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Volunteering @ CDW Stemettes Hackathon July 2019

Earlier this month I volunteered at an amazing event ran by CDW, who I work for, and the Stemettes.

The first CDW Stemettes Hackathon!

CDW UK hosted the event at our Head Office in central London on the 6th & 7th of July 2019.

The event was attended by around 50+ girls from the ages of 5-21 years old on both the Saturday & Sunday.

All the girls who attended were set the challenge to design, build & test their own well-being themed mobile/web applications using different tools dependent on their skills/experience with coding.

The tools they used included: AppShed, AppInventor & Glitch.

Why did I choose to volunteer?

This was a no-brainer for me really if I’m honest! One of the things I love about the world of IT at the moment is the realisation  that one day everything will interact with technology in some way, shape or form. So if I can play a part in helping the next generations of IT industry workers, then I’m there and this event ticks that box perfectly.

I also get a real life-affirming uplifting kick out of helping anyone at all helping to understand a technical challenge they are facing. Especially when I can help them overcome the issue and enhance their technical skills & knowledge!

As well as this, my wife, Kate, is a secondary school teacher here in the UK and is a strong advocate of STEM & even more so of the Stemettes. The school she teaches at have a dedicated STEM/Stemettes coordinator as well so she is always coming home talking about the great events they are taking part in.

So when it came to asking if I could spend a weekend away at “work”, which as we all know in the world of IT can be quite a common request of our partners, volunteering at this awesome Stemettes event. Kate didn’t even hesitate to say yes before even checking if we had any existing plans with friends etc…

What did I actually do whilst volunteering?

Until the weekend arrived I only had very little information around the low level technical things we would be helping with.

Before all of the girls arrived on the Saturday morning, myself and the rest of the volunteers, were all briefed by the Stemettes team on the running of the day and what they needed from us.

The girls would be able to work in 1 of 3 groups over the weekend. Each of these groups would use a different tool to create their mobile/web app.

The 3 groups were (all named after inspirational women):

  • Bouman – used AppShed to create their apps –  for those who were new to coding and IT in general – very much design and look over functionality and code syntax
  • Sharman – used MIT AppInventor to create their apps – for those who had some coding and IT experience – a good balance between design and functionality – pre-packaged logic blocks to make things happen within the apps.
  • Johnson – used Glitch & Ratchet to create their apps – for those comfortable with code and IT – raw HTML & CSS in use in this group – This is the group I helped out in!

As you can see above the group I helped in, Johnson, used Glitch & Ratchet. Glitch is effectively an IDE that is very user friendly for those who aren’t full time web developers. It handily has a built in web server that previews your code live as you make changes, which is great for new web developers and even more so for the girls attending.

Ratchet on the other hand is front-end framework to build mobile apps with HTML, CSS & JavaScript. This was the first time I had come across this framework, but I’ve got to say it was very good at making things look very good with very minimal effort. This made the girls apps really come to life as quick as possible, which was great to see as it got them hooked on making them better and better once they learnt how important HTML syntax is.

The combination of Glitch & Ratchet was a great choice by the Stemettes team, although as always we had a few random bugs that occurred that got all of us volunteers scratching our heads; we got there eventually each time though!

The most complex request I had was to help a group get a live webcam stream embedded onto one of their web pages as part of their app. Now I’m no web developer, it’s certainly more of a hobby for me, but I couldn’t let the girls down; so I got it working with 15 minutes to spare before they had to submit their app for judging.

Summary

I absolutely loved helping out over the course of the weekend that this event ran. Seeing the girls getting to grips with Ratchet, HTML, CSS & development methodologies over the duration of the event was fascinating to see. The speed at which they all picked up effectively new languages to them all was mind blowing!

Everyone who attended received development themed prize bags from CDW, a great touch; I certainly would have been thrilled to receive some of the goodies that were in the bags. The portable logitech speaker was amazing and who doesn’t love a Rubix’s cube?

 

I look forward to volunteering on a lot more of these events in the future and already helping CDW plan what we can do in the future to inspire the next generations to get into IT.

All of the volunteers from CDW!

CSP Multi-Channel Model & Azure Subscriptions

A slightly less technical log post for today’s topic, however a vital one for anyone using/thinking of using an Azure CSP Subscription.

Firstly a quick explanation of the CSP (Cloud Solution Provider) program.

CSP is a program that partners can sign up to in order to sell Microsoft Cloud Services like Azure, Office 365, Microsoft 365, EM+S and other similar services to their customers directly; instead of customers having to purchase them directly from  Microsoft.

CSP has had a massive uptake over the last 3-5 years and pretty much every MSP (Managed Service Provider) has access to a CSP program, whether directly or indirectly, to sell Microsoft Cloud services to their customer.

The key fact around CSP is that the CSP partner you chose to purchase Office 365 or Azure subscriptions from etc… is responsible for billing the client and providing support for both billing and technical support. Meaning the CSP partner effectively becomes the single point of contact for the client for all things relating to the Microsoft Cloud.

Further information around CSP can be found here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/cloud-solution-provider/overview/azure-csp-overview

I’ll be blogging soon about things you should consider before choosing between CSP and other subscriptions types for Azure (EA/PAYG etc…). So watch out for that.

However this post focuses on a particular limitation of CSP Azure Subscriptions in a Multi-Channel Model approach that is commonly not known about and can be a road block to project flows if not known about.

What is the CSP Multi-Channel Model?

When CSP first launched it only allowed the provisioning CSP partner to add/remove/amend licenses and subcriptions for each customer. So if you had a scenario where the customer, “ACME Corporation”, purchased 10 X Office 365 E3 licenses from CSP Partner 1; Only CSP Partner 1 could sell them additional licenses or provision any other services available in the CSP program, like Azure etc…

This obviously locked customers like, “ACME Corporation”, into a relationship with CSP Partner 1 until the end of time. Both customers and other CSP partners didn’t like this as effectively people where just getting any customer to sign up for CSP for a tiny amount of services to lock them in for future consumption costs.

Microsoft then released the CSP Multi-Channel Model which allowed another partner, say CSP Partner 2 in our above scenario, to start a CSP relationship with “ACME Corporation” which would allow them to purchase CSP services from both CSP partners at the same time; even for the same license SKU types.

For example “ACME Corporation” could have 10 x Office 365 E3 licenses from CSP Partner 1 & then start another relationship with CSP Partner 2 and purchase and additional 5 x Office 365 E3 licenses from them also. In this scenario each partner bills “ACME Corporation” for 10 x Office 365 E3 licenses separately and everyone is happy.

Also an important note is that when another relationship is established with another CSP partner they cannot amend and services/licenses provided by another other CSP partner to the same customer; very handy indeed!

So why doesn’t this work in the same way for Azure subscriptions?

Unfortunately for Azure subscriptions the CSP Multi-Channel model doesn’t allow 2 CSP partners to each provide Azure subscriptions to a customer.

So in our example scenario above, “ACME Corporation” could be provided Office 365 licenses from both CSP partners at the same time but only 1 CSP partner could provide an Azure subscription at any one time.

This can be quite a road blocker when not known about! It is certainly 1 thing I have had to stop from occurring multiple times in the last year or so and it’s becoming ever more popular as more customer take services from CSP partners.

There is a note on the following Microsoft Docs page for adding existing Azure customers in CSP that is often not missed and not read and understood in full.

The note is shown below:

Is there a way around this?

There is but its not simple and takes considerable thought and consideration before starting the process.

The only way around this is to transfer the Azure services between CSP partners. This does mean the source partner will lost all billing and revenue from the Azure subscription once the transfer process is complete. However if they are providing Office 365 or any other license model based services via CSP these are not transferred during the Azure transfer process. These are in-fact very easy to switch CSP Partner 2 provisions all the same quantities and licenses for each SKU in use by the customer then CSP Partner 1 cancels all those licenses fort the customer and then each users licenses automatically flips over the the licenses provided by CSP Partner 2.

The Azure transfer process is documented fully by Microsoft here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/partner-center/switch-azure-subscriptions-to-a-different-partner

The process requires involvement from both CSP partners, the customer and Microsoft support to complete the process in full. So a good relationship with all parties involved is vital to ensure a smooth transfer process!

Summary

I hope this helps customers and other CSP Partners out there as this is certainly going to become more of a day to day occurrence as more customers utilise CSP partners for Azure subscriptions.

Look out for more CSP related articles soon!

Azure Geos, Regions, Pairs, Availability Zones & Availability Sets Relationship

A common topic I find myself explaining to customers and colleagues who haven’t worked with Azure, or any public cloud platform for that matter, is the relationship between the following Azure components:

  • Geographies
  • Regions
  • Region Pairs
  • Availability Zones
  • Availability Sets

This is quite hard to visualize when trying to explain verbally and I have drawn the same diagram on whiteboards a thousand times and it seems to make that “light bulb moment” occur to who I’m presenting too .

So I finally decided to create them in Lucidchart and share them with you all!

(On a side not if you aren’t using Lucidchart already, seriously give it a go, it’s made my diagramming a lot fast and less stressful when trying to draw connection lines in Visio)

The Diagrams

The  above diagram depicts that Availability Sets live withing Availability Zone and they live within Regions and they finally reside within a Geography.

The  above diagram depicts the same as the previous diagram but shows the concept of Region Pairs.

Some Important Info…

Availability Zones

At the time of writing this, Availability Zones aren’t available in all Regions; however they have just been announced in UK South!

Check if the latest supported Regions here.

Also not all resources support Availability Zones, again check the latest supported list here.

Region Pairs

You cannot chose which region is paired with the region you chose to use, this is decided by Microsoft at the time when they build a new Region. As this is to support Geo Replicated Services (GRS) etc…

Brazil South doesn’t have another Region within the same Geography, so it is paired with South Central US. But South Central US isn’t paired back with Brazil South.

Again the latest information on Regions and where they are paired to can be found here.

Summary

Hopefully this will help you all and feel free to use the diagrams on the page (they have a transparent background, you’re welcome).

Until next time!

Finding The License Key For SQL Server Reporting Services

A very common question I seem to get from customers, colleagues & friends in the Azure community is “Where do I find the product key for SQL Server Reporting Services, if I’m using PAYG licensing from Azure?”.

And if I’m honest this is a very good question, as you never get shown the product key in the Azure portal when deploying and there is no command you can run via PowerShell or AZ CLI to get the key.

However finding the key is actually very easy and isn’t just applicable to Azure, so you can use option 1 below on any SQL server to find the product key.

I’ll assume you know how to download and install the latest version of SSRS. But here is a handy link to the download page if not. Download SSRS 2017.

So lets get into the 2 methods you can use to find the product key on an Azure IaaS SQL VM deployed using a marketplace image on the PAYG licensing model.

Option 1 – Using The SQL Server Setup Wizard

  1. Connect to and login to your newly deployed SQL IaaS VM via RDP
  2. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the following path: ‘C:\SQLServerFull\’
  3. Locate ‘Setup.exe’ and double click on it to launch the setup wizard
  4. Select the ‘Maintenance’ pane from the left hand side menu and then click on ‘Edition Upgrade’
  5. The ‘Edition Upgrade’ wizard will launch after a few moments and will display a product key

This is the product key that you require and has been used to install/license the SQL Database Engine that is running on this VM. Copy this key to a notepad file and then cancel all of the wizards and close the setup launcher.

Then launch your SSRS installation wizard and use the key you have copied to a notepad file.

Option 2 – Extract Key From DeafultSetup.ini

  1. Connect to and login to your newly deployed SQL IaaS VM via RDP
  2. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the following path: ‘C:\SQLServerFull\x64’
  3. Locate a file called ‘DefaultSetup.ini’ it may just be shown as ‘DefaultSetup’ if you don’t have file extensions shown. Double click on this file and open it with Notepad.
  4. Notepad will then display the contents of the .ini file and within this the product key is shown next to “PID=”

Again this is the product key that you require and has been used to install/license the SQL Database Engine that is running on this VM. Copy this key to a notepad file and then close the ‘DefaultSetup.ini’ file without making any changes to it and saving them.

Then launch your SSRS installation wizard and use the key you have copied to a new notepad file.

Summary

Hopefully this article will help you all out at some point in the future. It’s a curve ball that’s come my way a few times and took me a bit of research to find the above methods.

Until next time!

Passing The Azure AZ-302 Exam

Firstly apologies for the radio silence on my blog, it’s been a hectic couple of months for me as I’m getting married in April; time free at the weekends is very sparse at the moment. But fear not I have a list of items to blog about and a new method to attack writing them faster, so watch this space.

Anyway on with the topic for today’s blog!

So nearly a month ago now I passed the Azure AZ-302 exam to complete the requirement for the Azure Certified Solutions Architect Expert badge.

Now it was my 2nd attempt that I passed on, but failing exams is not something to be ashamed of at all. Putting yourself up against a test is a sign of courage and confidence in my eyes. We can only learn from failure; so that’s a massive positive in my eyes! It took me a while to realise this in my career after failing a CCNP exam by 3 points years ago!

Before I continue I feel it is important to reiterate a couple of points that I made in my post about passing the 70-535.

You can only take the AZ-302 if you have passed the 70-535 exam. Also the transition exam, AZ-302, is only available to take until the 30th June 2019 before it is retired!

Preparation – What To Study

As I have said in my previous post, you must first understand what the exam is going to be testing you on before you can decide your plan of attack for studying the exam objectives.

As always Microsoft has published the exam objectives and breakdown on the AZ-302 web page.

However please note that a change document was posted on the web page that changes some of the exam objectives and section percentages; it’s located just above the exam objectives as a note.

One thing I feel is important to say about the stated exam objectives for the AZ-302 is that they look at first glance to be quite a wide range of topics and it can feel overwhelming.

From taking the exam twice I honestly feel that the exam objectives aren’t very accurate at all. So much so that I actually filled out parts of the feedback at the end of my 2nd exam.

So my advice would be to review the objectives on the web page and in the change document and make notes of things you need to revise more heavily than others. But then take the following tips from my experiences:

  • You don’t need to know how to be a full on developer for this exam. An understanding of programming languages and being able to read them at a high level will suffice.
    • It’s more important to understand what service is best for each use case for different development functions (i.e. Azure Functions/Azure Web Jobs etc…)
  • Know your SLAs for different services and features (Availability Sets 99.95% vs Availability Zones 99.99% etc…)
  • Invest more time on Azure Site Recovery & the different Azure Backup products/features
  • Be prepared to be quizzed on some preview features, so don’t disregard those sections of the Azure Docs

Preparation – Revision Tools & Resources

I find videos are easier to watch on the train when travelling into London and back home as I can’t always get my laptop out to make notes; getting a seat is generally a challenge!

So with that in mind I started off with the Scott Duffy AZ-302 course on Udemy.

This course is very high level and doesn’t have a lot of walkthroughs/labs/demos so it’s certainly not going to be enough for you to pass the exam. But it’s quite good for the theory side of things around determining requirements and when to use a pilot instead of a POC.

Then I normally like to read a book to reinforce the videos but as this exam is only a transition exam there isn’t one available and I can’t really see anyone thinking about making one as it’s such a niche gap in the market.

So instead I headed to the Azure Docs! Especially from my last experience with the 70-535, these really are awesome for all aspects of learning Azure. From how to’s to overviews, they cover it all and are super up-to-date thanks to them being open the community to recommend updates via the github repo where the content is hosted.

I also make sure I check the Azure Blog daily at least twice. Once when I get up and again before I call it a day. This helps to keep on top of new feature releases etc…

I cannot stress enough of also using the Azure portal itself daily and just getting comfortable with it and it’s behaviour. Also any hands on time with AZ CLI would be a very handy.

Finally I checked all of the following great blogs from some people in the community to make sure I had covered all the correct objectives and pick up any tips they have given in their posts:

Preparation – Method

My method to revise for this exam was very similar to how I approached the 70-535 apart from I spent much more time actually deploying and configuring things in the Azure portal and with AZ CLI.

A high level overview of my approach per objective/topic is below:

  • Watch any videos available for the objective/topic
  • Deploy it and configure it if possible and understand how it really works in Azure
  • Read at least the overview page on the Azure Docs website for the objective/topic but also try to follow some of the how to’s through
  • Make notes along the way of key facts like SLAs, tiers & pricing etc…

The Exam

The exam itself was a new one on me for Microsoft exams with the introduction of hands-on labs!

Yes that’s right, actual labs where you have to perform tasks in the Azure portal and using AZ CLI/PowerShell. I had 2 labs that contained about 10 tasks each! And being perfectly honest, I really enjoyed them as i use the portal daily testing features & services out so it didn’t phase me.

I can only assume that these are marked by Microsoft reviewing the JSON of the subscription you are given access to to perform the tasks on and they look for the specific values you have been asked to configure/change. Very cool!

There was also the normal multiple choice questions along with a couple of case studies with 5 questions or so each in them.

A top tip of mine would be to make sure you don’t waste all your time in the labs as my case study questions appeared after I completed the labs; just when I was starting to put my feet up!

Summary

All in all I really enjoyed the exam; enough to take it twice in fact!

The introduction of labs was odd for an architecture exam but I’m a big believer of being able to actually configure/deploy something before suggesting it in a HLD as how can you know it really the works they way it says it does!

Hopefully the above gives you an insight to my experiences for this exam and helps you pass it before the retirement date in June.

Until next time… Like, Comment & Share!

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