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Getting Started on Azure


We’re doing some work on a new product on Azure and it’s been a learning process. For any of you that are just getting started, here’s what I’ve found to be the most useful information getting started.

Transient connections

Connections will drop. Regularly. Your application MUST be able to handle dropped connections. Dropped connections are inevitable and intrinsic to the cloud architecture (e.g. ops like replacing a dead node, splitting a Federation member in SQL Database, etc.). The Transient Fault Handling Application Block provides well thought out and tested ways to handle this – use it.

Network latency

A SQL select that normally takes 10 milliseconds to complete can take a minute. Azure is a service-based platform of shared resources, and this means that two types of latencies or interruptions regularly occur. The first is the time taken to make a request and receive a response over the internet. Since those requests and responses can travel through any number of routers before they return to the client, timeouts and disconnections are more frequent than in local, fixed networks. The second is the time it takes for a shared-resource system like Azure to create backup versions of data for durability and to replace and reroute requests to any removed instances. In some cases that means the user waits a minute for the web page to complete. But for other uses, it means perform your communication with other systems in Azure in an async manner.

Microsoft Azure image

Two Datacenters

Even if the only user of your app at first will be your proud mom, set it up on two datacenters. There’s a giant difference between a single instance and two instances. Going from 2 to N has some issues, but they’re a lot fewer. Learn from the start how to properly set up a clustered system. We set one in the US and one in Europe so we hit more latency and communication problems between the two systems.

Default Capacity & Billing Settings

When you create anything in Azure, it has default limits set for capacity, billing, etc. Check them.You don’t want a well-designed system to stop responding, not because it can’t handle the load, but the increased number of customers caused you to hit the maximum charge for one of the services. We hit this problem with the Phone Home license server which caused it to be down for ½ hour.

Web App Logging

Using Trace sucks. There’s no way to set the level of logging by component and no log.IsDebugEnabled which is a tremendous performance win. We’re still working through how to best configure log4net and will update this here when we make a final decision. (A big question is do we log to each web app instance local storage, and lose that logging if the web app VM crashes, or do we write out to shared storage.)

Great Links


Storing Passwords & Sensitive Data

This is a problem. The Azure team assumes that no one can get to your Azure management login (and that is unlikely). But they also assume all administrators of the site should have access to all sensitive information, and that is not a good practice. Especially for private keys where the public key is embedded in local programs and therefore cannot be changed.


Cloud Services

Azure Sql Database

Most important thing to watch for on info out there for Sql Azure – most of it is way out of date. And there’s no easy way to determine if the page you found or were referred to is correct.

Storage & Queues


At the Build Conference I attended a session by two of the top Azure system engineers. They had a slide come up labeled “Load Testing” and they said “take it live.” Their point was you can, and should load test before you go live. But it’s only as a live system that you truly test it and find the problems from that testing.

Running on Azure is new, different, and a learning experience. Be ready to resolve issues quickly because you will hit quite a few when you first go live. And by definition, most of them will be in unexpected places.

Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Displays of all the tags in the template, structured as they are placed in the template. This provides a simple & intuitive way to see the structure of your template. Also provides the capability to go to any tag and/or see the properties of any tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

The Generate Code tool in the designer allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables. Simply copy this code and paste into your application's code in the appropriate place. You now have Windward integrated into your application.

You only need to do this once. You do not do this for each template. Instead, where it has explicit files for the template and output, change that to parameters you pass to this code. Same for the parameters passed to Windward. This example uses explicit values to show you what to substitute in where.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in an XLSX template are carried over to the XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will have pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

This makes creating an XLSX workbook with pivot tables trivial.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, or the properties in the parent.

You set to retain when you don't want the child template's styling to change when imported. You set to use the parent when you want the styling of the imported template to match the styling in the parent.

Any explicit styling is always retained. This only impacts styling set by styles.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

If you need this - it's essential. And if you don't need it, it's irrelevant.

Windward enables you to build a document by applying multiple datasources to the template simultaneously. When Windward is merging the data into a template, it processes the template by handling each tag in order, and each tag pulls from different datasources. (As opposed to processing all of one datasource, then processing the next.)

This allows the select tag to use data from another datasource in its select. For example, if you are pulling customer information from one data source, you can then pull data from the sales datasource using the customer ID of the customer presently processing to pull the sales information for that customer. If you're interested in patching together your data from multiple datasources, read this post on our blog.

David Thielen

President/CEO at Windward Studios

From his early years as a Senior Developer at Microsoft, to legendary designer of the popular Enemy Nations strategy game, to reporting and document generation guru, Dave has never lost his passion for building superb software and teams.

Written by:_
David Thielen
President/CEO at Windward Studios


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