I’m fascinated by the way people learn. I’m told there are several methods people use to understand new information, from reading to watching, from experiencing to exploring.
Personally, I use multiple methods of learning when I encounter a new topic, usually starting with reading a bit about the concepts. I quickly want to put those into practice, however, especially in the technical realm. I immediately look for examples where I can start trying out the concepts. But I often want a “real” example – not just something that represents the concept, but something that is real-world, showing some feature I could actually use.
And it’s no different with the Windows Azure platform – I like finding things I can do now, and actually use. So when I started learning Windows Azure, I of course began with the Windows Azure Training Kit – which has lots of examples and labs, presentations and so on. But from there, I wanted more examples I could learn from, and eventually teach others with. I was asked if I would write a few of those up, so here are the ones I use.
CodePlex is Microsoft’s version of an “Open Source” repository. Anyone can start a project, add code, documentation and more to it and make it available to the world, free of charge, using various licenses as they wish. Microsoft also uses this location for most of the examples we publish, and sample databases for SQL Server.
If you search in CodePlex for “Azure”, you’ll come back with a list of projects that folks have posted, including those of us at Microsoft. The source code and documentation are there, so you can learn using actual examples of code that will do what you need. There’s everything from a simple table query to a full project that is sort of a “Corporate Dropbox” that uses Windows Azure Storage.
The advantage is that this code is immediately usable. It’s searchable, and you can often find a complete solution to meet your needs. The disadvantage is that the code is pretty specific – it may not cover a huge project like you’re looking for. Also, depending on the author(s), you might not find the documentation level you want.
Microsoft Patterns and Practices is a group here that does an amazing job at sharing standard ways of doing IT – from operations to coding. If you’re not familiar with this resource, make sure you read up on it. Long before I joined Microsoft I used their work in my daily job – saved a ton of time. It has resources not only for Windows Azure but other Microsoft software as well.
The Patterns and Practices group also publishes full books – you can buy these, but many are also online for free. There’s an end-to-end example for Windows Azure using a company called “Tailspin”, and the work covers not only the code but the design of the full solution. If you really want to understand the thought that goes into a Platform-as-a-Service solution, this is an excellent resource.
The advantages are that this is a book, it’s complete, and it includes a discussion of design decisions. The disadvantage is that it’s a little over a year old – and in “Cloud” years that’s a lot. So many things have changed, improved, and have been added that you need to treat this as a resource, but not the only one. Still, highly recommended.
Azure Stock Trader
Sometimes you need a mix of a CodePlex-style application, and a little more detail on how it was put together. And it would be great if you could actually play with the completed application, to see how it really functions on the actual platform.
That’s the Azure Stock Trader application. There’s a place where you can read about the application, and then it’s been published to Windows Azure – the production platform – and you can use it, explore, and see how it performs.
I use this application all the time to demonstrate Windows Azure, or a particular part of Windows Azure.
The advantage is that this is an end-to-end application, and online as well. The disadvantage is that it takes a bit of self-learning to work through.
Links: Learn it: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/netframework/bb499684 Use it: https://azurestocktrader.cloudapp.net/