Your student could be the next Doogie Howser of Cloud Computing with free training and cloud computing resources

Students with any interest in Information Technology or Computer Science are going to be joining a world dominated by Cloud Computing. And of course the major cloud service providers (CSP) would all love to see the young people embrace their cloud platform to host the next big thing like Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat. The top three CSP all have free offerings for students, hoping to win their minds and hearts.

But before you jump right in to cloud computing, the novice student might want to start with some basic fundamentals of computer programming at one of the many free online resources, including Khan Academy.

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Microsoft is offering free Azure services for students. There are two different offerings. The first is targeted at high school students ages 13+ and the second is geared towards college students 18+.

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Microsoft Azure for Students Starter Offer is for those high school students that are interested in building applications in the cloud. While there are not as many free services or credits as being offered at the college level, there is certainly enough available for free to really get some hands on experience with some cutting edge technology for the self starter. How cool would it be for your high school to start a Cloud Computing Club, or to integrate this offering into some of the IT classes they may already be taking.

Azure for Students is targeted at the college level student and has many more features available for free. Any student in computer science or information technology should definitely get some hands on experience with these cutting edge cloud technologies and this is the perfect way to do it with no additional out of pocket expense.

A good way to get introduced to the Azure Cloud is to start with some free online training courses Microsoft delivers in partnership with Pluralsight.

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AWS Educate. Not to be outdone, AWS also offers some free cloud services to students and educators. These seem to be in terms of free cloud credits, which if managed properly can go a long way. AWS also delivers an educational program that can be combined with an AP class in Computer Science if your high school wants to participate.

 

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Google Cloud Platform (GCP) also has education grants available for computer science majors at accredited universities. These seem to be the most restrictive of the three as they are available for Computer Science Majors only at accredited universities.

GCP does also offer training, but from what I can find I don’t see any free training offerings. If you want some hands on training you will have to register for some classes. The plus side of this is that these classes all seem to be instructor led, either online or in an actual classroom. The downside is I don’t think a lot of 13 year olds are going to shell out any money to start developing on the CGP when there are other free training opportunities available on AWS or Azure.

For the ambitious young student, the resources are certainly there for you to be the next Doogie Howser of Cloud Computing.

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Your student could be the next Doogie Howser of Cloud Computing with free training and cloud computing resources

SQL Server 2017 on Linux Availability Group Split Brain Problem

On July 18th, 2018 Microsoft published this support article with some guidance to help avoid Split Brain when using Availability Groups with SQL Server on Linux.

https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4341219/split-brain-occurs-after-failover-when-using-alwayson-ags-with-externa

Running SQL Server on Linux can have some advantages, including cost savings on the OS if running in Azure. Run the numbers yourself, as the number of cores go up your cost savings year over year can be substantial, considering you are licensing at least two servers for every cluster pair.

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/calculator/

However, why bother saving money if the technology is not rock solid? One of the biggest issues I see with running SQL Server on Linux is the lack of a cohesive HA/DR story. On Windows, Microsoft owns the whole HA stack and SQL Server relies heavily on Windows Server Failover Clustering to support both Availability Groups and Failover Cluster Instances. This has been running well for many years and has a long track record of success stories.

When moving to Linux, Microsoft no longer owns the HA stack at the OS level and depending upon your distro of Linux, you are left trying to piece together open source solutions like Pacemaker, trying to get things to cooperate with SQL Server Availability Groups.

While you may eventually get it to work, I would much rather look to a 3rd party high availability solution like the SIOS Protection Suite for Linux (SPS-L), giving you a tried and true HA solution for your business critical applications running on Linux.

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SQL Server on Linux Cluster in Azure

SPS-L has been protecting business critical applications running on Linux since 1999. It is a full HA/DR solution that monitors and recovers the entire application stack as well as the physical servers and network to ensure your business critical applications are highly available while also maintaining a 3rd copy for disaster recover in a remote datacenter or different geographic region of the cloud.

The other benefit of SPS-L is that it doesn’t require the Enterprise Edition of SQL Server, so there can be a significant cost savings advantage on SQL Server licenses as well. If you consider SQL Server Standard Edition costs $1859 per core vs $7128 per core for SQL Server Enterprise Edition, the cost savings advantage can be significant, depending upon how many cores you need to license.

Below is a video demonstration of SPS-L protecting SQL Server running on Linux in the Azure Cloud. The demonstration shows a SQL Server Standard Edition Cluster being manually failed over between nodes in different Azure Fault Domains as well as SPS-L responding to an unexpected failure.

 

 

SQL Server 2017 on Linux Availability Group Split Brain Problem

8th MVP Award

Really glad to hear today that I’ve been re-awarded the Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP award for 2018. It’s a great honor to be counted among some of the smartest people I know. Looking forward to the launch of Windows 2019 and whatever else Microsoft have up their sleeves for Azure in 2019.

8th MVP Award

What is the network speed between Azure regions connected with Virtual Network Peering?

***Updated July 5th***

This is the question I asked myself today and of course I couldn’t find this documented anywhere. I’m assuming there is no guarantee and it probably depends on current utilization, etc. If I’m wrong, someone please point me to the documentation that states the available speed. I primarily looked here and here.

So I set up two Windows 2016 D4s v3 instances, one in Central US and one in East US 2, which are paired regions.

If you don’t know what peering is, it essentially lets you to easily connect two different Azure virtual networks. Peering is very easy to setup, just make sure you configure it from both Virtual Networks, I made that mistake at first. Once it is configured properly it will look something like this.

2018-06-29_17-15-14
A properly functioning peered network in Azure

I then downloaded iPerf3 on each of the servers and began my testing. At first I had some pretty disappointing results.

But then upon doing some research, I found that running multiple threads and increasing the window size reports a more accurate measurement of the available bandwidth. I tried a few different setting and seemed to max at at just about 1.9 Gbps on average, much better than 45 Mbps!

The client parameters I used to produce the best results are as follows:

iperf3.exe -c 10.0.3.4 -w32M -P 4 -t 30

A sample of that output looks something like this.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 [ 4] 2.00-3.00 sec 34.1 MBytes 286 Mbits/sec
 [ 6] 2.00-3.00 sec 39.2 MBytes 329 Mbits/sec
 [ 8] 2.00-3.00 sec 56.1 MBytes 471 Mbits/sec
 [ 10] 2.00-3.00 sec 73.2 MBytes 615 Mbits/sec
 [SUM] 2.00-3.00 sec 203 MBytes 1.70 Gbits/sec
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 [ 4] 3.00-4.00 sec 37.5 MBytes 315 Mbits/sec
 [ 6] 3.00-4.00 sec 19.9 MBytes 167 Mbits/sec
 [ 8] 3.00-4.00 sec 97.0 MBytes 814 Mbits/sec
 [ 10] 3.00-4.00 sec 96.8 MBytes 812 Mbits/sec
 [SUM] 3.00-4.00 sec 251 MBytes 2.11 Gbits/sec
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 [ 4] 4.00-5.00 sec 34.6 MBytes 290 Mbits/sec
 [ 6] 4.00-5.00 sec 24.6 MBytes 207 Mbits/sec
 [ 8] 4.00-5.00 sec 70.1 MBytes 588 Mbits/sec
 [ 10] 4.00-5.00 sec 97.8 MBytes 820 Mbits/sec
 [SUM] 4.00-5.00 sec 227 MBytes 1.91 Gbits/sec
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 [ 4] 5.00-6.00 sec 34.5 MBytes 289 Mbits/sec
 [ 6] 5.00-6.00 sec 31.9 MBytes 267 Mbits/sec
 [ 8] 5.00-6.00 sec 73.9 MBytes 620 Mbits/sec
 [ 10] 5.00-6.00 sec 86.4 MBytes 724 Mbits/sec
 [SUM] 5.00-6.00 sec 227 MBytes 1.90 Gbits/sec
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
 [ 4] 6.00-7.00 sec 35.4 MBytes 297 Mbits/sec
 [ 6] 6.00-7.00 sec 32.1 MBytes 269 Mbits/sec
 [ 8] 6.00-7.00 sec 80.9 MBytes 678 Mbits/sec
 [ 10] 6.00-7.00 sec 78.5 MBytes 658 Mbits/sec
 [SUM] 6.00-7.00 sec 227 MBytes 1.90 Gbits/sec

I saw spikes as high as 2.5 Gbps and lows as low as 1.3 Gbps.

[Update1]

So I received some feedback from @jvallery that I must try out.

2018-07-05_13-00-14

First thing I did was bump up my existing instances to D64sv3 and used -P 64. I saw a significant increase

iperf3.exe -c 10.0.3.4 -w32M -P 64 -t 30

[SUM] 0.00-1.00 sec 2.55 GBytes 21.8 Gbits/sec

I then spun up some F72v2 instances as suggested and I saw even better results.

iperf3.exe -c 10.0.2.5 -w32M -P 72 -t 30

[SUM] 0.00-1.00 sec 2.86 GBytes 24.5 Gbits/sec

 

I’m not well versed enough in Linux to warrant me spending a bunch of extra money fumbling my way through configuring this on Linux, but suffice it to say there seems to be a reasonable amount of bandwidth available between Azure regions when using peered networks.

If someone wanted to repeat this test using Linux as @jvallery suggested I’ll be glad to post your results here!

[/endUpdate1]

Using these two peered networks I am helping a client address SQL Server disaster recovery using SIOS DataKeeper to asynchronously replicate SQL data between regions for disaster recovery.

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SIOS DataKeeper replicating data from Azure EAST US 2 to CENTRAL US

In this particular scenario we were measuring a RPO measured in milliseconds. As you’ll see in the video below, during a DISKSPD test meant to simulate a typical SQL Server workload the RPO was <1 second.

 

 

I’d love to hear from you regarding your experience regarding any network speed you measure in Azure and how you are using peered networks in Azure.

 

 

 

 

What is the network speed between Azure regions connected with Virtual Network Peering?

STORAGE SPACES DIRECT (S2D) FOR SQL SERVER FAILOVER CLUSTER INSTANCES (FCI)?

With the introduction of Windows Server 2016 Datacenter Edition a new feature called Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) was introduced. At a very high level, this solution allows you to pool together locally attached storage and present it to the cluster as a CSV for use in a Scale Out File Server, which can then be accessed over SMB 3 and used to hold cluster data such as Hyper-V VMDK files. This can also be configured in a hyper-converged (HCI) fashion such that the application and data can all run on the same set of servers.  This is a grossly over-simplified description, but for details, you will want to look here.

 

Storage Spaces Direct StackImage taken from https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/storage/storage-spaces/storage-spaces-direct-overview

The main use case targeted is hyper-converged infrastructure for Hyper-V deployments. However, there are other use cases, including leveraging this SMB storage to store SQL Server Data to be used in a SQL Server Failover Cluster Instance

Why would anyone want to do that? Well, for starters you can now build a highly available 2-node SQL Server Failover Cluster Instance (FCI) with SQL Server Standard Edition, without the need for shared storage. Previously, if you wanted HA without a SAN you pretty much were driven to buy SQL Server Enterprise Edition and make use of Always On Availability Groups or purchase SIOS DataKeeper and leverage the 3rd party solution which lets you build SANless clusters with any version of Windows or SQL Server. SQL Server Enterprise Edition can really drive up the cost of your project, especially if you were only buying it for the Availability Groups feature.

In addition to the cost associated with Availability Groups, there are a number of other technical reasons why you might prefer a Failover Cluster over an AG. Application compatibility, instance vs. database level protection, large number of databases, DTC support, trained staff, etc., are just some of the technical reasons why you may want to stick with a Failover Cluster Instance.

Microsoft lists both the SIOS DataKeeper solution and the S2D solution as two of the supported solutions for SQL Server FCI in their documentation here.

s2d

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/windows/sql/virtual-machines-windows-sql-high-availability-dr

When comparing the two solutions, you have to take into account that SIOS has been allowing you to build SANless Clusters since 1999, while the S2D solution is still in its infancy.  Having said that, there are bound to be some areas where S2D has some catching up to do, or simply features that they will never support simply due to the limitations with the technology.

Have a look at the following table for an overview of some of the things you should consider before you choose your SANless cluster solution.

S2D_vs_DKCE

If we go through this chart, we see that SIOS DataKeeper clearly has some significant advantages. For one, DataKeeper supports a much wider range of platforms, going all the way back to Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2. The S2D solution only supports the latest releases of Windows and SQL Server 2016/2017. S2D also requires the  Datacenter Edition of Windows, which can add significantly to the cost of your deployment. In addition, SIOS delivers the ONLY HA/DR solution for SQL Server on Linux that works both on-prem and in the cloud.

But beyond the cost and platform limitations, I think the most glaring gap comes when we start to consider disaster recovery options for your SANless cluster. Allan Hirt, SQL Server Cluster guru and fellow Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP, recently posted about this S2D limitation. In his article Revisiting Storage Spaces Direct and SQL Server FCIs  Allan points out that due to the lack of support for stretching S2D clusters across sites or including an S2D based cluster as a leg in an Always On Availability Group, the best option for DR in the S2D scenario is log shipping!

Don’t get me wrong, log shipping has been around forever and will probably be around long after I’m gone, but that is taking a HUGE step backwards when we think about all the disaster recovery solutions we have become accustomed to, like multi-site clusters, Availability Groups, etc.

In contrast, the SIOS DataKeeper solution fully supports Always On Availability Groups, and better yet – it can allow you to stretch your FCI across sites to give you the best HA/DR solution you could hope to achieve in terms of RTO/RPO. In an Azure environment, DataKeeper also support Azure Site Recovery (ASR), giving you even more options for disaster recovery.

The rest of this chart is pretty self explanatory. It basically consist of a list hardware, storage and networking requirements that must be met before you can deploy an S2D cluster. An exhaustive list of S2D requirements is maintained here.  https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/storage/storage-spaces/storage-spaces-direct-hardware-requirements

The SIOS DataKeeper solution is much more lenient. It supports any locally attached storage and as long as the hardware passes cluster validation, it is a supported cluster configuration. The block level replication solution has been working great ever since 1 Gbps was considered a fast LAN and a T1 WAN connection was considered a luxury.

SANless clustering is particularly interesting for cloud deployments. The cloud does not offer traditional shared storage options for clusters. So for users in the middle of a “lift and shift” to the cloud that want to take their clusters with them they must look at alternate storage solutions. For cloud deployments, SIOS is certified for AzureAWS and Google and available in the relevant cloud marketplace. While there doesn’t appear to be anything blocking deployment of S2D based clusters in Azure or Google, there is a conspicuous lack of documentation or supportability statements from Microsoft for those platforms.

SIOS DataKeeper has been doing this since 1999. SIOS has heard all the feature requests, uncovered all the bugs, and has a rock solid solution for SANless clusters that is time tested and proven. While Microsoft S2D is a promising technology, as a 1st generation product I would wait until the dust settles and some of the feature gap closes before I would consider it for my business critical applications.

STORAGE SPACES DIRECT (S2D) FOR SQL SERVER FAILOVER CLUSTER INSTANCES (FCI)?

Why I should convert my #Azure clusters to Managed Disks TODAY!

You may have heard about the recent storage outage that impacted some instances in the US East region back on March 16th. A root cause analysis of the outage is posted here.

March 16th US East Storage Outage

Customer impact: A subset of customers using Storage in the East US region may have experienced errors and timeouts while accessing their storage account in a single Storage scale unit

You might be asking, “What is a single Storage scale unit”. Well, you can think of it as a single storage cluster, or single SAN, or however you want to think about it. I don’t think Azure publishes their exact infrastructure, but you can probably assume that behind the scenes they are using Scale Out File Servers for backend storage.

So the question is, how could I have survived this outage with minimal downtime? If you read further down that root cause analysis you come across this little nugget.

Virtual Machines using Managed Disks in an Availability Set would have maintained availability during this incident.

What’s Managed Disks you ask? Well, just on February 8th Corey Sanders announced the GA of Managed Disks. You can read all about Managed Disks here. https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/managed-disks/

The reason why Managed Disks would have helped in this outage is that by leveraging an Availability Set combined with Managed Disks you ensure that each of the instances in your Availability Set are connected to a different “Storage scale unit”. So in this particular case, only one of your cluster nodes would have failed, leaving the remaining nodes to take over the workload.

Prior to Managed Disks being available (anything deployed before 2/8/2016), there was no way to ensure that the storage attached to your servers resided on different Storage scale units. Sure, you could use different storage accounts for each instances, but in reality that did not guarantee that those Storage Accounts provisioned storage on different Storage scale units.

So while an Availability Set ensured that your instances reside in different Fault Domains and Update Domains to ensure the availability of the instance itself, the additional storage attached to each instance really represented a single point of failure. Although the storage itself is highly resilient, with three copies of your data and geo-redundant options available, in this case with a power failure the entire Storage scale unit went down along with all the servers attached to it.

So long story short…migrate to Managed Disk as soon as possible in order to help minimize downtime

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/virtual-machines/virtual-machines-windows-migrate-to-managed-disks

And if you really want to minimize downtime you should consider Hybrid Cloud Deployments that span cloud providers or on-prem to cloud!

Why I should convert my #Azure clusters to Managed Disks TODAY!

Azure Auto Shutdown for Virtual Machines

If you are like me, I try to make my Azure MSDN subscription credits stretch the entire month. I’m typically just building labs to try out new features or to demonstrate SQL Server Failover Clusters in Azure. A lot of the time I am testing some pretty large instance sizes with plenty of premium storage. As you can imagine, you can burn through $150 pretty quick with a few GS5 instances running.

I try to be mindful and shutdown or destroy instances once I am done with them, but occasionally I’ll get pulled away for other business, only to log in the next day and see my credit has expired because I forgot to turn off the VMs.

I’m happy to see that it is now very easy to configure an automatic Shutdown of instances right in the Azure Portal.

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Keep in mind however that this just shuts down the instance. If you have premium storage attached to it you will continue to pay for the Storage even if the instance is shut down.

Azure Auto Shutdown for Virtual Machines