Joining the Digital Dots: Windows Azure SQL Reporting ends, replaced with Windows Azure VMs running SSRS – ringed with the Azure world

Apologies to Lord Tennyson for misquoting his wonderful poem “The Eagle”!
In the technical community, we do need to be ‘eagle eyed’ because there are a lot of infrastructure changes and people will need to keep watching out for them! If you like an in-person event, please take a look at SQLRelay and the Cloud OS CommunityRelay for news and technically-oriented sessions on SQL Server 2014, Windows Server 2012 R2 and Systems Center 2012 R2.
What’s the news here? On the October 31, 2013, notification went out to current Windows Azure SQL Reporting customers that the service will be discontinued in 12 months.  What was Windows Azure SQL Reporting? It was is a cloud-based reporting service for the Windows Azure Platform built on SQL Server Reporting Services technologies. As a big SSRS fan, who has presented on SSRS and Azure together, I was disappointed that the service was going. So what about the move to Windows Azure Virtual Machines for SSRS?
So, what’s the alternative? Welcome to SSRS on Windows Azure Virtual Machines

However, my disappointment was quickly dissipated when I realised that the Microsoft vision is users will have VMs with SSRS for their Azure reporting instances. My belief is that people will probably find it pretty easy to move their Windows Azure SQL Reporting solutions towards SSRS on Windows Azure VMs.
IT departments are used to VMs, and I see an increasing trend towards virtualisation amongst many of my customers already. Using a VM, you can deploy an operational reporting solution in the cloud that supports either the Native or SharePoint mode feature set.
Will I get the same features that I had before? Fortunately, a VM with SQL Server 2008 R2 or 2012 supports all Reporting Services features, including all supported data sources, customization and extensibility, and scheduled report execution and delivery. This means that users should see no change from their perspective, and that is a good thing.
What’s the benefits?

Performance – It was well known that Windows Azure SQL Reporting report execution was slower than SSRS running on premises. Moving to a VM makes sense, because performance of SSRS on a Windows Azure Virtual Machine corresponds to an on-premises SSRS instance. Faster reports is always good news! Side by side testing has shown that performance gains are attributed to having the report server catalog reside on a local disk in the VM.
What about my custom code? SSRS on an Azure VM supports custom code and assembly references in a report. Similarly, developers can replace or supplement report server operations by adding custom extensions. See Custom Code and Assembly References in Expressions and Reporting Services Extensions for details.
Mobility – this was my favourite feature of Windows Azure SQL Reporting but all is not lost with the new vision. If it is in the cloud, then you can look at mobilising the SSRS report from the VM as you did previously with SSRS as a service.
Scheduled report execution and delivery yes! See Schedules and Subscription and Delivery.
Integration with hybrid solutions – yes! You can join a Windows Azure VM to your corporate network. This is particularly useful for small to medium businesses who prefer an operational cost (OPEX) than a capital expenditure (CAPEX) cost. This means that SMEs can add capacity quickly, without making large hardware costs. You can get more information here Windows Azure Virtual Network Overview
Considering a new Reporting Solution on Windows Azure?
Here are some points to note:
A Windows Azure VM can use Windows authentication to support single sign on. The configuration depends on your setup and your requirements e.g. whether you require validation at the report server or the backend, for example. 
In order to help you to get started, take a look at the table below to help you evaluate a cloud-based Azure VM reporting solution for new software development projects:
Before you start, learn about the basic capabilities of a Windows Azure VM by watching the videos and clicking the Explore links on the Virtual Machine page on the web site.
Compare licensing costs between a predefined image and Windows Server VM running a licensed copy of SQL Server that you purchase and install separately on the VM. Depending on which SQL Server features you require, you might find it more cost-effective to purchase a Windows VM and SQL Server (Enterprise, Standard or Web edition) separately. In that case, you might want create a .vhd in-house using the installation media of the licensed copy of SQL Server, and then attach the disk to your Windows VM.
As alternative to SQL Reporting, you can use the Standard edition of SQL Server, but you might choose other editions depending on the feature requirements and workloads.
Choose the report server mode and features that best satisfy business requirements. The report server mode will determine which authentication subsystems and authorization models are available. While Native mode is closest to SQL Reporting, SharePoint mode provides out-of-box support for claims authentication, multi-tenancy, and load balancing.
Note that claims identity cannot be flowed to most backend data sources that exist outside of the SharePoint environment, so if you use claims, realize that stored credentials of a single user identity will most likely be required for backend data access.
Confirm your decisions about deployment, provisioning, report server mode, and features through proof-of-concept testing. Proof-of-concept testing includes building and publishing simple reports that allow you to validate connections from client applications so that you can test configuration, authentication, and authorization behaviors. During preliminary testing, retrieve enough data in each report to understand the expected latency for data retrieval and rendering, especially if you are testing a hybrid solution that combines cloud and on-premises services.
Finally, evaluation should include a review of high availability and scalable architectures that might be necessary to support a large volume of users or report executions.
Existing Projects using SQL Reporting on Windows Azure?

IT teams are accustomed to VMs, so this already leverages the skills in-house in order to make the transition. Here is some guidance below to help you to move existing SQL Reporting over to Azure VMs. Here are a few take-away points:
·         You will need to replace it with an alternative technology by October 2014.
·         Microsoft recommend a Windows Azure VM running SSRS in Native mode.
·         Choosing an SSRS VM preserves your existing investment in report design, so no real changes made to the reports themselves.
You are not charged for VMs that are turned off. This saves you money! If you only use reports at scheduled times, for example, month end reporting, you can export a report to a static format, such as PDF. You could then stop the VM when the report server is inactive.
How do you migrate to a VM? Simple! You can deploy a report server project to SSRS on a VM, setting the target server to the VM endpoint. For instructions on how to configure SSRS, set endpoints, configure the firewall, and publish and test reports, see SQL Server Business Intelligence in Windows Azure Virtual Machines.
Other aspects of a transition will require replacement functionality or manual changes, such as replacing report server authentication, or changes in how client applications connect to a report server. At a minimum, you will need to update the endpoint used on the connection. 
SSRS Native Mode on a VM versus SQL Reporting

SQL Reporting customers who are unfamiliar with SSRS can use the following table to compare the two platforms.
SSRS Native Mode on a Windows Azure VM
SQL Reporting
No feature restrictions for Reporting Services instances on a VM, except for features that vary by report server mode or by SQL Server edition. On a VM, reports can retrieve data from any supported data source. See Data Sources Supported by SSRS for details. For feature comparison by mode or edition, see Reporting Services Report Server and Features by Edition SQL Server 2012.
SQL Reporting is limited to un-federated Windows Azure SQL Databases that are part of the same Windows Azure subscription. On-demand report execution and rendering is supported, but scheduling and subscription delivery is not available.
Billing model
Billing is based on the compute resources required to support a VM in the data center.
Microsoft recommends Medium or Large VMs for SQL Server BI server applications, depending on report volume and number of SQL Server features you plan to use. For operational reporting, you will need both Reporting Services and a Database Engine instance for the report server database.
Different rates apply depending on the size of the VM, as VM size determines how much CPU, memory, and disk storage are allocated. See Pricing Details for SQL Server for more information.
Note that you are not charged for VMs that are turned off, so if you only use reports at certain times, you can export a report to a static format, such as PDF, and then stop the VM when the report server is inactive.
Billing is based on the number of report executions rather than compute resources. If additional capacity is required, an additional instance is added dynamically in the background. Your bill goes up incrementally, in response to the higher number of report executions.
Authentication and Authorization
Users can authenticate to SSRS on VM using Windows authentication or Forms authentication. Support for commonly used authentication subsystems allows for greater software integration opportunities and supports identity delegation across multiple applications.
For database platforms that support Windows authentication, you can take advantage of identity delegation to flow a user identity from the calling application, to the report server, to the backend database. See Authenticate to a report server and Microsoft BI Authentication and Identity Delegation for more information.
A report server on a VM uses a role-based authorization model. See Granting Permissions on a Native Mode Report Server.
SQL Reporting has a proprietary report server authentication subsystem, limited to defining report user identities used for sign in and role assignments. User identity cannot be deleted to other server applications.
SQL Reporting uses Native mode Reporting Services roles.
Software integration and architecture
Reporting Services is a middle tier service that sits between backend data sources and front-end clients, such as a browser or custom web page hosting a report. When evaluating Reporting Services on a VM as your operational reporting solution, your design should position Reporting Services as a middle tier service accordingly.
Architecturally and programmatically, a report server VM is equivalent to an on-premises server. Parity between cloud and on premises architecture is best achieved when other applications, such as backend data sources or front-end applications providing embedded reports, also run within the same Cloud service as the report server VM. In most cases, an end-to-end solution designed to run on-premises can be duplicated using a collection of VMs in a Cloud service. See Developer’s Guide (Reporting Services) for more information about SSRS programmability.
In SQL Reporting, report access is primarily through the HTTP endpoint for URL access, or the SOAP management endpoint, often using the ReportViewer control embedded in a form or web page.
Note that on SQL Reporting, the ASP.NET MVC Web Application templates do not support the ReportViewer control.
More information
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 I hope that helps someone!
Kind Regards,

Joining the Digital Dots: Working without Digital Limits

Users are tech-savvy and will not tolerate digital limits. They expect the digital dots to be joined up, to get what they want, and to be given choices about ways to do things better on the device that suits them best. For me, delivering Business Intelligence systems is fundamentally affected by the quality of the IT infrastructure. Ever tried to run a data extract over a network that uses dial-up? You’re with me now, aren’t you?  Users hate to wait, and they want everything mobilised.

So how do we go about this? One of the concepts in delivering IT infrastructure is people-centric IT, or PCIT. What is people-centric IT, or PCIT? It sounds like another acronym, but being people-centred is fundamental to delivering IT. 
People-centric IT (PCIT) enables each person you support to work from virtually anywhere on the device of their choice and gives you a consistent way to manage and protect it all. In his book, ‘The New Normal’, Peter Hinssen talks about the way in which people’s expectations of technology through consumerism, and particularly IT departments, are changing. In today’s world, users are King or Queen, but they need to be protected from themselves. It’s estimated that, by 2015, the number of connected devices will be twice the global population. 
Users are tech-savvy and will not tolerate digital limits
in terms of pricing, timing or functionality.
They expect the digital dots to be joined

Society, governments, and specifically, IT departments, are increasingly expected to deliver data, technology and process without digital limits. 
IT departments are now having to deal with business expectations where the end users are tech-savvy and demanding, and expect to have IT delivered with no limits, and data wherever they choose. 

Despite these requirements, consumers also expect privacy and security.

 How can you deliver a corporate IT function without digital limits? Look at the balances that needs to be achieved:
  • How is it possible to find an equilibrium between the IT consumers’ needs for privacy and security?
  • How can we balance user enablement plus meeting the consumer requirements? 
  • How can we keep the end users productive?
  • How can we keep corporate data protected?
  • How can we stay compliant with regulatory compliance standards across all devices, whilst maintaining a consistent user experience? 
  • How can we achieve these objectives in a dynamic, fluctuating 24/7/365 world?
  • How can we encourage people to self-service data wherever possible?
I don’t know about you, but I feel a bit sorry for IT departments. They have a tough job in a demanding environment. They’re expected to be able to support any device, and let’s face it, we all use personal devices to connect to corporate networks, even though they are not officially part of the corporate network and have not been ‘vetted’. People want access to corporate applications from anywhere, on whatever device they choose—laptop, smartphone, tablet, or PC. IT departments are challenged to provide consistent, rich experiences across all these device types, with access to native, web, and remote applications or desktops. It is a tough ‘ask’ of IT, but it is something that business users have taken for granted. IT is trying to enable people to choose their devices, but must also reduce costs and complexity as well as maintain security and compliance by protecting data and having comprehensive settings management across platforms.

To summarise, we have to work out a way to give users what they want without digital limits, whilst also ‘showing the love’ to our data.
Given these constraints, what’s the future for PCIT? Protecting company information is critical, and the growth of BYOD will simply make it more challenging for organisations to deliver IT. 
There will come a tipping point in each organisation where the organisation will start to have to work smarter rather than harder. We will have to move away from the ‘add new hardware’ solution to every problem, and see that the problems can’t be solved by buying more RAM or even hiring more consultants to help.
How can Microsoft help? Microsoft are moving towards a unified, people-centric suite of solutions moving towards IT delivery, which focus on the user whilst reducing risk in delivery. 

A smart infrastructure makes for better Business Intelligence solutions, and I’m all for that. If the infrastructure isn’t right, then it is hard to deliver SQL Server and data projects properly.  

There is a real marriage between the infrastructure and the delivery. With this in mind, technical people who are also interested in futurology should take a look at System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 R2.  These support SQL Server, and for me personally, I believe in getting the basics right as well as focusing on SQL Server.  Since organisations will move to Windows Server 2012 R2, it’s probably wise to get the information. I’ve put some links below.
If you like an in-person event, please take a look at the Cloud OS Community Relay, which is holding Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. These are the ‘latest and greatest’ from Microsoft, and you can find more information here. You might be interested to know about the SQLRelay events, which are more SQL Server focused and run alongside the Cloud OS Community Relay. You can find out more here, or if you’d like to come to the Hertfordshire event on 15th November, please take a look here
In the meantime, here are some download links if you’d like to try it out.

System Center 2012 R2

System Center 2012 R2 delivers unified management across on-premises, service provider, and Windows Azure environments, thereby enabling the Microsoft Cloud OS. System Center 2012 R2 offers exciting new features and enhancements across infrastructure provisioning, infrastructure monitoring, application performance monitoring, automation and self-service, and IT service management.

·         System Center Team Blog

System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager and Windows Intune
With System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager, you can keep software up-to-date, set security policies, and monitor status while giving your users access to preferred applications from the devices they choose.

Extend your on-premises Configuration Manager solution to the cloud by integrating Windows Intune to enable remote, mobile, and branch office employees to use the devices that best fit their needs.

System Center Configuration Manager with Windows Intune

You can use System Center Configuration Manager together with Windows Intune to manage a broad array of PCs and devices covering Windows, Windows RT, Macs, Windows Phone, Apple iOS and Android. This release of Configuration Manager and Windows Intune supports large deployments on a single management infrastructure.

Windows Intune “stand-alone” (cloud-only) configuration
The web-based administration console in Windows Intune provides simplified management of client computers in your organization, including Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, Apple iOS, and Android devices. You can upload and publish software packages, manage policy, and track computer inventory without on-premises infrastructure.

·         Windows Intune Forums

Windows Server 2012 R2
At the heart of the Microsoft Cloud OS vision, Windows Server 2012 R2 brings Microsoft’s experience delivering global-scale cloud services into your infrastructure with new features and enhancements in virtualization, management, storage, networking, virtual desktop infrastructure, access and information protection, the web and application platform, and more.
·         Start your evaluation

Microsoft is coming to Hemel Hempstead for a free of SQL Server, Windows Server and System Center training!

SQLRelay and Cloud OS Relay are joining forces at Hemel Hempstead for a great, free day of training! This will be held on 15th November at Shendish Manor, which is in Hemel Hempstead.

As featured on TechNet, we will be having a SQL Server track and a separate Infrastructure track, which is dedicated to Infrastructure specialists. If you are a Windows Server 2012 or a Systems Centre 2012 technical person, then this Infrastructure-track is focused at you.

Click on the link to register for the SQL Server track, or click here if you’re interested in the Windows Server R2 and Systems Center R2 Training.

For the SQL Server 2012 track, the Agenda is here:

09:00 09:30 Registration
09:30 10:00 Microsoft Keynote and Q&A
10:00 10:50 Scott Kline – Microsoft SQL Server In-Memory OLTP Deep Dive
10:50 11:10 Break 
11:10 12:00 Chris Harris (Hortonworks) – Hadoop as an Enterprise Data Platform
12:00 12:50 Allan Mitchell – Making the most of your Azure data with Pig and Hive
12:50 13:30 A free lunch will be provided for you
13:30 14:25 Denny Cherry – Table Indexing for the .NET developer
14:25 15:20 Tony Rogerson – SQL Server 2014 Hekaton Deep Dive
15:20 15:40 Break
15:40 16:35 Jen Stirrup – From Data Source to Secret Sauce – Powering and Visualising your Data with Power BI

If you’d like to register for this, please click here.
See you there!
Kind Regards,