DevOps North East – Introduction to Infrastructure as Code

This Thursday, the ever-informative DevOps North East (D.O.N.E.) group has a meetup introducing Infrastructure as Code. This is the first in a new series of “back to school” beginner-level talks for people getting into DevOps, so even if you can’t make it this week, it’ll be worth checking out future months’ topics.

The event is being held in the city centre at Campus North, and it’s looking like it’s going to be popular, so I’d recommend registering ASAP at:

Free Technology User Group event in Newcastle

TechUG Newcastle is two weeks today (Thurs 22nd Sept) at the Jurys Inn, Scottswood Road. Some of our team will be there, along with colleagues from the like of Aldi, Draeger, Sanderson Weatherall, Convergys, University of Northumbria, and Newcastle Royal Grammer School.

Speakers include Jason Meers from VMware, Marcus Robinson from Microsoft, Michael Stephenson from Northumbria University, Danny O’Callaghan from VCE, Paul Parkin from Veeam, and others, covering a range of topics including Azure, DevOps, Docker & Containers, Server 2016, HyperCoverged Infrastructure, a VMworld update, vSphere and much more.

You can register for free at and the event also includes prize giveaways, complimentary teas, coffees and lunch provided, plus networking drinks at the end of the day.

There’s always a lot of good learning and networking to be done at these twice-yearly events, so hopefully we’ll see you there.

Setting up a Visual Studio Team Services Git repository

Creating a new repository in VSTS.

1. If you do not already have a VSTS project, you can create a new one from your team home page by clicking the New link under Recent Projects & Teams (if you already have a project, skip to step 3):


2. On the Create new team project page, be sure to select Git as the Version Control option. This will automatically create you a Git repository with your new project:


3. In the Project home page, you can access your repository by clicking CODE:


4. If you wish to create a new repository (because you had an existing project without one, or because you wish to add an additional one to your project), you can click the drop-down at the top left and click New repository:


Accessing the repository from your local computer.

First, you’ll need to install the git client; you can download the client from The default installation options should be fine.

Cloning the repository using Visual Studio

If you’re using Visual Studio, you can clone the repository directly into it from the CODE page:


This will open Visual Studio; your repository will be shown in the Team Explorer pane. Click Clone Repository:


Then select a location to save your local copy of the repository, and click Clone:


Cloning the repository using the command line

If you wish to us a different editor, you can use the git command line tools to clone the repository. First, copy the URL to the repository from the CODE page:



  1. Open a PowerShell window.
  2. Create a directory for the local copy of the repository.
  3. Change directory to that directory.
  4. Type ‘git init’ to initialise a local git repository.
  5. Type ‘git remote add origin <Repository URL>’ to connect to the remote repository.


You can now access the repository from any editor and manage it using command line tools (or any tools that the editor provides). If you wish to use Visual Studio Code, simply click File->Open Folder and point it at the folder. If the git pane looks as follows, it’s worked:


Next steps

Git is now connected to the remote repository and ready to use. A future blog post will give an overview of how git works, and what the common commands that you need to learn are.

DevOps on Windows events in Newcastle this month

If Sean’s post about the WinOps conference was interesting to you, there are a couple of events coming up in Newcastle which may be up your street. Both of these are free to attend, include some free beverages, and pizza. They are also both being held at Campus North on Carliol Square, so just a short walk from the campus.

On the evening of Wednesday 15th June, NEBytes is hosting Microsoft MVPs Richard Fennell and Rik Hepworth from Black Marble, talking about DevOps with Azure and Visual Studio Team Services, with a focus on environment provisioning and testing, much of which is relevant to on-premises delpoyments too. Registration is at

The following Wednesday evening, the 22nd, DevOps North East has a session on Microsoft, Open Source and Azure, as well as an interesting sounding “Who Wants to be a (DevOps) Millionaire” game. Registration is open at

WinOps 2016

Last week, Jonathan Noble and I attended the WinOps 2016 conference in London; this was a conference centred around the subject of using DevOps working practices with Windows Servers, which is something that Microsoft are focusing a lot of effort on, and something that ISG have taken a lot of interest in. I’ve been told that videos of the talks will soon be available on, and I would strongly recommend them for anyone who works with Windows Servers in any capacity. (Update: videos are now available at

The day started with a keynote speech by Jeffrey Snover, from Microsoft; I’m not sure of his current job title as it keeps changing, but he invented PowerShell and is basically in charge of Windows Server.

The speech covered the evolution of Windows Server from Windows NT, right through to Server 2016, explaining how the product was continuously changed to meet the needs of the time, which flowed nicely into an overview of Server 2016, designed to enable cloud workloads.

A big part of Server 2016 is the concept of ‘Just Enough Operating System’ and the new Nano Server installation option. For those not aware, Nano Server is the next logical step after Server Core; where Server Core removed the Desktop Experience, in order to improve the security, reliability, and speed of your servers, Nano Server strips out absolutely everything unnecessary. It’s not possible to login to a Nano Server in any way – they’re controlled entirely by remote management tools, and PowerShell Remoting. This has enabled Microsoft to shrink the Operating System down to under 500MB. It takes up less space, runs faster, boots in seconds, and requires only a small fraction of the number of patches and reboots that Server with Desktop Experience requires. Jeffrey went as far as to say that Nano Server is “the future of Windows Server.”

Also coming with Server 2016 is support for Docker-compatible Containers. If you’re not familiar with these, it’s worth getting acquainted – one server can run multiple containers, and each will function as if they were their own server, completely isolated from each other, but sharing the underlying operating system and other resources from the host machine. The container itself is a single object, making it very simple to transfer between hosts, or to duplicate and spin up multiple copies of a containerised application.

A couple of other important technologies touched upon were Windows Server Apps (WSA) – a new way of deploying applications based on AppX; Server Support for MSI will become deprecated in favour of WSA, largely because MSI is horrible and unsuitable for server environments – and Just Enough Administration (JEA) – a new PowerShell feature which allows the creation of PowerShell endpoints which users can connect to perform a specified subset of admin tasks, without requiring to be administrators on the target server (even if the tasks would usually require it); this means that you don’t need to hand over the keys to your kingdom in order to let someone perform a few updates or run backups.

The second talk of the day was by Iris Classon, a C# MVP who works for Konstrukt. Iris’s talk was entitled “To The Cloud” and discussed the journey that her company made while moving their services to Azure. Key points of the talk were discussions around the automation of manual processes, such as unit testing, integration testing, and operational validation testing, as well as deployment. She also advocated heavily for using JEA (mentioned above) to prevent system administrators from having access to sensitive data that they didn’t need to see.

The third talk of the day was by Ed Wilson, who works on Microsoft’s new Operations Management Suite (OMS), and is the author of the Hey, Scripting Guy! blog. The talk was primarily an overview of OMS, which is a suite of tools designed to offer Backup, Analytics, Automation, and Security Auditing for hybrid cloud/on-premises environments. OMS is constantly under active development with new features coming online all the time, so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on. Highlights so far are:

  • OMS Automation (formerly Azure Automation), which has been described as PowerShell as a Service – it offers a repository where PowerShell run books can be stored and run on a schedule.
  • Secure Credential Store – exactly what it sounds like – store credentials securely so that you can use them from the rest of OMS.
  • Windows and Linux machines are supported for monitoring (as well as anything else that can output a text-based log file).

Fun fact mentioned in this talk: PowerShell is now ten years old. Probably time to pick it up if you haven’t yet done so 😉

Next up was Michael Greene, who works on Microsoft’s Enterprise Cloud Customer Advisory Team, who gave an excellent talk about using Visual Studio Team Services, PowerShell, and Pester to implement a release pipeline for applications and infrastructure. This was particularly interesting to me, as these are the tools that we’re using in ISG, and I’ve spent the last couple of months trying to do exactly this. Michael was strongly advocating configuring infrastructure as code, which allows the use of proper source control, automated testing, and automated deployment (only if all of the automated tests pass); working in this way has been shown to greatly improve reliability and agility of IT services.

Some excellent further reading on this subject was offered in the form of Microsoft’s whitepaper: The Release Pipeline Model ( and Steven Murawski’s DevOps Reading List (

Soundbite: If you want to work with Windows Server, the most important technology to learn right now is Pester.

During lunch we had a wander round stalls set up by vendors trying to sell their various DevOps-related products. One that interested me was Squared Up, a configurable dashboard that presents SCOM data (among other things) in a nice, easy to understand manner. I signed up for a free trial, before we discovered that the University already pays for this product. I need to chase this up with our contacts to get myself access to it.

After lunch, the talks split into two streams, so we split up in order to cover more ground. I’ll let Jonathan describe the talks he went to here…

My first afternoon session was with Richard Siddaway, covering Nano Server and Containers. This was really a practical demo following on from Jeffrey’s keynote, stepping through the process of configuring both with the caveat that all of this is pre-release at the moment. It was interesting to note that while Microsoft initially started out by building a PowerShell module to manage containers directly, as a result of feedback they’re re-engineering that to just be a layer on top of Docker, which is the tool that most people use to manage containers today. Another thing that I picked up was that as things stand, there’s no way to patch containers, yet they need to be at the same patch level as the host. The solution is to just blow it away and make a new one, but as was demonstrated, it’s quick and easy to do, so probably the most sensible approach anyway. We need to examine these two technologies carefully over the coming months. Richard mentioned the need to consider version numbering on containers, and which workloads they are suitable for. That’s partly dictated by the workloads that Nano Server will support, which will be limited at launch, but will likely grow reasonably quickly.

Following that, I went to a panel session on technologies, which gave me a shopping list of things to skill up on! The panel agreed that the two most important aspects of the toolchain were Source Control and Build, where the specific tool isn’t important – for Build it just needs to be something that will run scripts, and while it was suggested that any Source Control would be ok, if you didn’t already have something, you should choose Git. On the subject of the most significant tools from the community, Pester and Docker were highlighted. Other things that the panel suggested learning about were JavaScript/Node (although TypeScript is preferable to generic JavaScript), OMS, Linux, and Visual Studio Code. Another couple of interesting points I took from this were that containers don’t remove the problem of configuration management; they just move it, and that Azure Stack would work well for a hybrid model where you would usually host a workload on-premesis, but could burst up to the cloud for particularly busy periods.

…and while he was doing that, I went to a talk by Gael Colas – a Cloud Automation Architect (if anybody is thinking of overhauling our job titles any time soon, I quite like this one) – about configuration management theory.

This was one of my favourite talks of the day – Gael was making the case for short-lived, immutable servers. The general concept is that a server should be built from configuration code or scripts (the exact method is unimportant; what matters is that it’s completely automated), and then never changed at all – no extra configuration, no quick fixes, no patches. When the server needs to be changed (for patches, for example), the source configuration/script should be updated instead, and a new server deployed from that. This method ensures that we always know the exact configuration of a server and we’re always able to rebuild it it identically, every time – this has massive DR and service reliability benefits. This was referred to as Policy Driven Infrastructure. Gael did acknowledge that there are some applications for which this is unsuitable, but they’re rapidly shrinking in number.

The next session I went to was a panel session called DevOps Culture in a Windows World, which mostly turned into people offering advice about how they’ve convinced their organisations to embrace DevOps working practices. You’ll probably see me attempt to use most of the ideas presented over the next few months – this blog post is the start 😉
Two things that I will mention here were the suggestions that it’s important to improve visibility – which I think is something that our department could benefit greatly from – everyone should be able to easily see what everyone else is doing, and should be encouraged to share and help each other (I think we are encouraged to share, but we currently lack the tools to easily do this; I have some ideas about that one but need to work them through) – and the suggestion that we should look at our services like products, and consider their full lifespan when we set them up, instead of thinking of the set up of a service as a project which is completed once the service is up and running, and then left to rot indefinitely.

The last proper talk of the day was given by Peter Mounce of Just Eat, who was discussing how they run their performance testing. Performance is very important to Just Eat, and they work to keep their applications fast by testing their production environment twenty four hours a day. The theory is that running performance tests in QA is meaningless, because it’s impossible to replicate the behaviour of millions of real people using the production application, so they simply pile a load of fake load on their production servers. The fake load increases as real load increases, so that they’re effectively doubling the load on their application all the time – this means that they know that they can take that much load, and they’re able to disable the fake load in case of emergency to handle massive amounts of real load. In general, I’m not sure that the performance testing elements are that applicable to us at this stage, but there was a lovely soundbite which is very applicable to us: Embrace the fact that things are going to break; get better at fixing them quickly.

Finally, everybody came back together for a panel session and discussion, which was interesting, but nothing exceptional to report, then we went for drinks at the expense of Squared Up.

FLOSS UK DevOps Conference, Day 2 (26th March)

Stuart Teasdale “Beyond Blue Green – Migrating a legacy application to CI and the Cloud”

Stuart talked us through the story of joining a start-up organisation that was suffering from some infrastructural and development issues around their data logging product; problems such as back-end scaling, inconsistent development practices and poorly specified hosted servers. We were taken through the process of identifying each problem and how it was migrated to modern, consistent processes. Server provision was moved to AWS to take advantage of quick-to-deploy, horizontal scaling and development processes were moved to a continuous integration development pipeline. Stuart ended with a good wrap-up of some of the lessons learned, including failing as early and loudly as possible in your development process and try to keep all instances of the infrastructure as consistent as possible – special cases always cause problems later on.

Richard Melville “An introduction to Btrfs”

Richard gave us an overview of the current state of Btrfs. He took us through the basic Btrfs concepts such as pools and subvolumes and explained the differences between the Btrfs “RAID” levels. He also showed us the ability of using quotas on a per-subvolume level and using snapshots for data protection and replication. Finally there was a run through of how to safely replace a failed drive in a Btrfs RAID pool.

Andrew Beverley “Rexify”

Andrew introduced us to Rex, a configuration management tool. It is similar to Ansible in that you “push” changes to end-nodes (using, SSH, for example) rather than pulling changes from a master server using an agent. Rex is Perl-based which means you can easily leverage existing Perl modules to use in your Rex configuration which is held in “Rexfiles” – similar to Makefiles and installation is as easy as installing the “Rex” module from CPAN. He also took us through some of the other features such as grouping, transaction support (with rollbacks) and referencing external configuration management databases.

Kenneth MacDonald “Kerberos – Protocol and Practice”

Kenneth opened the talk with an overview of Kerberos and a glossary of common terms before giving us a quick run through about how they’re using Kerberos at Edinburgh University and some statistics on their current infrastructure. This was followed by an entertaining physical demonstration of a typical Kerberos session initiation that involved several volunteers passing around envelopes, padlocks and keys that helped to visualise the process.


The conference was closed with raffles for prizes from the attending sponsors and a closing speech from the FLOSS UK chairman. I personally thought this year’s event was particularly well organised and in a city that’s always interesting to visit. I highly recommend the FLOSS Spring conferences to anyone who’s interested in the operational/infrastructural side of open source software and meeting folk with similar interests.

FLOSS UK DevOps Conference, Day 1 (25th March)

Clifford's Tower, York.

Clifford’s Tower, York.

I recently travelled to York to attend the yearly Spring DevOps conference run by FLOSS UK. Here’s a quick overview of the talks I attended on the first day.

Jon Leach “Docker: Please contain your excitement”

Jon gave us a crash course introduction into Linux namespaces and an overview of the various types of namespace. He then went into Linux cgroups and how the combination of cgroups and namespaces enable lightweight containerisation in Linux. We got a quick introduction into LXC as an example of an early containerisation scheme before moving onto Docker. He then took us through the tools that Docker provide to enable building and sharing of container images and how to create reproducible container builds using dockerfiles.

David Profitt “Enhancing SSH for Security and Utility”

David told us about the various configuration files available to users of OpenSSH that configure behaviour of both client and server sides. He went through useful options for the client-side “.ssh/config” file and provided useful information on generating and distributing user-generated SSH keys as well as an overview of the options that can restrict what SSH keys can do from the server side.

In the server config he gave us an overview of useful options for locking down configurations and how to target specific configuration options using the “Match” keyword. Finally, there was additional information on how to provide a more secure “chrootable” SFTP environment by changing the default sftp-server process in the server configuration.

Julien Pivotto “Shipping your product with Puppet code”

Julien took us through the problems that you can encounter shipping software code in this age of virtualisation, containers and cloud infrastructure. Challenges such as distribution, hardware and software dependencies, upgrades and ongoing maintenance all need to be addressed. By using a configuration management tool such as Puppet you can design a single distribution package that is flexible enough to adapt to any environment and provide a mechanism to support and maintain the software after installation. He then went through some recommendations on how the Puppet modules should be designed to support this function.

Nick Moriarty “Puppet as a legacy system”

Nick talked us through York University’s current project to migrate their Puppet 2.7-based infrastructure to Puppet 3. He talked through the challenges of maintaining their existing Puppet repository (~130 modules) for an infrastructure that included a range of Linux distributions and versions.

They also decided that they wanted to move to a more “common” Puppet infrastructure setup using tools such as Git for the module repository management and Apache+Passenger for the Puppet master. By moving to a more standard platform they increase the amount of community support and resources available to them.

Pieter Baele “Linux centralized identity and authentication interoperability with AD”

Pieter took us through the history of Unix directory services in his organisation and the process they went through for selecting a new directory service that could interoperate with their Active Directory. After evaluating several options they went with OpenDJ as it provided several advantages including easy configuration, native replication and a RESTful interface for making changes. He then took us through recommendations for a basic directory layout (as flat as possible!) and how to configure clients to use the new directory.

Lightning Talks

A typically frantic session covering everything from research into animal behaviour(!), provisioning web hosting platforms on the fly with Jenkins & Ansible to bash shortcuts you never knew you needed.

Day 2 write-up is here.

Imagine Cup North East

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been helping behind the scenes with Imagine Cup North East. If you’ve never heard of the Imagine Cup it’s an annual student competition run by Microsoft to build technology solutions to address real-world problems, and this year two great local organisations promoting digital industries, Codeworks and Sunderland Software City, have teamed up to run a regional heat.

This week students from Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland, Durham and Teesside universities and local colleges will be attending taster and information events (in Newcastle and Middlesbrough), where Microsoft’s Ben Nunney will be on hand to discuss the finer points of the competiton.

The competition is a great opportunity for students to work on a project outside of their studies (looks good on the CV, etc) and it should be good fun too, with a 36 hour hack event later in the month. Of course there’s also the possibility of a trip to the global finals in Australia to aim for too!

If you’re a current student (or graduated in the last year) there’s still time to get involved, and if you aren’t eligible to take part, you should still be able to support the teams at a future NEBytes event. Head to the Imagine Cup North East site, the Facebook page, and follow @ImagineCupNE on Twitter to keep up with all the goings-on.

Free PowerShell eBooks

Windows PowerShell is slowly taking over the world in terms of automation and administration of Microsoft products and beyond. For many Windows IT pros who are used to working with GUI interfaces there can be quite a learning curve, but thankfully the PowerShell community is producing some really great resources to help people learn and use PowerShell, including a collection of free eBooks. Jason Hofferle has helpfully compiled them into a single blog post: List of Free PowerShell eBooks

These books are authored by some of the brightest and best names in PowerShell, so I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Free e-book: Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2

All you need is a Windows Live ID.

Free e-book offer from Microsoft Press: Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2
Learn about the features of Windows Server 2008 R2 in the areas of virtualization, management, the web application platform, scalability and reliability, and interoperability with Windows 7. Sign in to download Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2, written by industry experts Charlie Russel and Craig Zacker along with the Windows Server team at Microsoft.…dowsserver.aspx