Brian Randell

Thoughts and things from my brain

Azure N-Series–High Performance GPU in the Cloud

Last year, Microsoft announced their intent to offer high-end GPUs in Azure VMs:

Finally, to further boost the performance of our world-class cloud infrastructure, we today announced the N-series, a new family of Azure Virtual Machines with GPU capabilities. GPUs are ideal for compute and graphics-intensive workloads, helping customers to fuel innovation through scenarios like remote visualization, high performance computing and analytics. Available in preview within the next few months, the N-series will feature the NVIDIA Tesla Accelerated Computing Platform as well as NVIDIA GRID 2.0 technology, providing the highest-end graphics support available in the cloud today.

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced preview availability. And this week, I finally got access

I got an e-mail with some notes but the basic notes were to create a new VM of the right type.


Two key items for the preview.

First, they only support regular storage (no premium storage at this time).

Second, all VMs are being hosted on servers in the South Central US region.

Next it’s time to pick a VM size.


There’s two classes of VMs. NV for interactive applications (I choose a NV6) and NC for GPU computations.

After that, all of the other VM settings are just like normal. Once my VM was ready, I connected via Remote Desktop.

Checking Device Manager showed one extra step was required: I needed to install the NVidia Graphics drivers.


Before I did that though, I ran Windows Update. Next I installed the Desktop Experience. Because I’m using a regular Azure account (in contrast to an MSDN Developer account) I had to use Server 2012 R2 for the guest instead of Windows 10 since I was just using an image from the Azure Marketplace.

After I did that, I installed the drivers from an endpoint provided by Microsoft in my preview e-mail.


Sweet. After a reboot, checking device manager shows a bit of joy: an NVIDIA Tesla M60.


Now for some fun, I quickly installed Photoshop CC 2015.5.1 and can see that things are looking good.



Tomorrow, I’ll spend time doing performance tests, etc., compared to my local server with a K2 card as well as my local box with a Titan X. Adobe has a document covering how Photoshop uses a GPU.

No Time Like the Present

Today's a special day. Why you ask? It's simple. It's my dear friend Rocky's birthday. He turned 50 today.

Today is super special because in February of this year, I flew out to see Rocky in Minneapolis. I wanted to "hang out" with my buddy. You see Rocky is a "road" buddy. We see each other easily four or five times a year at shows like VSLIVE and events like MVP Summit. We've done this now for over 10 years. And while it's work, we have a great time, share, and just hang out like old friends do. So I went out to the frozen land of Minnesota and we hung out. We had some really great food, watched a movie, and even went to the Mall of America.

We did it because to be honest, I wasn't so sure we'd be doing this again. I was scared. Rocky's got a great post if you want to read it. The bottom line is he was going in for some scary surgery and I wasn't sure he was going to make it. I wanted to make sure I got to spend a little bit of quality time with him, just in case. I was scared.

Well as Captain Obvious would say, "there was nothing to be scared about", because I'm writing this today. Actually there was, a lot. The surgery was a big deal And as the day approached for him to have surgery, and then he DID have it, I was more worried.

After the surgery, Rocky's wife left a searing image in my brain:

"He looks like he's been beat up. His eyes are so swollen, you can't see his eyelashes. They said they 'cleaned him up', but there's still blood dried on him here and there. His wonderful hair that he's been growing out a little due to my wishes looks like something out of an anime' nightmare. An awful, but wonderful sight, because he's alive. Brain function appears normal. All other organs show signs of working just fine."

So on one hand, I felt better. On the other, I new it would be a long road. Well, the road is still there and Rocky's living it.
So when today's birthday reminders came up earlier this week, I was super happy. Rocky's now part Borg but looks great and plans continue to grace us with his smile, humor, and big geek heart.

There's no time like the present to spend time with those you care about. No time like the present to tell someone you love them. And there's no time like the present to put down the glowing screen or push back from the desk. Rocky, I love you man. I'm so happy to wish you "Happy 50th" my brother. And when Teresa tells me it's OK, I'll buy you a celebratory glass or two of wine.

Good night folks. Be good humans.

Getting Windows 8.1 Hyper-V to run on newer Macs with Boot Camp

I’ve used quite a few Macs over the years (ah System 7 …). More recently I’ve used them to run both OS/X and various versions of Windows.

My first Intel-based Mac was a 17” MacBook Pro (that still runs). At the time I ran Windows Vista(!) on it with Virtual PC and Virtual Server.

Over the last few years I’ve used a few Mac Minis as little servers running test servers (in particular for Visual Studio Lab Management demos).

In addition, I’ve carried more recently a Mid 2012, Retina 15” MacBook Pro for Xamarin work.

And, I’ve used Hyper-V on all of them.

Earlier this year, I got a new an early 2015, Retina 13” MacBook Pro.


And this month, I started testing a 2013 Mac Pro.


With both computers, I updated OS/X and then installed Windows 8.1 into a Boot Camp partition.

In both cases I started trying to install Hyper-V after a cold start of the machine.

And in both cases I got this experience when adding Hyper-V:


Notice how Hyper-V Platform is disabled.

In order for Hyper-V to work under Windows 8.1 you need a 64-bit process with some specific processor features.

You need:

  • Hardware-assisted virtualization—Intel Virtualization Technology (Intel VT) or AMD Virtualization (AMD-V).
  • Hardware-enforced Data Execution Prevention (DEP) must be available and be enabled. Specifically, the Intel XD bit (execute disable bit) or AMD NX bit (no execute bit)
  • A processor that supports Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) aka nested paging. Intel calls it Extended Page Tables (EPT) and AMD calls it Rapid Virtualization Indexing (RVI)

Now, the Intel processors in the my two newest Macs both have all these features. However a key data point is they have to be enabled by the computer’s BIOS. Now Macs don’t have BIOS in the same way as most Windows PCs.

But nonetheless, these features should be on.

So I of course searched the Internet (you can find threads on for example) and the key suggestion was to boot into OS/X and then reboot into Windows.

Well sure enough, I did that and now can run Hyper-V.


Now the big issue is why is this happening?

As I mentioned my mid-2012 MacBook Pro and my late 2012 Mac Minis do NOT have this problem.

This for me is a mystery and for many other folks. While speculation abounds, I’ve not found an official answer—yet.

I’m going to see if I can get an answer now that Apple is showing themselves to be a bit kinder and gentler—but we’ll see. I’m after all, no Taylor Swift.

For now at least it works.

PowerShell and Azure—List Running VMs

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been doing a ton of work with Microsoft Azure. In doing so you quickly learn the value of PowerShell (especially when you have more than one subscription that you work in/manage).

One of the first scripts I wrote was one to show me any VMs that were running. Since Azure charges me by the minute, I only want things running when I'm using them.

So here, dear reader, is a simple script to get you started.

$sw = [Diagnostics.Stopwatch]::StartNew()

Write-Host -ForegroundColor Yellow "Starting"

$subName = "Insert Your Subscription Name here"

Select-AzureSubscription $subName

Get-AzureVM | where {$_.Status -ne "StoppedDeallocated" }


Write-Host -ForegroundColor Green "Time elapsed: " + $sw.Elapsed

Write-Host -ForegroundColor Yellow "Done list files."


As you can see, the key command Get-AzureVM.

You'll need the Azure PowerShell tools installed and your Azure subscription's profile downloaded for this work.

VSLIVE Redmond 2015

It’s July 1st and we’re 40 days out from Visual Studio LIVE! at the Microsoft Campus! The show is August 10-14 in lovely Redmond, Washington.

I’ve been speaking at shows like this one for years, but this event is special because I’ve put a ton of work helping shape the content and getting many friends of mine at Microsoft to come speak.

As a co-chair with Rocky Lhotka and Andrew Brust, we’ve assembled a great list of speakers.

However, because we’re at the Microsoft “mothership”, we’re lucky to have a larger group of Microsoft folks come talk about what they’ve been working on and what’s coming.

Here’s a just a few of the great Microsoft speakers and their sessions we’ve got for you:

You’ll find the complete list of all the great industry experts showing who’s speaking, on what subjects, and when. We have three very full days of sessions as well as some great all-day pre- and post-conference workshops.

I’ll of course be speaking.

I’ll be presenting the following three sessions and one all-day workshop:

  • What's New in ALM
  • Windows, NUI, and You
  • A brand new session on Docker
  • Workshop: ALM and DevOps with the Microsoft Stack

SPECIAL OFFER: As a speaker, I can extend $500 savings on the 5-day package. Register here:

My code is: RDSPK21

Visual Studio Live! provides you with immediately usable training and education that will keep you relevant and up to date.

I hope to you see you there!

OneNote 2013—What do you get when you click Free Download

TL;DR Executive Summary


If you want to “Get OneNote 2013 on your PC for Free”, the version that “Works on Windows 7 and Windows 8” and thus is a Win32 desktop application and not the modern version that requires Windows 8 and the Windows Store, you need to be aware of two simple requirements.

1) You MUST have a Microsoft account (formally known as a Live ID).

2) You can ONLY create and open OneNote Notebooks that are stored up in OneDrive (the product formally known as SkyDrive).

This isn’t a big deal if you’re aware of these truths and accept them, After all, it’s a free download.

Then why am I writing this blog post?

I’m writing about this because as of July 4, 2014, Microsoft does not tell you these requirements anywhere on or the download page at Microsoft also does not list the Microsoft Account & OneDrive  requirements at the System Requirements page. The System Requirements page does not make a distinction between the free version of OneNote 2013 and any of the other “editions” on said page.

This post is here because as a raving fan of OneNote 2013, I want people to love it and use it like I do. I want there to be as little friction as possible.

While folks like Mary Jo Foley point out some of these requirements and limitations, the average user doesn’t tend to read the geek press.

They see FREE DOWNLOAD and just go for it.

I just want Microsoft to do two things.

1) Please make it crystal clear on their marketing and download pages that FREE OneNote isn’t the same as the PAID edition.

2) Fix the out-of-box download experience so that I don’t have to deal with activation dialogs and other crap. (You can read more about this issue below).

The Long Version

A recent discussion about software tools to be better organized came up recently on a mailing list of which I’m a member.

As part of the e-mail discussion, one of the participants commented on how they couldn’t try out OneNote 2013 because it required a Microsoft account.

I found this odd. I’ve used OneNote since the first release and have OneNote Notebooks stored in all manner of locations including my local hard drive, local network shares, SharePoint on my Intranet, SharePoint on Office 365 and yes, even OneDrive.

But I knew also that I am using a paid version of OneNote that comes as part of a larger Office 2013 Professional product. I wondered, could things be different with OneNote 2013 fro Windows 7/8 desktop (my name)?

I quickly spun up a Windows 7 SP1 virtual machine in Microsoft Azure. I then connected to .


I clicked the Free Download button which sent an small installer stub down to my machine.


I clicked the Run button. The installer started.


After a little bit, I was offered the opportunity to Sign In. Hmmm. My spidy -sense was tingling.


I didn’t. I clicked the X in the upper right corner to see if OneNote would start. It didn’t. I let the installer finish up. The installer pointed out it still had more to do but that I could start using my “programs” (This is obviously a side effect from Microsoft using the main Office installer for a single program).


I waited until it was all done. It turns out the installer was also installing OneDrive on my computer.


As you can see from the above screen shot, OneNote is running. How did I get there? Well dear reader, please read on …

Now that the installer was done, I tried to start OneNote without signing in with one of my (sadly) many Microsoft accounts. No dice. As mentioned in the TL;DR Executive Summary above, you must log in and use OneDrive at a minimum.

Once I did log in, OneNote started and asked me what I wanted to do. Normally, I would say yes to use the recommended settings, but I wanted to see what I had to do versus what I could do.


The next screen was a total surprise until I thought about it a bit.


I thought Microsoft said OneNote 2013 was free? Yes, OneNote is telling me my trial has expired and that I need either a) a key or b) an “active account”. Now as a long time Microsoft user, I know what’s going on. But does the average non-geek user? We’re seeing a side effect of the product coming from code base that actively uses registration and anti-piracy technology as opposed to say software that is written from the ground up to be a front-end to a service (think Evernote).

I don’t’ have a key, so I choose the Sign In option. See the Side Bar below for some additional information related to signing in again.

Now it’s asking me to Activate Office. Oh boy.


I entered the same e-mail address I’d already used and clicked next. Because it was a e-mail address bound to Microsoft account it prompted me for my e-mail address and password for good measure.


But alas this wasn’t going to make OneNote happy. It produced a long winded dialog (see below) telling me that “This account … isn't associated with this Office product.”


So I clicked OK and then clicked the X in the upper right corner of the “Your trial has expired dialog. At this point, OneNote finished loading and I was presented with my first Notebook.


To be honest I expected OneNote to close. I then went to check and see if OneNote thought it was activated. It indeed thought it was. Bottom line this whole initial experience with activation warnings, etc. needs to be addressed.


The last thing I wanted to check in this exercise (remember, I’m a raving OneNote fan and use it daily already), I tried to create a local Notebook on my hard drive. Turns out this is not allowed nor is opening existing notebooks that you might copy to your local drive from another location including Office 365.


By using the term “edition” it seems Microsoft considers this to be a special version of OneNote 2013 even though that is not made clear when you first go to download it.

This “edition” of OneNote 2013 is very much inline with the other free versions of OneNote which Microsoft encourages you to download also:


Each of these platforms carries restrictions based on platform as well as Microsoft’s choices.

“Modern” OneNote that works on Windows RT devices as well as Windows 8.x PCs, supports both OneDrive and Office 365 hosted notebooks for free.

OneNote on the Mac (only available as a free option, not as part of Office on OS/X) on the other hand only supports OneDrive hosted notebooks currently.

OneNote for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android supports both OneDrive and Office 365 hosted notebooks for free.

It’s funny the Android version has the message “All you have to do is sign in!” Very appropriate.


Thus only the PAID version of OneNote that runs as a Win32 PC application supports local, network, and SharePoint not hosted on Office 365 in addition to Microsoft’s cloud-based storage.

Parting Thoughts

The bottom line is that OneNote is a great product. I use it every day and find it an invaluable tool.

My Surface Pro 3 is on order and one of the top features I’m looking forward to is the OneNote integration,

If you want full access to all the power with all the choice possible as to where you store your data, you’ll need to spend some money.

That said, I’m betting, as others are, that Microsoft has big plans for OneNote and hopefully that includes more choice when using OneNote on other devices.

Sidebar: Why “Sign In” to activate when I’m already signed in?

When you first start OneNote 2013, you have to provide a Microsoft account e-mail address. If you attempt to activate, they ask you for the e-mail address again, why? Because OneNote supports opening content from multiple accounts. One of those accounts could in fact be tied to an Office 365 subscription and thus provide as part of that subscription, a full license to OneNote,

Updated 2014-7-7 10:10 resized a couple images.

Updated 2014-9-5 16:37 fixed title.

Adding SSL to my blog

Tonight I added SSL to my blog’s site.

To do, so I had to do a number of things.

First, get an SSL cert. It turns out that StartSSL offers free basic certs and is used by lots of my friends.

Second, I needed to figure out how to configure my Azure Websites hosted blog to use it.

Thankfully Troy Hunt has a really nice blog post.

I dutifully followed along.

However, I ran into a problem actually getting my PFX uploaded into Azure (the near final step).

I received this error: At least one certificate is not valid (Certificate failed validation because it could not be loaded).


I kept thinking I was doing something wrong. I tried again and again.

Then I started searching and found this post at

The answer was just 9 hours old when I found it.

Right now it looks like you do want to upload your cert WITHOUT StartSSL’s intermediate cert.

The way created my PFX this way was to modify Troy’s OpenSSL command line to exclude the intermediate cert by leaving off the –certfile parameter in his example.

My new command line was as follows:

openssl.exe pkcs12 -export -in public.cer -inkey ssl.key -out mycert.pfx -password pass:%CustomPasswordHere%

I then uploaded this cert a voilà! I have SSL working.

I’m going to follow up on this issue with the Azure folks since something’s not right but for now I’m good.

Magic in the palm of my hand

Whether it’s to share something too big for e-mail with a friend or just a quick backup, USB sticks are great. Over the years they’ve been getting faster, cheaper, and smaller.

I’m always on the look out for good sticks for my data.

Back in 2011, I bought a LaCie FastKey 30 GB USB 3.0 Solid State Drive from Amazon. It cost me $139 for 30 GB. Expensive, but it was fast. And it made it easy to copy files back and forth.

In late 2012, Jeff Atwood wrote a post called A SSD in Your Pocket. Naturally, I couldn’t resist Jeff’s pictures and I went to Amazon and got both a 64GB version and a 128GB version.

The 128GB version cost me $154 in November of 2012. You can buy it now, July 2, 2014, for $90.

Tons more data at a much cheaper per GB price and slightly smaller package.

Today I acquired a PNY Turbo USB 3.0 256 GB drive from Amazon for $113.39 (price includes my local sales tax). More space, smaller package.

Would it be faster than the Patriot?

With these bigger, faster sticks, I often backup Virtual Machines. So I did a quick test comparison using Beyond Compare 3.0. I copied two files (a VHDX and an XML configuration file) totaling 31,612,525,438 bytes.

The results?

Stick Read (MiB/s) Write (MiB/s)
Patriot 284.42 173.26
PNY 187.25 136.42

For the write test I copied from my desktop’s Samsung 840 Pro SSDs. For the read, I copied back to my desktop’s Crucial M500 SSDs. Bottom line is the SSDs can read/write data faster than the USB sticks.

I could run synthetic tests like Crystal Mark but copying big VMs is what I do most.

You can see the Patriot is faster in both reads and writes.

However, the PNY is much smaller and does not have a cap.

The image below shows the PNY on top, Patriot in the middle, and the LaCie on the bottom.


You can see that the PNY is much smaller than the other two.

Turns out size has been an issue with both of the other drives when trying to plug into some laptops or the back of desktops.

Patriot now makes a 256GB model. It’s $235.05 before tax at Amazon. I’m going to guess that the speed is comparable to my older 128GB model. However, it’s more than twice the price of the PNY drive.

The bottom line is that either drive is good choice. You’ll have to decide what’s most important: size, speed, and/or price.

Happy New Year

Yes, it's July 1, 2014 and not a typically recognized new year.

However for me, this date signifies two important things.

First, I've been renewed as a Microsoft MVP in the ALM area. If you navigate to my profile at Microsoft, you'll see I'm entering my 11th year. I'm excited to a part of a wonderful community: both the larger Microsoft MVP community and the excellent ALM group.

Second, it's the start of Microsoft's new fiscal year. As a vendor this is a transition period and everyone gets their new marching orders. Thus things are a little quiet and I'm not complaining.

So, I figured today was as good a day as any to start my new blog on my own domain.

More to come (sooner than later)!