Sunday, November 2, 2008

Run ASP.NET MVC on Windows Azure

If you’ve purposefully been ignoring the announcements out of PDC, I don’t blame you one bit. Everybody knew it would be the unveiling of Microsoft’s “cloud computing” initiative, and just about the only thing we didn’t know was the official name of it: Windows Azure. And of course I pronounce it wrong every time (I say “ah-jour”, as in “soup-de-jour”). It’s hard to call it “initiative” when they’re the 3rd one to bring a product to the table. ;)

One thing I was looking forward to was hearing about the ASP.NET MVC story on Azure. So color me surprised when I found out there wasn’t one. Since ASP.NET MVC is bin-deployable it shouldn’t be impossible, and doing some quick searches didn’t retrieve any results showing anybody else having tried this. Of course later I discovered that Phil and Eilon had whipped up a sample app that ran ASP.NET MVC on Azure, but was pleased to find out that the downloadable sample app didn’t work. In fact, it seemed to just be MVC stuff slapped into a WebRole project. (I’m guessing something got “lost in translation” since it wasn’t Phil or Eilon that posted the code.)

Anyway, here’s how you can get ASP.NET MVC up and running on Azure. I’ve created a Visual Studio template for this to make it easy to set up - download it here. To avoid distributing code that isn’t my own (i.e. Windows Azure SDK Samples) there are a few steps you’ll have to take. I’m presuming that you’ve already installed the Windows Azure SDK and the Azure Visual Studio tools.

One thing that running a web application “in the cloud” means is that you can instantly scale higher by adding more “instances”. This means the leaky-as-a-sieve abstraction of “session state” isn’t immediately available (finally!) since any given HTTP request could be going to a different server. The default session state provider for ASP.NET is an in-memory provider. This assumes that every request comes to the same physical machine. Session state providers have varied in their reliability and handling of scalability, but the other built-in providers include an out-of-proc provider (still same machine, but more resilient to IIS going up and down) and a SQL Server provider. None of these are enabled on the Azure platform, for good reason.

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