How to Delete a VHD BLOB on for an Azure VM

A while ago I signed up for a 3 month trial for Microsoft Azure to allow me to continue to use the Azure Backup service after Microsoft moved it from Windows Azure Online Backup Preview into a more mainstream service.

Last night I decided to have a play whilst I’m still on the trial to see how quickly I could stand up a Windows Server 2012 VM instance. The answer is quickly by the way. Within five minutes, I was able to download the .rdp file and connect to the machine, but I digress.

After I was finished, I deleted the VM, but the disk remains in the event that you want to reattach it to another VM. When I tried to delete the .vhd file I got an error that it was still in-use. I wasn’t able to find the answer initially, but after a post on TechNet someone came straight back with the solution in an Azure Technical Support (WATS) blog post at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/windows_azure_technical_support_wats_team/archive/2013/02/05/iaas-unable-to-delete-vhd-there-is-currently-a-lease-on-the-blob.aspx.

In a nutshell, although the VM is deleted, it leaves behind a disk mount resource which is used to link the VM to the VHD BLOB. Follow the steps in the post to delete the link an you will be given an option to delete the actual .vhd file as well as the link. Job Done.

No Further Questions

I took the decision today to globally disable comments on the site. I’ve been getting in the region of 250 spam comments daily and I’ve had about 5 actual, real person comments in just as many months. To have the Akismet plugin for WordPress running to filter and manage all of these spam messages adds overhead to the blog and overhead for me to moderate those comments and it just isn’t worth it for the number of comments I receive.

To those of you who do want to contact me, please use the contact page on the site which has all of my social interaction addresses and handles listed.

I just want to stress that I’ve taken this decision not because I don’t want to hear from people about my thoughts and topics of conversation, but just because there isn’t enough real people interested in my material to warrant dealing with the spam.

I hope you understand?

Documents and Office XML Formats

This is a very short blog post; more of a rant than an actual informative post.

It’s the year 2013. Office 2013 has been out for sometime now, and the XML based office document formats such as .docx, .pptx and .xslx have been around since Office 2007. Additionally, there has been the Office Compatibility Pack (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=3) available for download for at least since Office 2010 was released to allow Office 2003 versions of Office to read the XML based document formats.

Why, based on these two factors, do people still insist of sending documents through in the Office 2003-esque .doc, .ppt and .xls document formats? They are old and horrible. They take up well over two times the amount of space per file than the XML based file types as well as reducing the features available to the document?

I understand that some banks and larger institutions may still be using Office 2003 because of compatibility issues with other line of business applications, but the majority populous will surely be running a version of Office less than 10 years old?

I Need More Power Captain

So, anyone who frequents my blog may have noticed a performance improvement in the last two days. The reason? I’ve moved house, or at least my blog has.

Previously hosted by a US company called ASPHostCentral, I had been having a lot of issues with MySQL of late where the blog couldn’t even connect to the instance. Several support tickets were raised for the issue and every time they resolved the issue, but never fixed the root cause which they claimed was a customer on the same shared server as me hammering the database engine. When the blog could connect to the MySQL database, I was seeing round-trip ping responses to the server of over 175ms at all times, with it sometimes peaking to 250ms. I setup a free website monitoring tool (http://www.uptimerobot.com/) to monitor the blog and a few other sites I own. I was receiving upwards of 10 alerts a day per site to say that they were offline for a few minutes and then back up again.

I haven’t fully completed the move as I have a forum site I run with a large database I need to migrate, but the blog and a few other mini-sites are moved over but so far it’s great. The blog is now hosted by HostingUK.net, a British company with datacentres based in the London area so the geography is much better for me and my primary user base. The new server is running Windows Server 2012 which means I get some of the newer features in IIS 8 for running the site not to mention a sub 20ms ping response from my home. If anyone is wondering, the reason I used the US to host the sites previously is that UK based web hosting hasn’t really been able to compete with the US companies until recently and being that this is all paid and run by me personally, I need to keep it cheap.

I’m going to be doing some performance tweaking of the blog soon, playing with caching plugins for WordPress, maybe even tweaking my theme to try and optimize some of the images to try and make the site fly, but I’m really happy with the new service I’m receiving so far, it’s faster and seems more dependable, I can get support in my time zone and the couple of questions I’ve had for their support people have been answers by certified IT Pro’s who actually sound knowledgeable.

Enjoy 🙂

WordPress Upgrade and Hosting Woes

So after typing the Surface Pro article earlier today, I realised that all of my WordPress plugins and my WordPress were out of date. After about an hour of tinkering with plugin versions, authorizing Twitter OAuth plugins and upgrading the main install.

So what’s new? Well the media manager in the admin interface is very nice and welcoming over previous iterations. Internet Explorer 10 still doesn’t get recognized as a modern browser still as logging into the admin interface produces an error that looks like it thinks I’m running IE6 – Something I as hoping would be fixed. Looking at the categories in the admin interface makes me a little sad too because my categories are all over the place so I think I need to spent a few hours aligning and rearranging them, and I also noticed a few quirks with my custom theme which I need to resolve.

Every time I upgrade my WordPress instance though, it reminds me how junk my current hosting provider are. I was only able to get between 10-20Kbps transferring files to and from the FTP site. A ping to the site results in a round-trip time of 165ms and the load times are terrible not to mention the HTTP500 errors I’ve been getting on a couple of my other sites recently because of some new user on the shared server pillaging the MySQL instance.

Normally, I forget about the issue by the time I get round to sorting it, but I’m determined to remember this time especially as my hosting is up for renewal soon, so I’m going to be finding a new home in the UK as UK hosting prices have dropped in recent years. I did take a look at Microsoft Azure earlier today, but the free instance doesn’t allow the use of custom domain names and the shared instance works out at about $45 a month for my sites which is too much.

If anyone knows a good UK hosting provider for £15 or less a month then please feel free to drop me a line.

Microsoft Surface Pro First Impressions

Friday just gone was my wife’s (@NickyCGreen) birthday. Being a student, she uses her laptop for typing up notes, writing essays and the like, but using a laptop in lectures was proving a little more challenging. On a few occasions, she has used the Acer Iconia W500 tablet I have and thanks to our Windows Server 2012 Essentials setup with folder redirection and roaming profiles, she can logon and get a seamless cross-device experience. She really enjoyed the form factor, but it went without saying that it was imperfect due to the fact that the W500 is pretty under powered and under resourced in terms of CPU and memory.

With the UK being far from the frontline in technological releases, the choices in tablets here are more limited than the US due to slipping release dates, so I made the decision to call in a favour from a previous employer and import a Surface Pro from the US for her birthday.

I opted for the slightly more expensive 128GB model purely because I didn’t want her to run out of space on the 64GB version. There’s no point having a roaming profile and folder redirection to offer her a huge capacity backend if she could then only make some of the work she has available offline.

I did some setup on the device before wrapping it and giving it to her which is what this review is based on.

The device itself is beautiful, with the VaporMag case giving it an amazing look and finish. The weight and dimensions are more than an iPad or the Surface RT, but that’s because you get a full Windows PC for your money. The Surface RT on the other hand is slightly thinner than the iPad but does weigh a fraction more. Neither of these facts make it unwieldy though; it’s still feels perfectly functional. The kick stand works really nicely and combined with a touch or type cover for the Surface, I can see it actually being useful, but I would personally like it to lean into the stand a little more; it’s quite upright and would worry me with the fear of toppling.

Powering the Pro on for the first time, I thought it must have been hibernated or sleeping in the box because it came straight up to the GUI within two seconds. I shut it down and powered it up from cold with the same effect. It boots so fast, it reduces the need for Sleep or Hibernate to null. I think the UEFI BIOS probably helps a lot here. I’d be interested to know how quickly the Surface RT boots being that it’s running a low-fat version of Windows?

The pre-installed Windows 8 Pro operating system has no bloatware, adware, freeware or anything horrid installed; It is the perfect OEM installation and was a real surprise and treat compared to normal OEM hardware releases. I only actually did three things to customize the installation aside from checking for and installing updates:

  1. Domain joined it using the Windows Server 2012 Essentials connector software.
  2. Used the Create Recovery Drive wizard to backup and delete the recovery partition, releasing 8GB of disk as available storage. You even need to play with Disk Management as the wizard extends the existing partitions if you elect to delete the partition afterwards which is a nice touch.
  3. Removed the pre-installed version of Office 2013 to allow me to install my TechNet licensed version of Office 2013 Professional Plus.

The touch screen is super responsive and you can touch type with as many fingers as you like using the on-screen keyboard and every touch is detected without fault. The screen size doesn’t make it the largest of tablets, but I think the size is ideal for portability. Small enough to carry around and use effectively, but not so small that you have to squint out of one eye and close the other, something which I think the smaller 8 inch tablets would suffer from with prolonged used. The 16:9 aspect ratio makes it less tall than it is wide compared to a number of standard aspect tablets also.

The MagSafe-esque power connector works well, connects easily and feels secure. I would personally like the indicator LED to be a little brighter to make it a bit more obvious it is charging, but that’s a minor complaint in the scheme of things.

The only actual complaint I have about the Surface Pro is the wireless adapter. It doesn’t seem to acknowledge 802.11d which is the standard for detecting Access Point deployment country to allow the adapter to use additional channels as available. In the USA, 802.11bgn can use channels 1 through to 11. In the EU, we can use channels 1 to 13. With most hardware being US based, the tendency is for hardware like routers to ship on channels 1,6 or 11, so I historically have used 13 at home to avoid some of the congestion, but the Surface just wouldn’t detect the SSID even with all of the User and System locales change d to UK. This may be a by-product of the fact it is a US import and that UK models shipping later this year will supports channels 12 and 13, but I’ve just changed channels to 11 to workaround this – My neighbour uses 6, so it’s hardly an issue.

All in all, it’s an amazing device and I am super jealous that my wife has one and I don’t. Fingers crossed she won’t break it and double fingers crossed she’ll let me use it from time to time because I don’t exactly have the spare dollars to buy another one any time soon.