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Windows Azure

Cloud Services with Windows Azure : Windows Azure Roles

4/14/2011 6:14:55 PM
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A cloud service in Windows Azure will typically have multiple concurrent instances. Each instance may be running all or a part of the service’s codebase. As a developer, you control the number and type of roles that you want running your service.

Web Roles and Worker Roles

Windows Azure roles are comparable to standard Visual Studio projects, where each instance represents a separate project. These roles represent different types of applications that are natively supported by Windows Azure. There are two types of roles that you can use to host services with Windows Azure:

  • Web roles

  • worker roles

Web roles provide support for HTTP and HTTPS through public endpoints and are hosted in IIS. They are most comparable to regular ASP.NET projects, except for differences in their configuration files and the assemblies they reference.

Worker roles can also expose external, publicly facing TCP/IP endpoints on ports other than 80 (HTTP) and 443 (HTTPS); however, worker roles do not run in IIS. Worker roles are applications comparable to Windows services and are suitable for background processing.

Virtual Machines

Underneath the Windows Azure platform, in an area that you and your service logic have no control over, each role is given its own virtual machine or VM. Each VM is created when you deploy your service or service-oriented solution to the cloud. All of these VMs are managed by a modified hypervisor and hosted in one of Microsoft’s global data centers.

Each VM can vary in size, which pertains to the number of CPU cores and memory. This is something that you control. So far, four pre-defined VM sizes are provided:

  • small – 1.7ghz single core, 2GB memory

  • medium – 2x 1.7ghz cores, 4GB memory

  • large – 4x 1.7ghz cores, 8GB memory

  • extra large – 8x 1.7ghz cores, 16GB memory

Notice how each subsequent VM on this list is twice as big as the previous one. This simplifies VM allocation, creation, and management by the hypervisor.

Windows Azure abstracts away the management and maintenance tasks that come along with traditional on-premise service implementations. When you deploy your service into Windows Azure and the service’s roles are spun up, copies of those roles are replicated automatically to handle failover (for example, if a VM were to crash because of hard drive failure). When a failure occurs, Windows Azure automatically replaces that “unreliable” role with one of the “shadow” roles that it originally created for your service.

This type of failover is nothing new. On-premise service implementations have been leveraging it for some time using clustering and disaster recovery solutions. However, a common problem with these failover mechanisms is that they are often server-focused. This means that the entire server is failed over, not just a given service or service composition.

When you have multiple services hosted on a Web server that crashes, each hosted service experiences downtime between the current server crashing and the time it takes to bring up the backup server. Although this may not affect larger organizations with sophisticated infrastructure too much, it can impact smaller IT enterprises that may not have the capital to invest in setting up the proper type of failover infrastructure.

Also, suppose you discover in hindsight after performing the failover that it was some background worker process that caused the crash. This probably means that unless you can address it quick enough, your failover server is under the same threat of crashing.

Windows Azure addresses this issue by focusing on application and hosting roles. Each service or solution can have a Web frontend that runs in a Web role. Even though each role has its own “active” virtual machine (assuming we are working with single instances), Windows Azure creates copies of each role that are physically located on one or more servers. These servers may or may not be running in the same data center. These shadow VMs remain idle until they are needed.

Should the background process code crash the worker role and subsequently put the underlying virtual machine out of commission, Windows Azure detects this and automatically brings in one of the shadow worker roles. The faulty role is essentially discarded. If the worker role breaks again, then Windows Azure replaces it once more. All of this is happening without any downtime to the solution’s Web role front end, or to any other services that may be running in the cloud.

Input Endpoints

Web roles used to be the only roles that could receive Internet traffic, but now worker roles can listen to any port specified in the service definition file. Internet traffic is received through the use of input endpoints. Input endpoints and their listening ports are declared in the service definition (*.csdef) file.

Keep in mind that when you specify the port for your worker role to listen on, Windows Azure isn’t actually going to assign that port to the worker. In reality, the load balancer will open two ports—one for the Internet and the other for your worker role. Suppose you wanted to create an FTP worker role and in your service definition file you specify port 21. This tells the fabric load balancer to open port 21 on the Internet side, open pseudo-random port 33476 on the LAN side, and begin routing FTP traffic to the FTP worker role.

In order to find out which port to initialize for the randomly assigned internal port, use the RoleEnvironment.CurrentRoleInstance.InstanceEndpoints["FtpIn"].IPEndpoint object.

Inter-Role Communication

Inter-Role Communication (IRC) allows multiple roles to talk to each other by exposing internal endpoints. With an internal endpoint, you specify a name instead of a port number. The Windows Azure application fabric will assign a port for you automatically and will also manage the name-to-port mapping.

Here is an example of how you would specify an internal endpoint for IRC:

Example 1.
<ServiceDefinition xmlns=
"http://schemas.microsoft.com/ServiceHosting/2008/10/
ServiceDefinition" name="HelloWorld">
<WorkerRole name="WorkerRole1">
<Endpoints>
<InternalEndpoint name="NotifyWorker" protocol="tcp" />
</Endpoints>
</WorkerRole>
</ServiceDefinition>

In this example, NotifyWorker is the name of the internal endpoint of a worker role named WorkerRole1. Next, you need to define the internal endpoint, as follows:

Example 2.
RoleInstanceEndpoint internalEndPoint =
RoleEnvironment.CurrentRoleInstance.
InstanceEndpoints["NotificationService"];
this.serviceHost.AddServiceEndpoint(
typeof(INameOfYourContract),
binding,
String.Format("net.tcp://{0}/NotifyWorker",
internalEndPoint.IPEndpoint));
WorkerRole.factory = new ChannelFactory<IClientNotification>(binding);

You only need to specify the IP endpoint of the other worker role instances in order to communicate with them. For example, you could get a list of these endpoints with the following routine:

Example 3.
var current = RoleEnvironment.CurrentRoleInstance;
var endPoints = current.Role.Instances
.Where(instance => instance != current)
.Select(instance => instance.InstanceEndpoints["NotifyWorker"]);

IRC only works for roles in a single application deployment. Therefore, if you have multiple applications deployed and would like to enable some type of cross-application role communication, IRC won’t work. You will need to use queues instead.

Other -----------------
- Cloud Services with Windows Azure : Windows Azure Platform Overview
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