“But it’s not really that easy, is it? I’ve had a heckuva time trying to make this work!”
Actually, once the preliminaries are in place, it is easy. But to upload anything from your local machine into a Windows Azure storage account requires you to connect to your Azure account.. which means having a management certificate in place to authenticate the connection.. which is a process that is hard to discover. Searching for a quick solution was confusing, because the tools are always changing.. and what was required several months ago isn’t necessarily the easiest way to do this.
This leads me to a little disclaimer, which really could apply to every single article written for this series:
This documentation provided is based on current tools as they exist during the Windows Azure Virtual Machine PREVIEW period. Capabilities and operations are subject to change without notice prior to the release and general availability of these new features.
That said, I’m going to try to make this process as simple as possible, and leave you not only with the ability to launch a VM from your own uploaded .VHD (virtual hard disk) file, but also leave you in good shape for using some pretty useful tools (such as Windows PowerShell) for managing your Windows Azure-based resources.
The rest of this article assumes that you already have a Windows Azure subscription. If you don’t have one, you can start a FREE 90 TRIAL HERE.
Create a local VM using Hyper-V
I’m going to assume that you know how to use Hyper-V to create a virtual machine. You can do this in Hyper-V running on Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012. You could even use Hyper-V installed on Windows 8. The end result should be that you have a virtual machine installed as you want it, sysprepped (important!), and ready to go. It’s that machine’s .VHD (the virtual hard disk) file that you’re going to be uploading into Windows Azure storage.
If you want further help building and preparing a virtual machine, check out the first part of this article on how to build a VM: Creating and Uploading a Virtual Hard Disk that Contains the Windows Server Operating System
NOTE: If you’re going to use one of the storage exploring tools I will be mentioning later, you will want to create your disk as (or convert your disk to) a fixed-format VHD. This is because those tools won’t convert the disk file on the fly, and the disk in Windows Azure storage is required to be a fixed disk (as opposed to a dynamic disk, which is the default).
Setup Windows Azure Management
Before we can connect to our Windows Azure storage and start uploading, we need to have a management certificate in place, as well as the tools for doing the upload installed.
Although there are manual ways of creating and uploading a self-signed certificate, the easiest method is to use the Windows Azure PowerShell cmdlets. Here is the download location for those:
Windows Azure PowerShell: https://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/manage/downloads/
Note that although the page says that it’s the November 2012 release, it actually gives you the December 2012 release. That’s important, because the extremely beneficial Add-AzureVHD PowerShell cmdlet was only introduced in December.
Once those are installed, you can follow the instructions here:
Get Started with Windows Azure Cmdlets: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windowsazure/jj554332.aspx
Specifically THIS SECTION which describes how to use the Get-AzurePublishSettingsFile, which generates a certificate in Windows Azure and creates a local “.publishsettings” file that is then imported locally using the Import-AzurePublishSettingsFile cmdlet. Once that’s done, you’ll have the management certificate in place locally as well as in your Azure account. And the best part is, this relationship is persistent! From this point on the opening of the Windows Azure PowerShell window will be properly associated with your account.
For a really great write-up on setting up and using PowerShell for Windows Azure, check out Michael Washam’s excellent article HERE.
Create an Azure Storage Account
If you have already created a virtual machine in Windows Azure, then you already have a storage account and container that you can use to hold your disks. But if you haven’t already done this, you will want to go into your portal and create one.
At the bottom of the portal, click “+ New”, and then choose Data Services –> Storage –> Quick Create
You’ll give your storage a unique name and choose geographical location, and then create it.
Once it’s created, select the new storage account and create a new “Blob Container” by selecting the CONTAINERS tab, and then clicking “CREATE A BLOB CONTAINER”.
Note the URL. Copy it to the clipboard or otherwise keep it handy. This URL will be used when we upload our VHD.
Upload the Hard Disk into Windows Azure Storage Container
“Kevin.. you also mentioned that we’ll need some tool to do the actual uploads.”
That’s right. Until recently, the only tool provided by Microsoft for doing this is the “csupload” tool, which is a commandline utility that is installed with the Windows Azure SDK. (Windows Azure Tools: http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/develop/downloads/ – But don’t install it just yet… it installs much more than you need to complete this exercise.)
Once the SDK is installed, and you have the SubscriptionID and the Certificate Thumbprint for your connection, you open the Windows Azure Command Prompt and use the csupload command in two steps: to setup the connection, and to do the upload. Here is the text from the article, Creating and Uploading a Virtual Hard Disk that Contains the Windows Server Operating System , which describes how to use the csupload tool.
All that said… DON’T DO IT! Unless you’re a developer, the Windows Azure SDK is much more than you need!
“So what’s the alternative, Kevin?”
PowerShell! Yes.. you already have the PowerShell for Windows Azure installed, so now you’re going to use two PowerShell CmdLets: Add-AzureVHD and Add-AzureDisk.
Add-AzureVHD is the upload. This is the one that takes a LONG TIME to run (depending on the size of your .VHD and your upstream connection speed). The result is that you have a new Page Blob object up in your storage.
Add-AzureDisk essentially tells Windows Azure to treat that new blob as a .VHD file that has a bootable operating system in it. Once that’s done, you can go into the Windows Azure Portal, create a new machine, and see your disk as one of the machine disks available.
So in my example, with a fresh, sysprepped, fixed-disk (10GB) .VHD installation of Windows Server 2012, I run these two commands:
Add-AzureVhd -Destination http://kevremdiskstorage.blob.core.windows.net/mydisks/SmallTestServer.vhd -LocalFilePath d:SmallTestServer.vhd
Add-AzureDisk -DiskName SmallTestServer -MediaLocation http://kevremdiskstorage.blob.core.windows.net/mydisks/SmallTestServer.vhd -OS Windows
(Of course, the first one takes quite a while for me. About 13 hours. Ugh.)
“Hey Kevin.. what if I want to use and re-use that image as the basis for multiple machines?”
Excellent question! And the good news is that basically instead of using Add-AzureDisk, you use the Add-AzureVMImage CmdLet to tell Windows Azure that the disk should be made available as a re-usable image. Like this:
Add-AzureVMImage -ImageName Server2012Eval -MediaLocation http://kevremdiskstorage.blob.core.windows.net/mydisks/SmallTestServer.vhd -OS Windows
Once that’s done, instead of just having a disk to use once for a new machine, I have a starting-point for one or more machines.
Create the Machine
In the portal it’s really no more complex than creating a new machine from the gallery:
Your disk should show up towards the bottom of the list. Select it, and build your machine.
Once created, you should be able to start it as if it were any other machine built from a previoulsy installed disk.
If you chose to add your disk as an image in the repository, then you also could create it using QUICK CREATE, because it is an image that is now available for you to use and re-use.
As long as we’re discussing working with Windows Azure Storage, here are a couple of tools that make it easier to manage, navigate, and upload/download items in your storage cloud:
Both have free trials, and aren’t really all that expensive. I’ve had mixed results, and you have to be careful that you’re creating “page blobs” and not “block blobs”. And with a slow upload connection, these tools are rather fragile. Benefit – Both of these allow you to configure a connection to your Windows Azure subscription and multiple storage accounts in order to upload and download your .VHD files. For our purposes, these will do what the Add-AzureVHD cmdlet did for us, plus let you create or manage storage containers. You’ll still need to run the Add-AzureDisk and Add-AzureVMImage commands to configure your disks for use.
(Major kudos to Joerg of ClumsyLeaf Software (makers of CloudXplorer), who answered my support questions in a matter of minutes! And on a Saturday, no less!)
What do you think? Are you going to try this out? At the very least I hope that this article helps you get PowerShell configured for working with your Windows Azure objects. Give us your questions or feedback in the comments.