – think of a real-time logging system where you have to write millions of messages an hour and only send small ACK response objects back to the caller – Node.JS is perfectly suited to handle this;
  • Real-time Pub/Sub systems – if you have an application that is heavy on notifications and needs to do it in real-time, Node is a great choice given its penchant for getting in and out of requests quickly.

Need a pragmatic example?

Take a close look at Socket.IO, arguably the best solution for working with web sockets and long-polling available on any platform.

If you have an application where real-time notifications are important like a messaging application or a social game, then running Socket.IO alongside IIS on your boxes gives you a significantly simplified solution both on the client (the Socket.IO client is backwards compatible all the way to IE5.5) and the server for handling socket connections and routing, and it takes a minimal amount of resource overhead to do it.

I’m going to be doing some more work around Node.JS and Azure in the New Year, so if you have any questions or comments please feel free to hit me up in the comments here.

Want to get started with Node.JS and Windows Azure?

If you want to try out Node.JS on Azure, sign up for the Windows Azure free trial and install the Node.JS Azure SDK via Web Platform Installer.

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About

My name is Aaron, I'm an entrepreneur and a .NET developer who develops web, cloud, and mobile applications.

I left Microsoft recently to start my own company, MarkedUp - we provide analytics for desktop developers, focusing initially on Windows 8 developers.

You can find me on Twitter or on Github!

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