Minimizing the cost of dev/test environments in Azure

I use Windows Azure as my dev/test environment because it is fast and convenient to create new virtual machines or services. I use the MSDN Subscription Azure Benefits, which includes free Azure Credits. The Azure Credits cover my dev/test needs even though I use more than a handful of VMs and services. I make smart use of the free Azure Credits by turning off VMs at night and during weekends, when I am not using them. Which means that I can use 3-4 times more VMs on Azure compared to just letting them run all the time. VMs are costly compared to the PaaS services such as Azure WebSites, SQL Azure and Cloud Services. So the PaaS services are not a cost issue.

I manage the Azure VMs and almost everything with the Server Explorer in Visual Studio. It is a quick way to start VMs in the morning.

StartStopAzureVmFromVs2013

If I have a list of VMs that I need to manage, then I use the Azure PowerShell cmdlets – see my How-to start and stop Azure VMs via PowerShell.

Finally, I use Azure Automation to ensure that I never have a running Azure VM all night, just because I forgot to shut it down – see How-to start and stop Azure VMs at a schedule. It automatically shuts down any VM running in my MSDN Subscription at 6 p.m. If I work later, I can just start the required VMs again – it only take a couple of minutes.

How-to start and stop Azure VMs via PowerShell

With PowerShell it is fast and convenient to manage my development and test servers running on Windows Azure. It is just easier to use command line tools than logging into the Azure management portal shutting down each VM. To set up PowerShell:

  1. Install the Azure PowerShell cmdlets
  2. Start the Azure PowerShell (do not start the regular PowerShell as it is not preconfigured with the Azure PowerShell cmdlets)
  3. Authorize Azure PowerShell to access your Azure subscriptions by typing in the Azure PowerShell shell:
    Add-AzureAccount
    

    In the sign-in window, provide your Microsoft credentials for the Azure account.

If you like me have multiple Azure subscriptions – change the default subscription with:

Select-AzureSubscription [-SubscriptionName]

To start an Azure VM the syntax is:

Start-AzureVM [–Name] [-ServiceName]

To start a VM named vs2015 in the cloud service lybCloudService requires as little as:

Start-AzureVM vs2015 lybCloudService

To stop the VM is just as easy

Stop-AzureVM [-Name] [-ServiceName]

If it is the last running VM in the cloud service, then you will be asked if you want to deallocate the cloud service or not, as the cloud service will release the public IP address. That is not a problem if you access your VM via DNS name – which most people do.
You can override the question by appending –Force like this:

Stop-AzureVM vs2015 lybCloudService –Force

There are many useful Azure PowerShell cmdlets to use. To list all Azure PowerShell cmdlets:

Help Azure

Get details on Azure PowerShell cmdlet:

Man <cmdlet name>

List all VMs:

Get-AzureVM

Get details of a specific VM:

Get-AzureVM [–Name] [-ServiceName]

The PowerShell prompt is just like a normal command prompt, so you can use tab completion and F7 to show all executed commands.

Initialize a Dictionary with index initializers

The next release of C# 6 has some amazing new features. In a series of blog posts I will cover some of them.

A small but still significant feature in C# 6 is index initializers. Index initializers can be sued to initialize object members, but also dictionaries. Initializing a dictionary has always be cumbersome, but not anymore.

var numbers = new Dictionary<int, string>
{
  [7] = "seven",
  [9] = "nine",
  [13] = "thirteen"
};

There are other great new features in C# that I have not touched – have a look at the blog post New features in C# 6 by Mads Torgersen, Principal Program Manager, VS Managed Languages.

Auto-property initializers

The next release of C# 6 has some amazing new features. In a series of blog posts I will cover some of them.

At first auto-property initializers does not sound very interesting at all, but wait…

Simple things as setting a default value for a property.

public class Order
{
  public int OrderNo { get; set; } = 1;
}

Or using the getter-only auto-property which are implicit declared readonly and can therefore be set in the constructor.

public class Order
{
  public Order(int orderNo)
  {
    OrderNo = orderNo;
  }
  
  public int OrderNo { get; }
}

From my point of view the value of auto-properties comes to shine when used with list properties where the list has to be initialized.

public class Order
{
  public IEnumerable<OrderLine> Lines { get; } = new List<OrderLine>();
}

I often forget to initialize a list property in the constructor and therefor get a NullReferenceException when accessing the list property. Now I might even be able to omit the constructor all together.

Expression-bodied methods

The next release of C# 6 has some amazing new features. In a series of blog posts I will cover some of them.

Expression-bodied methods make it possible for methods and properties to be used as expressions instead of statement blocks, just like lambda functions.

Let’s revisit the Person.ToString method in the Awesome string formatting blog post.

public class Person
{
  public string Name { get; set; }

  public Address HomeAddress { get; set; }

  public override string ToString()
  {
    return string.Format("{Name} lives in {HomeAddress?.City ?? "City unknown"}.");
  }
}

The ToString method can be written as a lambda function.

public override string ToString() => string.Format("{Name} lives in {HomeAddress?.City ?? "City unknown"}.");

And simplified with String interpolation.

public override string ToString() => $"{Name} lives in {HomeAddress?.City ?? "City unknown"}.

Use expression-bodied methods anywhere…

public Point Move(int dx, int dy) => new Point(x + dx, y + dy);
public static Complex operator +(Complex a, Complex b) => a.Add(b);
public static implicit operator string (Person p) => "{p.First} {p.Last}";