Maarten Balliauw {blog}

Web development, NuGet, Microsoft Azure, PHP, ...


(Almost) time for something new...

September 1st, 2005. Fresh from school, I got the opportunity to start at RealDolmen (Dolmen, back then). Not just a “welcome, here’s your customer, cya!”-start, but a start where my fresh colleagues and I got a 4 months deep dive from people in the industry. Entirely different from what school taught me, focused “on the job”. 4 months later, I started at my first customer, then the second, third, a project developed in-house, did some TFS customizations, some Windows Azure, …

During these past 7 years, I actually have never looked at a different job. Not once. Call me naïve, but I actually very much liked working at RealDolmen. Of course from time to time a project wasn’t as pleasant as you wanted it to be, but not everything can be rosy all the time, right? I’ve had a lot of opportunities (“Hey, would you mind diving in this Windows Azure thing?” – “Hey, public speaking, is that something you want to do?” – “Writing a book? Cool idea!”), all thanks to an awesome group of managers who really value personal growth in a direction you value yourself, not a direction which the company would value. I wasn’t planning on going away.

Until Hadi Hariri, who I met 4 years ago drinking wodka and beer water on one of those public speaking opportunities, asked me if I would like to join JetBrains as a technical evangelist. I found this a tough question. It was something I had in the back of my mind as “job I would love to do”, but I liked what I was doing at RealDolmen and all the opportunities that I’ve been able to jump on during the past years. I would even dare to say that this new opportunity at JetBrains is part the result of opportunities at RealDolmen in the past. RealDolmen is a great company to work with and I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to go back.

Back to the question. It made my mind go in overdrive. Weighing pro’s and con’s, both at the job level as well as at a practical level (from a local company to an international company, from consultancy to evangelism, from some travel to a lot of travel, …). It meant considering leaving a company which felt (and still feels) like home behind, with colleagues I’ve come to consider friends. After a lot of pondering, I decided that taking this plunge would be the next step. Leaving behind these 7 years still causes mixed feelings. On the other hand an opportunity that checks of a box on your bucket list is one you can’t ignore. Hence…

I’m leaving RealDolmen. I will start working for JetBrains as a technical evangelist starting December 10, 2012.

I’m both excited and nervous about this change as it’s different from what I’ve been doing until now. For starters: my Twitter stream will contain less complaining about traffic. Why? Because my office is where my Internet connection is. At home, at my parents, while traveling, when parked near your house with an open WiFi, …

And then, of course the job itself. Going from “technical consultant”, doing mainly the deep-tech parts in the architectural and project starting phase, I’m now going to “technical evangelist”, sharing technology and knowledge about .NET and PHP with others through various platforms. I’ll be gathering product feedback, doing tutorials, demo, screencasts and a lot of conferences, interacting with the community. I’ve been doing some of these as a “side job” (thank you, RealDolmen, for being able to do all this in the past!) but now it’ll become my main job. Something very, very appealing.

Does this mean I’ll no longer be involved with the Belgian or international community? On the contrary! I’m planning to keep doing the things I do today on Windows Azure and ASP.NET-related technologies and have a chance to renew my focus on PHP as well. They are at the heart of my interest and I’ll keep them there.

So in short… I’m leaving RealDolmen with mixed emotions, changing a great partnership. Thank you for these past 7 years. And let’s go for at least 7 years at JetBrains. I’m confident that this will be a great partnership as well.

From API key to user with ASP.NET Web API

ASP.NET Web API is a great tool to build an API with. Or as my buddy Kristof Rennen (and the French) always say: “it makes you ‘api”. One of the things I like a lot is the fact that you can do very powerful things that you know and love from the ASP.NET MVC stack, like, for example, using filter attributes. Action filters, result filters and… authorization filters.

Say you wanted to protect your API and make use of the controller’s User property to return user-specific information. You probably will add an [Authorize] attribute (to ensure the user is authenticated) to either the entire API controller or to one of its action methods, like this:

[Authorize] public class SuperSecretController : ApiController { public string Get() { return string.Format("Hello, {0}", User.Identity.Name); } }

Great! But… How will your application know who’s calling? Forms authentication doesn’t really make sense for a lot of API’s. Configuring IIS and switching to Windows authentication or basic authentication may be an option. But not every ASP.NET Web API will live in IIS, right? And maybe you want to use some other form of authentication for your API, for example one that uses a custom HTTP header containing an API key? Let’s see how you can do that…

Our API authentication? An API key

API keys may make sense for your API. They provide an easy means of authenticating your API consumers based on a simple token that is passed around in a custom header. OAuth2 may make sense as well, but even that one boils down to a custom Authorization header at the HTTP level. (hint: the approach outlined in this post can be used for OAuth2 tokens as well)

Let’s build our API and require every API consumer to pass in a custom header, named “X-ApiKey”. Calls to our API will look like this:

GET http://localhost:60573/api/v1/SuperSecret HTTP/1.1 Host: localhost:60573 X-ApiKey: 12345

In our SuperSecretController above, we want to make sure that we’re working with a traditional IPrincipal which we can query for username, roles and possibly even claims if needed. How do we get that identity there?

Translating the API key using a DelegatingHandler

The title already gives you a pointer. We want to add a plugin into ASP.NET Web API’s pipeline which replaces the current thread’s IPrincipal with one that is mapped from the incoming API key. That plugin will come in the form of a DelegatingHandler, a class that’s plugged in really early in the ASP.NET Web API pipeline. I’m not going to elaborate on what DelegatingHandler does and where it fits, there’s a perfect post on that to be found here.

Our handler, which I’ll call AuthorizationHeaderHandler will be inheriting ASP.NET Web API’s DelegatingHandler. The method we’re interested in is SendAsync, which will be called on every request into our API.

public class AuthorizationHeaderHandler : DelegatingHandler { protected override Task<HttpResponseMessage> SendAsync( HttpRequestMessage request, CancellationToken cancellationToken) { // ... } }

This method offers access to the HttpRequestMessage, which contains everything you’ll probably be needing such as… HTTP headers! Let’s read out our X-ApiKey header, convert it to a ClaimsIdentity (so we can add additional claims if needed) and assign it to the current thread:

public class AuthorizationHeaderHandler : DelegatingHandler { protected override Task<HttpResponseMessage> SendAsync( HttpRequestMessage request, CancellationToken cancellationToken) { IEnumerable<string> apiKeyHeaderValues = null; if (request.Headers.TryGetValues("X-ApiKey", out apiKeyHeaderValues)) { var apiKeyHeaderValue = apiKeyHeaderValues.First(); // ... your authentication logic here ... var username = (apiKeyHeaderValue == "12345" ? "Maarten" : "OtherUser"); var usernameClaim = new Claim(ClaimTypes.Name, username); var identity = new ClaimsIdentity(new[] {usernameClaim}, "ApiKey"); var principal = new ClaimsPrincipal(identity); Thread.CurrentPrincipal = principal; } return base.SendAsync(request, cancellationToken); } }

Easy, no? The only thing left to do is registering this handler in the pipeline during your application’s start:

GlobalConfiguration.Configuration.MessageHandlers.Add(new AuthorizationHeaderHandler());

From now on, any request coming in with the X-ApiKey header will be translated into an IPrincipal which you can easily use throughout your web API. Enjoy!

PS: if you’re looking into OAuth2, I’ve used a similar approach in  “ASP.NET Web API OAuth2 delegation with Windows Azure Access Control Service” to handle OAuth2 tokens.

What PartitionKey and RowKey are for in Windows Azure Table Storage

For the past few months, I’ve been coaching a “Microsoft Student Partner” (who has a great blog on Kinect for Windows by the way!) on Windows Azure. One of the questions he recently had was around PartitionKey and RowKey in Windows Azure Table Storage. What are these for? Do I have to specify them manually? Let’s explain…

Windows Azure storage partitions

All Windows Azure storage abstractions (Blob, Table, Queue) are built upon the same stack (whitepaper here). While there’s much more to tell about it, the reason why it scales is because of its partitioning logic. Whenever you store something on Windows Azure storage, it is located on some partition in the system. Partitions are used for scale out in the system. Imagine that there’s only 3 physical machines that are used for storing data in Windows Azure storage:

Windows Azure Storage partition

Based on the size and load of a partition, partitions are fanned out across these machines. Whenever a partition gets a high load or grows in size, the Windows Azure storage management can kick in and move a partition to another machine:

Windows Azure storage partition

By doing this, Windows Azure can ensure a high throughput as well as its storage guarantees. If a partition gets busy, it’s moved to a server which can support the higher load. If it gets large, it’s moved to a location where there’s enough disk space available.

Partitions are different for every storage mechanism:

  • In blob storage, each blob is in a separate partition. This means that every blob can get the maximal throughput guaranteed by the system.
  • In queues, every queue is a separate partition.
  • In tables, it’s different: you decide how data is co-located in the system.

PartitionKey in Table Storage

In Table Storage, you have to decide on the PartitionKey yourself. In essence, you are responsible for the throughput you’ll get on your system. If you put every entity in the same partition (by using the same partition key), you’ll be limited to the size of the storage machines for the amount of storage you can use. Plus, you’ll be constraining the maximal throughput as there’s lots of entities in the same partition.

Should you set the PartitionKey to the same value for every entity stored? No. You’ll end up with scaling issues at some point.
Should you set the PartitionKey to a unique value for every entity stored? No. You can do this and every entity stored will end up in its own partition, but you’ll find that querying your data becomes more difficult. And that’s where our next concept kicks in…

RowKey in Table Storage

A RowKey in Table Storage is a very simple thing: it’s your “primary key” within a partition. PartitionKey + RowKey form the composite unique identifier for an entity. Within one PartitionKey, you can only have unique RowKeys. If you use multiple partitions, the same RowKey can be reused in every partition.

So in essence, a RowKey is just the identifier of an entity within a partition.

PartitionKey and RowKey and performance

Before building your code, it’s a good idea to think about both properties. Don’t just assign them a guid or a random string as it does matter for performance.

The fastest way of querying? Specifying both PartitionKey and RowKey. By doing this, table storage will immediately know which partition to query and can simply do an ID lookup on RowKey within that partition.

Less fast but still fast enough will be querying by specifying PartitionKey: table storage will know which partition to query.

Less fast: querying on only RowKey. Doing this will give table storage no pointer on which partition to search in, resulting in a query that possibly spans multiple partitions, possibly multiple storage nodes as well. Wihtin a partition, searching on RowKey is still pretty fast as it’s a unique index.

Slow: searching on other properties (again, spans multiple partitions and properties).

Note that Windows Azure storage may decide to group partitions in so-called "Range partitions" - see

In order to improve query performance, think about your PartitionKey and RowKey upfront, as they are the fast way into your datasets.

Deciding on PartitionKey and RowKey

Here’s an exercise: say you want to store customers, orders and orderlines. What will you choose as the PartitionKey (PK) / RowKey (RK)?

Let’s use three tables: Customer, Order and Orderline.

An ideal setup may be this one, depending on how you want to query everything:

Customer (PK: sales region, RK: customer id) – it enables fast searches on region and on customer id
Order (PK: customer id, RK; order id) – it allows me to quickly fetch all orders for a specific customer (as they are colocated in one partition), it still allows fast querying on a specific order id as well)
Orderline (PK: order id, RK: order line id) – allows fast querying on both order id as well as order line id.

Of course, depending on the system you are building, the following may be a better setup:

Customer (PK: customer id, RK: display name) – it enables fast searches on customer id and display name
Order (PK: customer id, RK; order id) – it allows me to quickly fetch all orders for a specific customer (as they are colocated in one partition), it still allows fast querying on a specific order id as well)
Orderline (PK: order id, RK: item id) – allows fast querying on both order id as well as the item bought, of course given that one order can only contain one order line for a specific item (PK + RK should be unique)

You see? Choose them wisely, depending on your queries. And maybe an important sidenote: don’t be afraid of denormalizing your data and storing data twice in a different format, supporting more query variations.

There’s one additional “index”

That’s right! People have been asking Microsoft for a secondary index. And it’s already there… The table name itself! Take our customer – order – orderline sample again…

Having a Customer table containing all customers may be interesting to search within that data. But having an Orders table containing every order for every customer may not be the ideal solution. Maybe you want to create an order table per customer? Doing that, you can easily query the order id (it’s the table name) and within the order table, you can have more detail in PK and RK.

And there's one more: your account name. Split data over multiple storage accounts and you have yet another "partition".


In conclusion? Choose PartitionKey and RowKey wisely. The more meaningful to your application or business domain, the faster querying will be and the more efficient table storage will work in the long run.

MyGet Build Services - Join the private beta!

Good news! Over the past 4 weeks we’ve been sending out tweets about our secret project MyGet project “wonka”. Today is the day Wonka shows his great stuff to the world… In short: MyGet Build Services enable you to add packages to your feed by just giving us your GitHub repo. We build it, we package it, we publish it.

Our build server searches for a file called MyGet.sln and builds that. No probem if it's not there: we'll try and build other projects then. We'll run unit tests (NUnit, XUnit, MSTest and some more) and fail when those fail. We'll search for packages generated by your solution and if none are generated, we take a wild guess and create them for you.

To make it more visual, here are some screenshots. First, you have to add a build source, for example a GitHub repository (in fact, GitHub is all we currently support):

MyGet Add build source

After that, you simply click “Build”. A couple of seconds or minutes later, your fresh package is available on your feed:

MyGet build package

MyGet package result

If you want to see what happened, the build log is available for review as well:

MyGet build log

Enroll now!

Starting today, you can enroll for our private beta. You’ll get on a waiting list and as we improve build capacity, you will be granted access to the beta. If you’re in, tell us how it behaves. What works, what doesn’t, what would you like to see improved. Enroll for this private beta now via Limited seats!

Do note it’s still a beta, and as Willy Wonka would say… “Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous.”

Happy packaging!

Get your Windows 8 up to speed fast

With the release of Windows 8 on MSDN yesterday, I have a gut feeling that today, around the globe, people are installing this fresh operating system on their machine. I’ve done so too and I wanted to share with your two tools: one that helped me get up to speed fast, one that will help me up to speed even faster the next time I want to reset my PC.


One of the best things created for Windows, ever, is Chocolatey. If you are familiar with Ninite, you will find that both serve the same purpose, however Chocolatey is more developer focused.

Chocolatey provides a catalog of software packages like Notepad++, ReSharper, Paint.Net and a whole lot more. After installing Chocolatey, all you have to do to install such a package is invoke, from the command line, “cinst <package>”. The keyword command line is pretty important: what if you could just create a batch file containing all packages you need, like I did here?

Batch files are great, but even easier is creating a custom Chocolatey feed on (create a feed, go to package sources, add Chocolatey): you can simply add whatever you need on a fresh system to this feed and whenever you want to install every package from your custom feed, like I did yesterday evening, you invoke

cinst All -source ""

and go to bed. In the morning, everything is on your PC.

Windows 8 - Reset Your PC

There’s a new feature in Windows 8 called “Refresh/reset Your PC”. What it does is revert to a certain baseline whenever you feel the need of a format C: coming up. This baseline, by default, is a fresh install. Now what if you could just set your own baseline and revert back to that one next time you need a reinstall? The good news: you can do this!

  • Configure your PC at will
  • From an elevated command prompt, issue:
    mkdir C:\SoFreshThatItSmellsGreat
    recimg -CreateImage C:\SoFreshThatItSmellsGreat


ASP.NET Web API OAuth2 delegation with Windows Azure Access Control Service

OAuth 2 Windows AzureIf you are familiar with OAuth2’s protocol flow, you know there’s a lot of things you should implement if you want to protect your ASP.NET Web API using OAuth2. To refresh your mind, here’s what’s required (at least):

  • OAuth authorization server
  • Keep track of consuming applications
  • Keep track of user consent (yes, I allow application X to act on my behalf)
  • OAuth token expiration & refresh token handling
  • Oh, and your API

That’s a lot to build there. Wouldn’t it be great to outsource part of that list to a third party? A little-known feature of the Windows Azure Access Control Service is that you can use it to keep track of applications, user consent and token expiration & refresh token handling. That leaves you with implementing:

  • OAuth authorization server
  • Your API

Let’s do it!

On a side note: I’m aware of the road-to-hell post released last week on OAuth2. I still think that whoever offers OAuth2 should be responsible enough to implement the protocol in a secure fashion. The protocol gives you the options to do so, and, as with regular web page logins, you as the implementer should think about security.

Building a simple API

I’ve been doing some demos lately using, a sample application (sources here) which enables hobby beer brewers to keep track of their recipes and current brews. There are a lot of applications out there that may benefit from being able to consume my recipes. I love the smell of a fresh API in the morning!

Here’s an API which would enable access to my BrewBuddy recipes:

1 [Authorize] 2 public class RecipesController 3 : ApiController 4 { 5 protected IRecipeService RecipeService { get; private set; } 6 7 public RecipesController(IRecipeService recipeService) 8 { 9 RecipeService = recipeService; 10 } 11 12 public IQueryable<RecipeViewModel> Get() 13 { 14 var recipes = RecipeService.GetRecipes(User.Identity.Name); 15 var model = AutoMapper.Mapper.Map(recipes, new List<RecipeViewModel>()); 16 17 return model.AsQueryable(); 18 } 19 }

Nothing special, right? We’re just querying our RecipeService for the current user’s recipes. And the current user should be logged in as specified using the [Authorize] attribute.  Wait a minute! The current user?

I’ve built this API on the standard ASP.NET Web API features such as the [Authorize] attribute and the expectation that the User.Identity.Name property is populated. The reason for that is simple: my API requires a user and should not care how that user is populated. If someone wants to consume my API by authenticating over Forms authentication, fine by me. If someone configures IIS to use Windows authentication or even hacks in basic authentication, fine by me. My API shouldn’t care about that.

OAuth2 is a different state of mind

OAuth2 adds a layer of complexity. Mental complexity that is. Your API consumer is not your end user. Your API consumer is acting on behalf of your end user. That’s a huge difference! Here’s what really happens:

OAuth2 protocol flow

The end user loads a consuming application (a mobile app or a web app that doesn’t really matter). That application requests a token from an authorization server trusted by your application. The user has to login, and usually accept the fact that the app can perform actions on the user’s behalf (think of Twitter’s “Allow/Deny” screen). If successful, the authorization server returns a code to the app which the app can then exchange for an access token containing the user’s username and potentially other claims.

Now remember what we started this post with? We want to get rid of part of the OAuth2 implementation. We don’t want to be bothered by too much of this. Let’s try to accomplish the following:

OAuth2 protocol flow with Windows Azure

Let’s introduce you to…


“That looks like an assembly name. Heck, even like a NuGet package identifier!” You’re right about that. I’ve done a lot of the integration work for you (sources / NuGet package).

WindowsAzure.Acs.Oauth2 is currently in alpha status, so you’ll will have to register this package in your ASP.NET MVC Web API project using the package manager console, issuing the following command:

Install-Package WindowsAzure.Acs.Oauth2 -IncludePrerelease

This command will bring some dependencies to your project and installs the following source files:

  • App_Start/AppStart_OAuth2API.cs - Makes sure that OAuth2-signed SWT tokens are transformed into a ClaimsIdentity for use in your API. Remember where I used User.Identity.Name in my API? Populating that is performed by this guy.

  • Controllers/AuthorizeController.cs - A standard authorization server implementation which is configured by the Web.config settings. You can override certain methods here, for example if you want to show additional application information on the consent page.

  • Views/Shared/_AuthorizationServer.cshtml - A default consent page. This can be customized at will.

Next to these files, the following entries are added to your Web.config file:

1 <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?> 2 <configuration> 3 <appSettings> 4 <add key="WindowsAzure.OAuth.SwtSigningKey" value="[your 256-bit symmetric key configured in the ACS]" /> 5 <add key="WindowsAzure.OAuth.RelyingPartyName" value="[your relying party name configured in the ACS]" /> 6 <add key="WindowsAzure.OAuth.RelyingPartyRealm" value="[your relying party realm configured in the ACS]" /> 7 <add key="WindowsAzure.OAuth.ServiceNamespace" value="[your ACS service namespace]" /> 8 <add key="WindowsAzure.OAuth.ServiceNamespaceManagementUserName" value="ManagementClient" /> 9 <add key="WindowsAzure.OAuth.ServiceNamespaceManagementUserKey" value="[your ACS service management key]" /> 10 </appSettings> 11 </configuration>

These settings should be configured based on the Windows Azure Access Control settings. Details on this can be found on the Github page.

Consuming the API

After populating Windows Azure Access Control Service with a client_id and client_secret for my consuming app (which you can do using the excellent FluentACS package or manually, as shown in the following screenshot), you’re good to go.

ACS OAuth2 Service Identity

The WindowsAzure.Acs.Oauth2 package adds additional functionality to your application: it provides your ASP.NET Web API with the current user’s details (after a successful OAuth2 authorization flow took place) and it adds a controller and view to your app which provides a simple consent page (that can be customized):


After granting access, WindowsAzure.Acs.Oauth2 will store the choice of the user in Windows Azure ACS and redirect you back to the application. From there on, the application can ask Windows Azure ACS for an access token and refresh the access token once it expires. Without your application having to interfere with that process ever again. WindowsAzure.Acs.Oauth2 transforms the incoming OAuth2 token into a ClaimsIdentity which your API can use to determine which user is accessing your API. Focus on your API, not on OAuth.


Hands-on Windows Azure Services for Windows

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft announced their Windows Azure Services for Windows Server. If you’ve ever heard about the Windows Azure Appliance (which is vaporware imho :-)), you’ll be interested to see that the Windows Azure Services for Windows Server are in fact bringing the Windows Azure Services to your datacenter. It’s still a Technical Preview, but I took the plunge and installed this on a bunch of virtual machines I had lying around. In this post, I’ll share you with some impressions, ideas, pains and speculations.

Why would you run Windows Azure Services in your own datacenter? Why not! You will make your developers happy because they have access to all services they are getting to know and getting to love. You’ll be able to provide self-service access to SQL Server, MySQL, shared hosting and virtual machines. You decide on the quota. And if you’re a server hugger like a lot of companies in Belgium: you can keep hugging your servers. I’ll elaborate more on the “why?” further in this blog post.

Note: Currently only SQL Server, MySQL, Web Sites and Virtual Machines are supported in Windows Azure Services for Windows Server. Not storage, not ACS, not Service Bus, not...

You can sign up for my “I read your blog plan” at and create your SQL Server databases on the fly! (I’ll keep this running for a couple of days, if it’s offline you’re too late). It's down.

My setup

Since I did not have enough capacity to run enough virtual machines (you need at least four!) on my machine, I decided to deploy the Windows Azure Services for Windows Server on a series of virtual machines in Windows Azure’s IaaS offering.

You will need servers for the following roles:

  • Controller node (the management portal your users will be using)
  • SQL Server (can be hosted on the controller node)
  • Storage server (can be on the cntroller node as well)

If you want to host Windows Azure Websites (shared hosting):

  • At least one load balancer node (will route HTTP(S) traffic to a frontend node)
  • At least one frontend node (will host web sites, more frontends = more websites / redundancy)
  • At least one publisher node (will serve FTP and Webdeploy)

If you want to host Virtual Machines:

  • A System Center 2012 SP1 CTP2 node (managing VM’s)
  • At least one Hyper-V server (running VM’s)

Being a true ITPro (forgot the <irony /> element there…), I decided I did not want to host those virtual machines on the public Internet. Instead, I created a Windows Azure Virtual Network. Knowing CIDR notation (<irony />), I quickly crafted the BalliauwCloud virtual network:

So a private network… Then again: I wanted to be able to access some of the resources hosted in my cloud on the Internet, so I decided to open up some ports in Windows Azure’s load balancer and firewall so that my users could use the SQL Sever both internally ( and externally ( Same with high-density shared hosting in the form of Windows Azure Websites by the way.

Being a Visio pro (no <irony /> there!), here’s the schematical overview of what I setup:

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server - Virtual Network

Nice, huh? Even nicer is my to-be diagram where I also link crating Hyper-V machines to this portal (not there yet…):

Virtual machines

My setup experience

I found the detailed step-by-step installation guide and completed the installation as described. Not a great success! The Windows Azure Websites feature requires a file share and I forgot to open up a firewall port for that. The result? A failed setup. I restarted setup and ended with 500 Internal Server Terror a couple of times. Help!

Being a Technical Preview product, there is no support for cleaning / restarting a failed setup. Luckily, someone hooked me up with the team at Microsoft who built this and thanks to Andrew (thanks, Andrew!), I was able to continue my setup.

If everything works out for your setup: enjoy! If not, here’s some troubleshooting tips:

Keep an eye on the C:\inetpub\MgmtSvc-ConfigSite\trace.txt  log file. It holds valuable information, as well as the event log (Applications and Services Log > Microsoft > Windows > Antares).

If you’re also experiencing issues and want to retry installation, here are the steps to clean your installation:

  1. On the controller node: stop services:
    net stop w3svc
    net stop WebFarmService
    net stop ResourceMetering
    net stop QuotaEnforcement
  2. In IIS Manager (inetmgr), clean up the Hosting Administration REST API service. Under site MgmtSvc-WebSites:
    - Remove IIS application HostingAdministration (just the app, NOT the site itself)
    - Remove physical files: C:\inetpub\MgmtSvc-WebSites\HostingAdministration
  3. Drop databases, and logins by running the SQL script: C:\inetpub\MgmtSvc-ConfigSite\Drop-MgmtSvcDatabases.sql
  4. (Optional, but helped in my case) Repair permissions
    PowerShell.exe -c "Add-PSSnapin WebHostingSnapin ; Set-ReadAccessToAsymmetricKeys IIS_IUSRS"
  5. Clean up registry keys by deleting the three folders under the following registry key (NOT the key itself, just the child folders):
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\IIS Extensions\Web Hosting Framework

    Delete these folders: HostingAdmin, Metering, Security
  6. Restart IIS
    net start w3svc
  7. Re-run the installation with https://localhost:30101/


After installation comes configuration. Configuration depends on the services you want to offer. I’m greedy so I wanted to provide them all. First, I registered my SQL Server and told the Windows Azure Services for Windows Server management portal that I have about 80 GB to spare for hosting my user’s databases. I did the same with MySQL (setup is similar):

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server SQL Server

You can add more SQL Servers and even define groups. For example, if you have a SQL Server which can be used for development purposes, add that one. If you have a high-end, failover setup for production, you can add that as a separate group so that only designated users can create databases on that SQL Server cluster of yours.

For Windows Azure Web Sites, I deployed one node of every role that was required:

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server Web Sites

What I liked in this setup is that if I want to add one of these roles, the only thing required is a fresh Windows Server 2008 R2 or 2012. No need to configure the machine: the Windows Azure Services for Windows Server management portal does that for me. All I have to do as an administrator in order to grow my pool of shared resources is spin up a machine and enter the IP address. Windows Azure Services for Windows Server management portal  takes care of the installation, linking, etc.

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server - Adding a role

The final step in offering services to my users is creating at least one plan they can subscribe to. Plans define the services provided as well as the quota on these services. Here’s an example quota configuration for SQL Server in my “Cloud Basics” plan:

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server Manage plans

Plans can be private (you assign them to a user) or public (users can self-subscribe, optionally only when they have a specific access code).

End-user experience

As an end user, I can have a plan. Either I enroll myself or an administrator enrolls me. You can sign up for my “I read your blog plan” at and create your SQL Server databases on the fly! (I’ll keep this running for a couple of days, if it’s offline you’re too late).

Sign up for Windows Azure Services for Windows Server

Side note: as an administrator, you can modify this page. It’s a bunch of ASP.NET MVC .cshtml files located under C:\inetpub\MgmtSvc-TenantSite\Views.

After signing in, you’ll be given access to a portal which resembles Windows Azure’s portal. You’ll have an at-a-glance look at all services you are using and can optionally just delete your account. Here’s the initial portal:

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server customer portal

You’ll be able to manage services yourself, for example create a new SQL Server database:

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server create database

After creating a database, you can see the connection information from within the portal:

Windows Azure Services for Windows Server connection string

Just imagine you could create databases on-the-fly, whenever you need them, in your internal infrastructure. Without an administrator having to interfere. Without creating a support ticket or a formal request…


I’m not sure if I’m supposed to disclose this information, but… The following paragraphs are based on what I can see in the installation of my “private cloud” using Windows Azure Services for Windows Server.

  • I have a suspicion that the public cloud services can enter in Windows Azure Services for Windows Server. The SQL Server database for this management portal contains various additional tables, such as a table in which SQL Azure servers can be added to a pool linked to a plan. My guess is that you’ll be able to spread users and plans between public cloud (maybe your cheap test databases can go there) and private cloud (production applications run on a SQL Server cluster in your basement).
  • The management portals are clearly build with extensibility in mind. Yes, I’ve cracked open some assemblies using ILSpy, yes I’ve opened some of the XML configuration files in there. I expect the recently announced Service Bus for Windows Server to pop up in this product as well. And who knows, maybe a nice SDK to create your own services embedded in this portal so that users can create mailboxes as they please. Or link to a VMWare cloud, I know they have management API’s.


I’ve opened this post with a “Why?”, let’s end it with that question. Why would you want to use this? The product was announced on Microsoft’s hosting subsite, but the product name (Windows Azure Services for Windows Server) and my experience with it so far makes me tend to think that this product is a fit for any enterprise!

You will make your developers happy because they have access to all services they are getting to know and getting to love. You’ll be able to provide self-service access to SQL Server, MySQL, shared hosting and virtual machines. You decide on the quota. You manage this. The only thing you don’t have to manage is the actual provisioning of services: users can use the self-service possibilities in Windows Azure Services for Windows Server.

Want your departments to be able to quickly setup a Wordpress or Drupal site? No problem: using Web Sites, they are up and running. And depending on the front-end role you assign them, you can even put them on internet, intranet or both. (note: this is possible throug some Powershell scripting, by default it's just one pool of servers there)

The fact that there is support for server groups (say, development servers and high-end SQL Server clusters or 8-core IIS machines running your web applications) makes it easy for administrators to grant access to specific resources while some other resources are reserved for production applications. And I suspect this will extend to the public cloud making it possible to go hybrid if you wish. Some services out there, some in your basement.

I’m keeping an eye on this one.

Note: You can sign up for my “I read your blog plan” at and create your SQL Server databases on the fly! (I’ll keep this running for a couple of days, if it’s offline you’re too late). It's down.

Tweaking Windows Azure Web Sites

A while ago, I was at a customer who wanted to run his own WebDAV server (using on Windows Azure Web Sites. After some testing, it seemed that this PHP-based WebDAV server was missing some configuration at the webserver level. Some HTTP keywords required for the WebDAV protocol were not mapped to the PHP runtime making it virtually impossible to run a custom WebDAV implementation on PHP. Unless there’s some configuration possible…

I’ve issued a simple phpinfo(); on Windows Azure Websites, simply outputting the PHP configuration and all available environment variables in Windows Azure Websites. This revealed the following interesting environment variable:

Windows Azure Web Sites web.config

Aha! That’s an interesting one! It’s basically the configuration of the IIS web server you are running. It contains which configuration sections can be overridden using your own Web.config file and which ones can not. I’ve read the file (it seems you have access to this path) and have placed the output of it here: applicationhost.config (70.04 kb). There’s also a file called rootweb.config: rootweb.config (36.66 kb)

Overridable configuration parameters

For mere humans not interested in reading through the entire applicationhost.config and rootweb.config here’s what you can override in your own Web.config. Small disclaimer: these are implementation details and may be subject to change. I’m not Microsoft so I can not predict if this will all continue to work. Use your common sense.

Configuration parameter Can be overriden in Web.config?
system.webServer.caching Yes
system.webServer.defaultDocument Yes
system.webServer.directoryBrowse Yes
system.webServer.httpErrors Yes
system.webServer.httpProtocol Yes
system.webServer.httpRedirect Yes Yes Yes
system.webServer.staticContent Yes
system.webServer.tracing.traceFailedRequests Yes
system.webServer.urlCompression Yes
system.webServer.validation Yes
system.webServer.rewrite.rules Yes
system.webServer.rewrite.outboundRules Yes
system.webServer.rewrite.providers Yes
system.webServer.rewrite.rewriteMaps Yes
system.webServer.externalCache.diskCache Yes
system.webServer.handlers Yes, but some are locked
system.webServer.modules Yes, but some are locked

All others are probably not possible.

Project Kudu

There are some interesting things in the applicationhost.config (70.04 kb). Of course, you decide what’s interesting so read for yourself. Here’s what I found interesting: project Kudu is in there! Project Kudu? Yes, the open-source engine behind Windows Azure Web Sites (which implies that you can in fact host your own Windows Azure Web Sites-like service).

If you look at the architectural details, here’s an interesting statement:

The Kudu site runs in the same sandbox as the real site. This has some important implications.

First, the Kudu site cannot do anything that the site itself wouldn't be able to do itself. (…) But being in the same sandbox as the site, the only thing it can harm is the site itself.

Furthermore, the Kudu site shares the same quotas as the site. That is, the CPU/RAM/Disk used by the Kudu service is counted toward the site's quota. (…)

So to summarize, the Kudu services completely relies on the security model of the Azure Web Site runtime, which keeps it both simple and secure.

Proof can be found in applicationhost.config. If you look at the <sites /> definition, you’ll see two sites are defined. Your site, and a companion site named ~1yoursitename. The first one, of course, runs your site. The latter runs project Kudu which allows you to git push and use webdeploy.

In rootweb.config (36.66 kb), you’ll find the loadbalanced nature of Windows Azure Web Sites. A machine key is defined there which will be the same for all your web sites instances, allowing you to share session state, forms authentication cookies etc.

My PHP HTTP verbs override

To fix the PHP HTTP verb mapping, here’s the Web.config I’ve used at the customer, simply removing and re-adding the PHP handler:

1 <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> 2 <configuration> 3 <system.webServer> 4 <handlers> 5 <remove name="PHP53_via_FastCGI" /> 6 <add name="PHP53_via_FastCGI" path="*.php" 7 verb="GET, PUT, POST, HEAD, OPTIONS, TRACE, PROPFIND, PROPPATCH, MKCOL, COPY, MOVE, LOCK, UNLOCK" modules="FastCgiModule" scriptProcessor="D:\Program Files (x86)\PHP\v5.3\php-cgi.exe" 8 resourceType="Either" requireAccess="Script" /> 9 </handlers> 10 </system.webServer> 11 </configuration>


Community guidelines to stay out of the busy trap

For the past few days, an interesting blog post on the NY Times has been popping up in my Twitter timeline. In your as well, probably, since almost everyone I know has retweeted it a couple of times. Which blog post? The one about the so-called “busy trap”.

The idea is simple: we’re all caught in the busy trap. Everyone feels busy, runs their life and activities at 200%. Here’s a great summary from the blog post:

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do. – From

Everyone I know from the Belgian IT community is in this trap. I’m in there. My wife is in there. My boss probably is, too. We’re all too busy to realize this. We’re used to it, and it’s really easy to say “yes” to things because those things nag you and you just want to get them over with. And the easy way often is not saying “no way!”, it’s often just doing it. Reinforcing that same busy trap.

Lately, some people I know quit their 16-hours-per-day-consultancy-job and switched to a nine-to-five closer to home to gain time for themselves. Another one is maxed out and on the verge of cracking and relying on social security for a couple of weeks, if not months (if you are this person or you know him, have a break and get well soon buddy!). I find myself in this busy trap too, but I usually manage to balance it pretty well. There are of course periods in the year where the balance flips over to busy, but I have established a few ground rules that I agreed on with my wife and family.

  • During the week, I’m owned by the community (and work, that too). That does not mean I will be out every night to some event (our Belgian community has interesting sessions almost daily). It does mean that I don’t really have a problem being out one evening a week.
  • The weekend is sacred. Weekend mean: No computer will be switched on. Ever. Unless it’s to order pizza or to do taxes or something.
  • In the weekend, don’t use Twitter. Unless an occasional check (some of my friends don’t txt me, they send me tweets) or to tweet about drinking/brewing beer or having a great barbecue.
  • Vacation? Long weekend? The computer stays at home. Roaming and wifi on the smartphone get disabled. Phone call from anyone but close relatives and friends? Ignore it (by pushing the ignore button, voice mail will handle it).

These don’t get you out of the busy trap, but it will help. It certainly helps me. Which rules help for you? Comments welcomed!


Here's a list of tips I got from the community:

Fourth year as an MVP, second year for Windows Azure

View Maarten Balliauw's MVP profileWoohoo! I just received the great mail I expect yearly on the first of July:

Dear Maarten Balliauw,

Congratulations! We are pleased to present you with the 2012 Microsoft® MVP Award! This award is given to exceptional technical community leaders who actively share their high quality, real world expertise with others. We appreciate your outstanding contributions in Windows Azure technical communities during the past year.

The Microsoft MVP Award provides us the unique opportunity to celebrate and honor your significant contributions and say "Thank you for your technical leadership."

Toby Richards
General Manager
Community & Online Support

Year four is down, 2 years as an ASP.NET MVP and now my second year as a Windows Azure MVP. Thanks everyone for keeping me motivated in working with the community, sharing knowledge and providing me time to do all this. That last one means: thank you, boss, and thank you to my lovely wife!

Let’s start work on earning the award for next year…