Cloud TrinidadAndTobago

If a tree falls in the forest…

At about 5:00 am, the fans stopped spinning. And we knew there was a power outage. We rolled back to sleep in the embers of the night and thought, “oh well, they’ll sort themselves out”.

We were jolted out of sleep two hours later, by the loud noise of a crash down the road.

A massive tree had fallen. It made the electricity company seem far more prescient than I had ever given it credit for.

The tree that collapsed pulled down wires from two poles, caused one of them to fold over into an acute angle and pushed cords into the nearby river.

Early morning, early January disaster.

By the time I walked down to check out what was going on, with only my phone in hand, the community response was well underway.

The community seemed battle-hardened by these events. My wide-eyed, city-boy confusion melted away. A man in a van turned up with not one, not two but three chainsaws. Others turned up with rope and van man, sent for gasoline.

The army was on the scene relatively quickly too. Closed the road and essentially kept people who weren’t helpful at a useful distance. Me, the kept me away.

The men of the neighbourhood started cutting and when the fire services arrived, with their coordination and support the tree was eventually moved aside.

Cars could pass once again, though of course, slowly. By the time the electricity company arrived, the road was clear enough to let them begin the repair process.

The situation reminded me about the need for status updates from utilities. There’s clearly a chain of events needed here. The community response was an amazing, welcome first step. But it seemed like a proactive neighborhood. The baton was passed to the fire services, which made the way for the team from the electricity company.

Who would tell the other service providers? I didn’t see any communication utilities on the scene. Were they aware? Would they spring into action like the men with the chainsaws? This is doubtful.

Also, my family and I temporarily decamped to a place to get power, Internet and some chill. When should we go back? Again, it would be great to either check something like “” to find out.

For now, I’d actually settle for an SMS or WhatsApp from the providers. To date, we’ve gotten none. It seems like the best response will remain that of individuals and neighbours, who proactively set up their own systems, limited as they are, until better can be done.

Cloud Tracks

Save (your data from) Endomondo Month!


I hereby dub December, 2020, “Save your data from Endomondo” month. Why?

Endomondo’s retiring from the game.

So, given this state of affairs, it would be wise to ensure your data on the Endomondo platform is exported to somewhere. I made a request via their site to get all 789 of my workouts from there and a few days later, I got an archive that included this folder structure:

I wanted to do some analysis on my workout data, so I created a really simple ingestion tool that takes the data from the json documents in Workouts/ and inserts them into a SQL Server database.

The tool can be found in this repo.

The key thing about this tool is that I had to fiddle with Endomondo’s JSON output to get it to play nice with my approach to serialization:

I’m not super-proud of it, because it could be very finicky, but it got the job done for my purposes. I deliberately rejected pulling in the available lat-lon data from the runs, because I wasn’t interested in it for the moment, but a slight modification to the approach I’ve taken will accommodate that.

So, I’m glad the data is ingestible now, and I hope to do some cool stuff with it soon.


Jumping over hurdles to get to insights using Azure

On the way to getting some data to an Azure DB, I explored strategy in using entity framework that was such a cool timesaver, I thought I’d share it for #GlobalAzureBootcamp

I could have done this years ago. It’s just that sometimes a task feels so complex, daunting or mind-numbingly boring that you make do with alternatives until you just have to bite the bullet.

We work in SMPP at Teleios. It’s one of the ways you can connect to mobile carriers and exchange messages.  From time to time, we need to analyze the SMPP traffic we’re sending/receiving and typically, we use WireShark for this. That’s as easy as setting it up to listen on a port and then filtering for the protocol we care about. Instead of actively monitoring with WireShark, we may at times use dumpcap to get chunks of files with network traffic for analysis later on.

What we found was that analyzing file by file was tedious, we wanted to analyze a collection of files at once. We’d known of cloud-based capture analysis solutions for a while, but they tended to focus on TCP and maybe HTTP. Our solution needed to be SMPP-based. So, we decided to build a rudimentary SMPP-based database to help with packet analysis.

That’s where the mind-numbingly boring work came in. In the SMPP 3.4 spec, a given SMPP PDU can contain 150 fields. The need for analysis en masse was so great that we had to construct that database. But this is where the ease of using modern tools jumped in.

I got a list of the SMPP fields from the WireShark site.  In the past, I would have then gone about crafting the SQL that represented those fields as columns in a table. But now, in the age of ORM, I made a class in C#. And if you’re following along from the top, I created a project in Visual Studio, turned on Entity Framework migrations and added a DataContext. From there, it was plain sailing, as I just needed to introduce my new class to my DataContext and push that migration to my db.

It probably took me 30 minutes to go from the list of 150 fields on WireShark to being able to  create the database without the necessary tables. Now, where does Azure come into all of this?

Each capture file we collect could contain thousands of messages. So, in my local development environment, when I first tried to ingest all those to my database, my progress bar told me I’d be waiting a few days.  With Azure, I rapidly provisioned a database and had it’s structure in place with this gem:


That is, from the Entity Framework DataContext class, I called the Database.Migrate() method and any newly set up db would have my latest SMPP table. From there, I provisioned my first 400 DTU Azure SQL database and saw my progress bar for ingestion drop from days to hours.

With a database that size, queries over thousands of rows went by reasonably fast and gave us confidence that we’re on the right path.

We’re also working on a pipeline that automates ingestion of new capture files, very similar to what I did last year my Azure Container Instances project.

So, for #GlobalAzureBootcamp 2019, I’m glad that we were able to step over the hurdle of tedium into richer insights in our message processing.


Conquering complexity with a map

Last year, I worked with a researcher to develop a really cool, complex Azure solution to augment her work flow with some data. She needed to ingest a large volume of data, clean it up, run some AI on that and then present it. Typical data science activities that she wanted to run in the cloud.

I implemented the flow using several components including Azure Container Instances, Event Grid, Azure ML, Cosmos DB and Azure Functions. My daily drive at work doesn’t necessarily let me play in all those spaces at once, so I felt really glad to see all of those pieces work together.

Deploying took a bit more work as I wanted to make that as straightforward as possible. Thus, I used the Azure Fluent SDK that I was fanboying about across a few posts in 2018.

After everything was deployed though, I found visibility into the system was a bit of a stretch. My researcher colleague wanted to easily know where things were at in a given iteration of the process. I didn’t have a lot of solutions for that, so it was mostly email alerts.

That is, until I learnt about Azure Application map from two of my colleagues at Teleios – Ikechi, in Ops and Anand in Engineering.

It’s a part of Application Insights and lets you track dependencies between various services in an Azure solution. So, just out of the box, you can view the success of calls between web sites and web services and databases and other components. Going further, you can even add other components and dependencies to your app. That got me thinking. Maybe I can use Azure Application Map to display the various components of the solution and track issues in a visual, at-a-glance way?

I’m going to check it out.

Advocacy Cloud

Funky Azure Functions

Let’s talk about watering plants.

When I was younger, in my family, I was assigned the task of watering the flowering plants around the house. Thinking back on it now, there was easily 50 plants of all shapes and sizes. So, I would have to shuffle around the yard, bucket in hand, dipping and watering. Some plants would get two dips, others one. I couldn’t use the hose, because that might damage the roots of the younger plants. I hated it.

Ever the creative, I used to come up with outlandish ideas to solve the predicament. Sadly, I never implemented any of them. Thus, I was left to water these plants by hand.

Last week, for Caribbean Developer Week, I came up with a demo, featuring Azure Functions, that is the nearest to a solution to my plant watering needs back then that I have ever come.

I built three Azure Functions:

  1. Setup Waterer
  2. GuidEnqueuer
  3. Plant Waterer

Setup Waterer actually created more Azure Functions. Those would be Timer functions, each potentially able to run their own schedule.

GuidEnqueuer, alas poorly named, but good at pretending to be a plant food source, would receive an Http post and enqueue it. Plant Waterer would pick this up and display on a console. No actual plants benefited from this demo.

As I gushed previously, I created the Setup Waterer function on top of the Azure Fluent SDK and it worked fine. Functions making functions. That’s what I wanted to show really, and things worked well.

The code is available on my repo here.

Cloud teaching Uncategorized

Provisioning some test storage accounts for class

I wanted to create a few storage accounts for students in my class to complete an assignment featuring Event Sourcing and Material Views.

So, here’s what I did.

Download/install the latest azure command line interface (cli).
(While doing this, I realized I could have just used the cloud shell. I soldiered on with the dl)

Create a resource group to contain the accounts we’d need.

#Prior to doing this, ensure that user is logged in
# 'az login' works
#Then, if you have multiple subscriptions attached to account, select the appropriate one using:
# 'az account set –subscription <name or id>'
#command below:
az group create –name COMP6905A2Storage #name I used

Create the accounts and output the storage account keys
The command to make a single storage account is pretty straightforward:

#ensure logged in to azure
#ensure default subscription is desired one
az storage account create –name comp69052017a2test \ #test storage account
–resource-group COMP6905A2Storage \#test resource group
–location eastus –sku Standard_LRS \
–encryption blob

But I wanted to also output the keys and display them on a single line. The command to get the keys after the account is created is this:

az storage account keys list –account-name comp69052017a2test –resource-group COMP6905A2Storage

So, I used the jq program in bash to parse the json result and display both keys on a line. Thus, I created a script that would create the accounts and then output their storage account keys.
This is the script that produced the accounts and keys:

for number in {1..20}
az storage account create –name $account –resource-group COMP6905A2Storage –location eastus –sku Standard_LRS –encryption blob | jq ".name"
az storage account keys list –account-name $account –resource-group COMP6905A2Storage | jq '.[].value' | tr -s '\n' ','

Overall, the longest part of the exercise was dealing with the way the files were being saved in windows vs how they were being saved and read by bash. But the accounts were created and class can get on with assignment 2.

Cloud teaching

Exploring the differences between SaaS, PaaS and IaaS

In Cloud Technologies class today, we used both the course outline and the notes from MSFTImagine’s Github repo to talk through the differences in service offering.

I used the canonical service model responsibility chart to start the conversation off.

Service Model Division of Responsibility, via MSFTImagine on Github.

It’s fairly straightforward to talk to these divisions, of course. I often use it to drive home the NIST 2011 definition of cloud services. With emphasis on the service delivery models.

In today’s presentation, one of the things that jumped out at me was the slide that provided a distinction between SaaS Cloud Storage and IaaS.

SaaS or IaaS, via MSFTImagine on Github.

Finally, when talking about the ever versatile Salesforce, and how its PaaS solution works out it reminded me of the Online Accommodation Student Information System (OASIS 🙂 ) that I had built when I was in undergrad.

I’d built OASIS as a commission for the Office of Student Advisory Services. It was a tool to help off-campus students more easily find accommodation. Prior to OASIS all the information was a notebook in an office. It was built before I learnt about the utility-based computing of cloud. I’m thinking about using that as the basis of an exploration of the architectural changes need to move an old service to the cloud.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to revisit it when we touch on Cloud Design Patterns.

Cloud teaching

Cloud Technologies – 2017. Ready, class 1

Started back with the UWI Cloud Technologies course today. This class was an Introduction to Cloud generally, with some conversation about the course outline and expectations for assignments.

We still in the process of confirming the course outline, so I’ll share that next week. But I used the slides from the technical resources provided by the Azure Computer Science module on cloud technology.

On my way to class I met up with Naresh who runs the UWI’s Department of Computing and Information Technology servers. He gave me a quick tour of their deployment. I’m looking forward to him sharing some stories from setting up that environment in our IaaS classes in a few weeks.

Recommended reading for today’s class is Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech


Presenting on Cloud Native

I presented on the imperative of designing specifically for the Cloud at the 13th edition of CaribNog.

My central treatise was that entities are moving away from simply Cloud-enabling existing solutions and having the Cloud as a backup. Analysts, architects and developers are strongly moving towards building solutions that are native to the Cloud.

Here’s the presentation.



Defining Cloud

When we teach on Cloud Technologies at UWI, we start with building the context.

Many students come to class with ideas about what cloud is from their experience with service providers. Perhaps they use Gmail for email, or One Drive for storage.  What they know is that some provider manages the concerns attached to a service they use.

We start off with a definition investigated and shared by the US National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). As outlined by NIST, when they developed their definition, they were going for a yardstick that could allow consistent comparison among service providers, deployments and strategies.

According to NIST, cloud computing is a model. A way of thinking with regard to requesting, deploying, managing and monitoring computing resources. This model anticipates broad network access as the means to interacting with service providers. The resources being provisioned are expected to be shared.

In the NIST version of the cloud model,

  • There are 5 key characteristics.
  • There are 3 service models.
  • There are 4 deployment models.

When delivering this understanding we tend to repeat those characteristics often.  They are:

  • Self-service
  • Network accessibility
  • Pooled resources
  • Elastic resourcing
  • Closely monitoring

Services being built today may feature the use of cloud resources but themselves may not actually be cloud services.  Walking along with those characteristics, we encourage students to ask, “can I order this up, pay and have it available, without human involvement?”. Then it’s self-service. Can service modification be done over a network? Does the underlying infrastructure automatically assign and un-assign the use of resources? Does the billing reflect up-to-the-minute information on when a customer provisioned/de-provisioned services?

Those are the starting questions that can be used to evaluate services when spotted, or as they are being built.

The service models are Software-, Platform-, Infrastructure- as a Service.  The concept of “[x] as a Service” is essential to understand when considering the degree of abstraction.

Breakdown of Cloud Computing Services
Cloud Services, image via Wikipedia

Service models let a person evaluating or implementing cloud to know what will be in their hands to manage vs what is being managed by a service provider.

And finally in the NIST-defined model  of cloud computing there are the deployment models – private, public, community & hybrid.

We start with this definition because from there we expect students to be understanding how in an MSc focused on Cloud Technology, they need to be oriented.

There are two forms of orientation I’ve experienced. It is knowing the responsibility for developers & software designers to build with cloud in mind, paying attention to relevant patterns & principles, such as service orientation.

And it is also the great empowerment one should feel when embracing use of these services. Literally, the savvy can provision servers, services and other resources via code. That is tremendously advantageous. The course is about exploring how so.

When I teach these courses, I come at the students as someone who’s been witnessing the change in how software is conceptualized, built & delivered.  It’s hoped that from the experiences shared, they’d be empowered to jump in, and take part.