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Azure+MongoDb: Having my mind blown at Mongo Boston

Update: Originally the Mongo Boston talk on Azure was supposed to be given by David Makogon (blog) (twitter). He talks about the session and some upcoming articles he will write in this post.

I was at the thoroughly awesome Mongo Boston conference at the Micrsoft NERD Center this weekend. I had a great time at the conference, as well as the surrounding activities. Of all the talks during the conference, one stood out. It was given by Mark Eisenberg who does sales for Microsoft Azure. That talk was on running MongoDB in Azure.

For those who do not know, Azure is Microsoft’s cloud offering. While they offer you virtual hosts, its not a traditional VM slice offering. You don’t get to run processes with administrative access, and you don’t get RDP access.

A few things stood out about this talk. First, it was a well executed “initial conversation” sales pitch. However, it was aimed perfectly at the audience in the room: programmers, architects, and technical decision makers. Mark knew his stuff. I asked some pretty deep technical questions, and got actual answers. It was also refreshing to hear, “its probably better to use Azure to write new apps than to port existing apps.” Having a salesman set expectations so frankly is unfortunately unusual in the IT industry.

The second thing that stood out was how you run a standalone exe like mongod.exe on Azure. Since you do not have administrative access to the machine, you cannot deploy via MSI, and you cannot run in the context of a windows service. The mongod process is basically running in a command prompt on a console you don’t have access to. Also, you cannot create different users to run different processes. The assumption, since this is the cloud, is that you spin up a new instance for each process. To be quite frank, I found this quite appalling at first. I spent a good chunk of my early career doing helpdesk and later system administration for a small ISP. Although titularly I was in charge of Unix and iSeries machines, I helped out on the windows side of the shop as well. Sometimes we had to run windows apps on the console of a server, requiring that a user was always logged into the console of that server. Knowing first hand the problems this caused, I declared a crusade against such programs. Also, this means all the windows improvements I contributed to mongo, windows service related improvements, served no purpose in the cloud.

Now, I’ve always been very dogmatic about my development and operations practices, so I’m still adjusting to what a more cool headed developer would accept instantly. However, my emotions will eventually come to accept what my intellect knows to be true. The cloud is here, I can get on it, or become the best buggy whip manufacturer there ever was.

The third thing that stood out had very little to do with the specifics of mongod and Azure. While its quite obvious Microsoft wants you to develop for Azure using .NET, they care about properly supporting all the third party technologies that Azure supports. I felt more like I was being sold by Lou Gerstner era IBM, than modern day Balmer lead Microsoft. Azure is being sold as a service. While Microsoft naturally wants to supplement that with the sale of their software products, they mainly want you to run your software on their platform. The threat of vendor lock-in is still there, but it always is on any platform.