Tag Archives: WordPress

Analyzing Your WordPress Site with Power BI and Google Analytics

I was recently asked by Christian Buckley what my top 2016 blog posts were. No problem I thought, I just went back to my output for the past year, and pulled out the posts that I knew have had a lot of discussion or impact, and forwarded them on. At that point he asked how many views that each of those pages have had. Being a data guy, I suddenly felt like the shoemaker noticing that his children had been going barefoot.

I monitor my blog traffic with the built-in WordPress JetPack tools, StatCounter, and Google Analytics. They all work slightly differently, with StatCounter and JetPack being the most alike. I tend to rely on StatCounter for immediate stats (how many hits today, what’s popular today) and the Google stats for a longer time frame. StatCounter doesn’t persist my stats beyond a day, as I don’t have the pro version, and the JetPack stats don’t seem very extensible. Google Analytics seemed like the best place to begin, particularly because there is a pre-existing content pack for Power BI.

The Google Analytics Content Pack

I have used the Google Analytics (GA) content pack casually and for demonstration purposes since it was introduced with the Power BI launch in July 2015. It hasn’t changed much. Actually, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t changed at all. To use the content pack, you simply log into the Power BI service, select “Get Data”, select the “Services” tile, and select Google Analytics.

After you enter in your credentials by selecting oAuth2, Power BI will import your GA data into a data model, and populate a pre-configured report. The report consists of several pages, mostly focused on visitors to the site.

There are some interesting visuals out of the box, and there are more metrics available in the data model if you want to customize the out of the box reports. At the moment, any customizations that are made in this way are not portable, and with the content pack, data is only retained for 180 days, which means that year over year comparisons are not possible. The visuals don’t appear to have been updated since initial release, which means that many of the new Power BI UI enhancements are not there, but they too can be added through customization.

Generally, if you’re going to do a lot of customization, the best tool to use is Power BI Desktop. Reports can then be reused easily and are highly portable. Luckily, in addition to the content pack, Google Analytics also exists as a data source for Power BI Desktop.

Using the Google Analytics Data Source in Power BI Desktop

When Power BI Desktop imports data from GA, it imports all the data that GA has. There seems to be no agreement on how long Google will retain this data, but in practice, GA seems to retain all data since it was originally configured. In my case, that’s a little over two years now, which is fine for my analysis. The first step is to connect to and import the correct data. Start Power BI Desktop, select “Get Data”, choose the Online Services tab and choose “Google Analytics”.

Once you authenticate, you’ll be presented with all of the sites that are monitored by Google Analytics. You’ll want to drill down and open “All Web Site Data”. GA captures an awful lot of information, and the trick is to know what to grab. Grabbing everything won’t work as it only allows for 8 dimensions and measures in a single import. In my case, I am interested in PageViews and Unique PageViews measures, and the Page, Page Title and Landing Page dimensions (under the “Page Tracking” section) measures. In addition, I want the Date, Hour, and Minute dimensions from the Time section.

Once selected, w select OK, and edit the query, giving it a good name like “GA Data”. Finally, we can select “Close and Apply” and the data will be added. This procedure can take a little while depending on the quantity of data.

Once loaded, we need to do a little bit of work in the data model. We imported the dates from GA, but we’ll want to do year/month/day drilldowns, as well as use textual values for month names, day names etc. For that, the tried an true method has been to build a Date table. Power BI itself will actually do some of this automatically for you behind the scenes, but a custom table gives us the ultimate in flexibility. DAX (the Power BI modelling language) makes this very easy. We create a new table by first selecting the “Modeling” tab, and then the New Table button. This allows us to create a calculated table in the formula bar. First change the name from “Table” to something meaningful like “View Dates”, and then add the following formula:

ADDCOLUMNS (
 CALENDAR (DATE(2010,1,1), DATE(2025,12,31)),
 "Date As Integer", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYYMMDD" ),
 "Year", YEAR ( [Date] ),
 "Month Number", FORMAT ( [Date], "MM" ),
 "Year Month Number", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYY/MM" ),
 "Year Month Short", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYY/mmm" ),
 "Month Name Short", FORMAT ( [Date], "mmm" ),
 "Month Name Long", FORMAT ( [Date], "mmmm" ),
 "Day Of Week Number", WEEKDAY ( [Date] ),
 "Day Of Week", FORMAT ( [Date], "dddd" ),
 "Day Of Week Short", FORMAT ( [Date], "ddd" ),
 "Quarter", "Q" & FORMAT ( [Date], "Q" ),
 "Year Quarter", FORMAT ( [Date], "YYYY" ) & "/Q" & FORMAT ( [Date], "Q" )
 )
 

Adjust the beginning and end dates to suit the data in question, click the check mark, and voila, instant date table. There will be a record for every date between the beginning and end dates. It’s a good idea to adjust the properties of some of the resultant columns for display, we want to sort the Month Name Long and Month Name Short columns by Month Number, and the Day of Week column by the Day of Week Number column. Any additional customizations can be made as necessary.

The next step is to establish the relationship between the Date column in the GA table, and the Date field in the new calculated date table. Simply click on the relationship builder icon, the drag and drop the Date column from one table to the corresponding column on the other.

At this point, we can create a visual that shows traffic over time. We create a column chart, and add Pageviews as the Value, then we add Year Month Short (which should be sorted by Year Month Number) to the axis, and we should see site all site traffic over time. Adding Date to the axis and stripping out all the dimensions except Day allows us to drill down on days for a selected month.

Although we can see our site traffic by month, we still can’t answer Christian’s original question, which was “what were the most frequently viewed posts written in 2016“. Google Analytics has no clue when the pages were created. It’s possible to try to imply it from the earliest viewed date for a given page, but the created date is available directly in WordPress. We just need to get the WordPress data into the data model. Thankfully, that is possible through the WordPress REST Add on.

Using the WordPress REST Add-On

REST support is available for WordPress as an add-on. The “WP REST API” is available in the add-on catalog, and on Github here. Once installed, all WordPress content (including posts) is available through a simple http GET request. This is something that’s fully supported by Power BI, and therefore all the relevant post data can be loaded into Power BI through this add-on.

From the Power BI Home tab, select Get Data, then “web” and then use the URL required to retrieve posts. For the blog that you’re reading, it’s https://whitepages.unlimitedviz.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts. The query will return a list of records. However, there will only be as many records as WordPress shows by default. We need all of them. The add on-allows you to specify the number of posts per page, by adding the “per_page” parameter. Therefore, in our case, it’s https://whitepages.unlimitedviz.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts?per_page=50 where 50 is the desired number of items per page.

The per_page parameter is all that you need if the number of posts to analyze is fewer than 100, but the limit of this parameter is 100. There is another parameter that can be added to the query, page= that will specify the page number. With this, and the posts per page parameter, it’s possible to get all the posts. There are a couple of ways to implement this in Power BI.

The ideal way is to an “M” function. With a function, you build up a query normally, and then you wrap it in another parameterized query using the advanced editor, passing in the page number as a parameter, and that parameter being used in the subsequent query. The function can then be called from each record of another table, thereby returning all the posts, which is exactly what we need. This approach works perfectly well in Power BI Desktop. Unfortunately, once the model and report are deployed to the Power BI service, it stops working. The Power BI service currently cannot refresh any query that uses replaceable parameters as part of the query.

The other way that this can be handles is to generate multiple queries that explicitly use the page= parameter. The number of queries necessary will be equal to the number of posts divided by 100, then rounded up to the next whole number. In my case, I have 230 posts, and therefor need 3 queries. Once created, all 3 queries can be merged into a single table. This approach is messy, and will require occasional maintenance, but it’s the only one that works for now. Let’s walk through the process.

We’ll start with the first query. As above, we use Get Data, select the Web source and enter the URL for page 1 and 100 posts per page. For this blog the URL is https://whitepages.unlimitedviz.com/wp-json/wp/v2/posts?page=1&per_page=100. The query should show a list of 100 records. Next, we need to turn the list into a table so that it can be expanded. Click the “To Table” button in the ribbon.

Click OK to accept the defaults, and then click the small expand button in the column header (Column1). Be sure to deselect the “Use original column name as prefix” before clicking OK.

At this point, all the post metadata from WordPress should be available. You can choose to keep all or only some of the columns, but the ones that we want to be sure to keep are date, slug, and title. Title needs to be expanded, so we should go ahead and do that – the procedure is the same as the step above, but only the title field is returned as “rendered”. It’s a good idea to rename it to Title. Also, it’s a good idea to set the data type of the Date field to Date/Time here.

Once the query is the way we want it, we’ll want to name it something like “Posts1-100”, and then we need to set its data load properties to not load into the report. We don’t want the data to load into this query because it will only be one merge source of three, and we don’t want to store the data redundantly. To do that, we right click on the query, select properties, and deselect “Enable load to report”. Then click OK.

We now need to duplicate this query for page 2. The easiest way to do this is by copying all the M script generated by the query builder into a new blank query, and then editing it. From the Home tab, we click on “Advanced Editor”, then select and copy all the text in the dialog box. We then close the dialog box, then select New Source – Blank Query. Once opened, we again select “Advanced Editor”, remove the default content and paste the copied text into the box. Finally, “page=1” in the URL is replaced with “page=2”.

We then save the query, name it and set the properties not to load as with the first query. We then repeat all these steps for page 3. At this point we are ready to merge the queries into our “master” query.

To merge the three queries into one, we select the “Append Queries” dropdown from the ribbon, and select “Append Queries as New”. We then select “Three or more tables” and add the three tables and select OK. Finally, we give this new query a name “Posts” but we do not prevent the data from loading. This is our master table. At this point, we are ready to Close and Apply, and return to the main design surface.

This Posts table has a Date column, but it’s actually a Date/Time column. To use a date table, we need to create a new calculated column with just the date portion. With the Posts table selector selected, we select the Modeling tab, and then “New Column”. We then give the column a name (PostDate) and the following formula based on the Date column:

We also want a calculated measure to indicate the number of posts. The process is like that for a new column. We select “New Measure”, and add the following formula to the formula bar:

Posts = CountA(Posts[id])

We will be relating records in the Posts table to records in the GA table, so we need another date table to keep the relationships clean. We could calculate another table as we did above, but it’s even easier to calculate the new one based on the one already created. We simply select “New Table” and use the following formula:

PostDates = ViewDates

Next, we create the relationship between the Posts table and the PostDates table the same way that we did it for the GA table above. Now that both tables are date sliceable, we need to relate them together. In the Posts table, the Link column uniquely identifies the page but the GA table uses the relative address of the page in the Landing Page column. In our case the solution is simple, we need to prepend the main part of the site address in question (in our case https://whitepages.unlimitedviz.com) to the Landing Page. We do that by creating a new column, URL, with the following formula:

URL = “https://whitepages.unlimitedviz.com” & ‘Google Analytics Views'[Landing Page]

Finally, we relate the URL column in the GA table to the Link column in the Posts table.

At this point the model is ready for use in reports.

Building a Report

How to build a report is not the focus of this article, so I’ll just explain the steps taken here. To prepare our data model, we first need to flag the Link column in the Posts table as a URL field. To do that, select it in the UI, then select the model tab. Use the Data Category Drop down control and select “Web URL”.

Next, add a new table to the reports, and in in the Format section, select Values, and set the “URL icon” setting to “On”.

This has the effect of displaying any column that has been flagged with the Web URL attribute as a link icon with a live hyperlink, instead of the entire, often long URL itself.

Next, we add the Title and Link fields from the Pages table, and the Pageviews field from the GA table, and then sort the table by Pageviews. Next, we add two slicer controls to the report – one bound to the Year column of the PostDates table, and the other bound to the Year column of the ViewDates table. Now by selecting 2016 from the ViewDate slicer, and 2016 from the PostDate slicer, we can see, in order with precise numbers, which posts authored in 2016 were most frequently viewed in 2016. With this, I was now able to give Christian an answer.

An answer today is one thing, but an answer next year is another altogether. This report was worth sharing, so it was worth sprucing up a bit. By taking advantage of some of the new table formatting capabilities in Power BI, and importing the chiclet slicer custom control, we are able to make a more visually appealing report. I will also occasionally use a column chart in a report and use it like a slicer when appropriate. With a little bit of formatting work, we wind up with a report that looks something like the following:

Publishing and Sharing

We’re now ready to publish this report. The easiest approach is to simply select the “Publish” button from Power BI desktop. Select the destination, most likely your personal workspace. When publishing is complete, we can select “View in Power BI” to see the report in the service.

Having the report is one thing, but we want this report to be kept up to date. To do this, we go to the datasets section and select our dataset. In the data source credentials, section, we need to set the credentials for both Google analytics, and our WordPress connection (which will display as “Web”). Even though the Web source is anonymous, we have to configure it that way in the Power BI service. Once the connections are configured they should appear in the Data source credentials section with no notices.

When we configured the WordPress data import above, we used 3 queries. That’s good for 300 posts, and my blog is currently at 238, which should be fine for a while. However, once I hit 300, I’m going to need another query. What I’m really hoping for is that by that time the Power BI service will support parameterized data sources for refresh, but either way I’ll need to modify the data source. I’m likely to forget this need about a week after I publish this post, so a reminder is a good idea. Luckily, Power BI supports data driven alerts, which is exactly what we need here.

Alerts are set on dashboard tiles for card date. Our report has a data card showing the number of total posts. Once that card has been pinned to the dashboard, an alert can be set on it for when it reaches a specific threshold. Simply hover over the dashboard card and click on the ellipsis, then the small bell icon.

In our case, we want to be notified when the number of posts are approaching 300, so we set the condition to be above 297. Once blog post 298 is published, I will receive an email and can then act on it.

Finally, I want to share this report with Christian so that the next time he has questions about my blog, he can just look it up for himself. When I tell him this, I’ll say that it’s so he can keep me honest, but really, I just want him to stop bugging me…

We don’t work at the same company and we use different Azure AD tenant. I could share the dashboard externally with him, but it’s even easier to share it anonymously, and anonymous sharing of this data is fine with me. Anonymous sharing of data is relatively straightforward. From the report interface, select File – Publish to web. A dialog will open asking for confirmation, and once opened will provide a URL that can be shared publicly. In the case of this blog’s report, you can simply click here to get the full report in a dedicated window. I can just email that report to Christian, and he’ll have the answers that he’s looking for. The beauty of anonymous sharing is that you are also given an embed code that can be added to any web page. As an example, the fully interactive report for this blog can be seen below.

How to Migrate a WordPress site to Azure Using In-App MySQL

Did this site load a little faster than it normally does? You may not have a basis of comparison, but I have noticed that pages load between 2x and 5x faster since I moved the site to Azure hosted WordPress using an In-App MySQL database. Previously I was running it on Azure as well, but it was using the 3rd party ClearDB database server. The performance increase is therefore entirely due to the difference in the database engines.

I have been running this blog as a web app on Azure for the last couple of years, ever since it became available. In fact, I wrote about how to enable hosting for multiple users on the same database when I first set it up. At the time, setting up a WordPress web app involved also provisioning a MySQL database through a third-party hosting provider, Clear DB. The initial offering was free, but as I quickly found out, the initial offering also doesn’t provide much, and I needed to upgrade it through the third party. This arrangement was fraught with difficulty. Aside from the unwelcome additional costs, managing the billing cycle was difficult. In addition, all my WordPress sites were a little to a lot sluggish, and increasing Azure resources didn’t seem to help much.

Over time, I learned that I wasn’t the only one, and the performance problems seemed to be with latency between Azure and the third-party provider. However, I didn’t want to start messing around with standing up my own, and it was usable if a tad expensive. However, a month or so ago I was listening to my friends Andrew Connell and Chris Johnson on the Microsoft Cloud Show, and they mentioned that Azure had put out a preview of a native MySQL implementation. This was of course music to my ears, so I tried it out, and it appears to work quite well.

I have since moved all our WordPress properties over to this new architecture, and documented the procedure. The approach that I tool should work for any WordPress site, whether it is hosted on Azure or not, but the examples I use will of course be going from Azure to Azure. I essentially create a new WordPress site, migrate the site assets to it, configure the new site to match the old one, then point the address to the new web app. There are quite likely third party add-ons that facilitate this process, but this process is manual. I am in no way saying that this approach is a best practice, only that it worked for me. Finally, as noted above, the In-App MySQL is in Preview, not production, so if your WordPress site is critical, it would likely be a good idea to hang on for a bit. I however like to live dangerously, and if my blog goes offline for a few hours, it’s not the end of the world.

Here are the steps required to accomplish this.

1. Upgrade the existing site

The new site that will be created will use the latest version of WordPress, and any plugins that get installed will also be the most recent. To avoid any version mismatches, it’s a good idea to make sure that your WordPress version, and all your plugins are up to date.

2. Retrieve the WordPress Assets from the existing Site

You can use the built-in export feature in WordPress to retrieve all the database assets. Open the tools section, select “Export”, and choose “All Content”.

The types of content will vary depending on your WordPress installation, plugins, etc., but make sure that you select all of them. When ready, select “Download Export File”. You’ll get prompted to download an XML file – put it somewhere safe – you’ll need it later.

Next up, you’ll want to retrieve your file system based assets. These will be all your uploaded files, unless you currently use and externally hosted provider, your WordPress themes, and your plugins. Strictly speaking, this step isn’t necessary. You should be able to re-download your themes and plugins, but I have found that they aren’t always available, and that this process is faster. However, if you don’t have access to the file system of the existing site, you may not be able to do this. The upload files can be gathered through the import process later as well, but this approach provides an added level of safety.

For Azure, you’ll use FTP to connect to the file system and copy the files locally. For Azure hosted sites, you can set the FTP credentials by logging into the “new” Azure portal, selecting the web app for your site, then navigating to “Deployment Credentials”. You then enter a user name and a password, and save them.

Next, scroll down to “Properties” for the web app, and take note of the “FTP Host Name” and the “FTP/Deployment user”. You will use these values to connect to the file system.

Now open Explorer on a Windows PC, right click in the “This PC” node, and select “Add a network location”.

Follow the prompts entering the FTP host and the user name when prompted. Do not attempt to log in anonymously. Also, take note – the user name has the form web app name\username. When the node opens, enter the password, and you should see 4 folders. Open “site”, then “wwwroot”, and finally “wp-content”. The folders that you need are here.

Specifically, you are looking for the plugins, themes and uploads folders. Copy these folders locally and keep them handy.

3. Create the new WordPress Site

From the Azure admin portal, select “Create New”, and search for “WordPress”. There are several WordPress options to choose from, but the one we’re pursuing is published by WordPress.

Once selected, you will be prompted to fill out the details. Give the new app a name, select the Resource Group, and most importantly, the Database Provider. ClearDB is the one that we are moving away from, so “MySQL In App” is the one that we want to select.

Once you click OK, the App will be created, and WordPress will be deployed to it. The App creation happens almost immediately, but it takes a few minutes for WordPress to be fully deployed. Don’t be alarmed if there’s nothing there for a little while.

Once deployment is complete, you can simply click on the URL of the app in the “Overview” section. The URL will take the form of http://webappname.azurewebsites.net.

A browser will open and you will be prompted to complete the initial WordPress installation. One that complete, you will be able to login to the WordPress administration portal.

4. Upload the Older Assets to the new WordPress Site

The next thing that we want to do is to upload the assets that we downloaded in step #2 to the new site. To do this, simply connect to the new file system via FTP by following the same steps that were used to connect to the old site in step #2. Once connected, upload the 3 folders to the wp-content folder of the new site. If there are folders that already exist, or that you don’t want to use in the new site, simply omit them from the upload. Once uploaded, we can activate the features.

5. Activate Assets in the New Site

It is important to activate and configure the plugins before the content from the existing site is imported. This is because some plugins extend the schema of the WordPress database, and any content that depends on those schema extensions will fail to import if they are not present.

Login to the administrative portal in the new site, and activate all the required plugins. If you don’t know which plugins should be activate, simply login to the administrative portal of the old site for reference. It’s a good idea to have these portals open side by side as you complete the next few actions. Once the plugins are active, go to the appearance section, and select the same theme as the original. Once the theme is selected, it needs to be configured. Walk through all the configuration options for your theme matching with the original site. Any options that depends on content will need to be set after the content is imported. Once the theme is configured, the plugins should all be configured. This is a very manual process of going through all the configuration screens and comparing the settings to those of the existing site.

Finally, recreate all necessary users from the old system. You will need to match blog posts with authors during the import step. The import step will offer another opportunity to add new users, but it’s a good idea to do this prior so that complete information is added for each user.

6. Imports Content from the Existing System

From the administration portal of the new WordPress site, navigate to the Tools section, and select import. A number of options will be presented, the option that you’re interested in is “WordPress”. If you don’t already have the WordPress Import Plugin, you’ll need to select “Install Now” and allow the plugin to install and activate. Once activated, select “Run Importer”, and the Import dialog will appear. Select the export file that was downloaded in Step #2 above, and then click the “Upload file and import” button to see the Import WordPress dialog.

WordPress Import is author aware, and will automatically assign posts to users that exist in the new environment based on who they were in the old, you simply need to map them at this point. If you forgot to add a user in Step #5, you can do so here as well. Once authorship is assigned, the only other decision is whether to select the “Download and import file attachments”. Strictly speaking, if all assets were brought across in step #2, this shouldn’t be necessary. What this option does is to download all referenced assets from the existing blog during the import process. This doesn’t always work, particularly on larger blogs, which is why step #2 is so important.

In addition, if the content of the site results in a particularly large export file (as was the case with this one), you’ll need to increase the upload limit for your WordPress site. This can be done by creating a “.user.ini” file in the root of your WordPress installation as described here. Additionally, you may also need to increase some of the application timeout values.

7. Test

Test the new site to ensure that it works. This cannot be stressed enough. Open all the sections to ensure that everything looks right. Ideally, use browser windows open side by side with the new and the existing sites

8. Make URL Changes to the Existing WordPress Site

It is important to follow these steps to avoid being locked out of the existing site. There are ways to correct it if it happens, but the situation is beast avoided.

Open the administration portal of the existing site, and navigate to “Settings”, General. If the WordPress Address (URL) and the “Site Address (URL)” values do not match the default URL for the Azure Web App, they will need to be changed to that value here.

The address will take the form http://azurewebappname.azurewebsites.net. It’s also a good idea to navigate to that URL to ensure that it works before saving.

8. Make URL Changes to Azure

If your existing site isn’t running on the default Azure address, you’ll need to repoint it to the new site. This will cause your site to be unavailable for a few moments. To begin, you need to remove your custom domain from the existing (now “old”) site. Navigate to the Web App for the old site in the Azure portal, and select “Custom domains”. Your custom domain should appear there along with the default address (that was used in step 8).

Click on the ellipsis beside the domain, and select “Unassign”. This will remove the custom address from the old site, freeing it up to be used by the new site.

At this point, you will need to make changes to your domain with your domain registrar. You will need to change any references (A records and/or CNAME records) that you currently have for your custom address to point to the new Azure Web App. Details for those settings can be found under “Custom domains” for your new Azure Web App. Once complete, navigate to “Custom domains” in the new Web App and click on the “+” button beside “Add hostname”. Enter your custom address and the click the “Validate” button. The custom address will be tested, and if there are any issues with it, remediation steps will be provided. The Azure portal is quite good at helping to manage this step.

Once the new URL has been registered, it should be tested to ensure that it is accessible from the outside environment. Prior to testing, the old site should be stopped (but not deleted!) to ensure that it is not responding to any requests.

If SSL was used on the old site, at this point they should be brought in to the new Web App and bound to the site.

9. Make URL Changes to the New WordPress Site

If the custom domain is working, follow the steps in step 7, but on the new WordPress site, and use the custom address for the URL values. Save, and login again.

10. Final Testing

At this point the site is live, but it is worthwhile to do another round of testing with the old Web App in a stopped state. This will identify any URLs hardcoded with the old Web App default URL, and missing assets, etc.

At this point, the new WordPress site is set up and working with the In-App MySQL database. I would recommend waiting a week or so before going back and deleting the old site and its assets, just in case.

Using Multiple WordPress Blogs with Azure Web Sites

This will be one of my more “meta” posts. Blogging on WordPress discussing blogging on WordPress.

In addition to this blog, my company, UnlimitedViz has a number of active bloggers, The Data Queen, and The Data Model chief among them. We all use WordPress for this purpose, primarily because of its ease of use, and ecosystem of useful add-ins. It’s a PHP application that is (normally) backed by MySQL. UnlimitedViz is a Microsoft shop, so these tools are relatively foreign to us, and Azure is Microsoft’s cloud platform. Notwithstanding that, Azure is an excellent platform choice for us to deploy WordPress, due to its low cost, its WordPress support, and our existing investment in the platform.

I had originally deployed my WordPress blog on Azure back in early 2011 when Azure was really just a rudimentary Platform as a Service product, and wrote about it here. However, I was cheating a little bit, customizing a stateless worker role in as stateless a manner as I could, but it still came back to bite me, and ultimately, I moved my blog over to Rackspace, and then back to Azure, but in an Azure Virtual Machine (IAAS).

When Azure web sites were announced, with direct support for WordPress, I was intrigued. Creating one allows you to create a corresponding, hosted MySQL database (hosted by ClearDB). Unfortunately, each Azure subscription is restricted to a single MySQL DB, and I needed to host multiple blogs with one subscription. I finally got around to looking into this recently, with happy results.

WordPress supports multisite blogs, and the Azure team has some good guidance on how to enable this. However, upon trying this, I quickly determined that this would be a non-starter for us. The WordPress multisite option isn’t supported by some plugins, requires a single master administrator, and requires that all blog owners use the same set of plug ins. Now if there is one word that could describe every UnlimitedViz team member, it’s independent.

What I needed was a way to support multiple WordPress instances with one subscription, one database, and a minimum of administrative overhead. Luckily it’s relatively easy. The trick is to use different table names in the MySQL database for each blog. Below is a step by step example of how to do this.

To begin, all of our blogs are domain oriented, not path oriented. As an example whitepages.unlimitedviz.com vs blogs.unlimitedviz.com/whitepages. In this example we’ll add a new blog with the URL newblog1.unlimitedviz.com to our Azure subscription. The process for creating the first blog is identical to the addition of a new one, with the exception that a new database is created instead of connecting to an existing one.

Step 1 – Add a new Azure Web Site

From the Azure management portal, navigate to Web Sites, select New, Web Site, From Gallery.

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Scroll down to the bottom of he gallery, and find WordPress. Select it, and press the next arrow.

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Next, fill in the information about your new blog. The deployment settings will be used by PHP to communicate with MySQL, and will be largely invisible after initial setup. Your new blog will also have a .azurewebsites.net domain. We will substitute (or add) our own later. For now, our new blog will be newblog1.azurewebsites.net, will use an existing database, live in the North Central US data center, and use our corporate subscription.

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When ready, click the next arrow. If I was creating the first (and only) database, I would be able to give it a name and create it here. As it is, we can select our existing database, agree to ClearDB’s terms of service, and select the “done” check mark.

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At this point, the web site will be created. Once done, it is possible to navigate to the URL, and set up WordPress, but we need to make an additional modification first.

Step 2 – Specify the Table Prefix

In order to tell this particular WordPress instance which tables to use in the database, we need to modify the wp-config.php file in the web root. How do we do this? We have a few options. We could use FTP to download the file, edit it, and send it back up (FTP settings are under the Dashboard tab for the web site).

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We could also use GIT, but as I’m unfamiliar with it, I’ll let more GIT friendly folks sort that out as they wish. My preferred option is to use Webmatrix, which allows the direct editing of Azure Web Sites. Webmatrix is available from the bottom tools ribbon wherever a web site is selected.

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If Webmatrix has already been installed, it will launch, and if not, you’ll need to install it first. Your first option will be its operation mode, either direct, or off-line. We will select direct.

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Next, we double click on the wp-config.php file. This will open it in the editor. Now we scroll down to the line for $table_prefix, and edit it as appropriate, in our case “newblog1_”.

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Finally save the file and close Webmatrix. Now when the WordPress configuration wizard is run, it will create table in the database that are prepended with “newblog1_”, and use them thereafter. The configuration wizard runs whenever WordPress can’t find the specified tables in the database

Step 3 – Configure WordPress

Next, we navigate to our URL, where the WordPress configuration wizard will go ahead and complete our setup. In our case, we navigate to newblog1.azurewebsites.net, and fill out the form.

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When ready, click on the “Install WordPress” button. Once done, we log in and start building out the blog. That’s really all there is to it from the blog perspective. However, there’s likely one more important thing that we need to do.

Step 4 – Activate Your Own URL

In all likelihood, you don’t want to use azurewebsites.net in the domain of your new blog. We could use a DNS alias on our DNS to reroute traffic, but Azure won’t answer any requests that it isn’t expecting. We must first register our custom domain with the Azure web site, and this is only possible with Shared or Standard web sites. New sites get created in free mode, so we need to first switch the compute mode. Keep in mind that we’re switching away from free, so charges will accrue.

To switch modes, from the Azure Management Portal, click on the web site in question, then click the Scale tab. Under general, select on either “Shared” or “Standard” (shared is cheaper), and click save at the bottom of the screen.

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Once you accept the disclaimers, the mode changes, and we can add our domain. However, before we do, we need to make a DNS change. Azure won’t allow you to add just any domain, it needs to know that you own it. To do so, you need to add an alias (CNAME) entry that points from a verification subdomain (awverify) to a verification subdomain of our web site. In our case, the entry is awverify.newblog1.unlimitedviz.com and it points to awverify.newblog1.azurewebsites.net.

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Honestly, this is the biggest pain of the entire exercise. The effect of the change is not immediate, and after making the change, you may want to take a break for a while. According to the UI, there are also apparently other aliases that can be used for this purpose, but this is what works for me.

At this point, we can add the domain to the Azure web site. To do so, we open the Azure admin portal, and open the definition for the web site. Next, we click on the Configure tab, scroll down to the domain names section, and click the “manage domains” button.

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In the dialog that pops up, enter your custom domain name

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If your verification alias was properly set up, and all is well, you will receive a green check mark status indicator. If not, it will be a red x, and you will need to fix the problem. It could be a misspelled name or just no verification result. However, if all is well, make note of the IP address for your A records, and click the check button to save the configuration.

Finally, we add an A record to our DNS that points our custom domain newblog1.unlimitedviz.com to the IP address noted just above.

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That’s it. Taking this approach, we can have multiple, independent WordPress blogs sharing a single Azure subscription and a single MySQL database.

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This is the current setup for all of the UnlimitedViz blogs. There are, however a couple of caveats, that you should be aware of.

Caveat Emptor

Once you go ahead and allow WordPress to run its configuration wizard, it creates its table in the database. If you remove the web site, the underlying tables remain in the databases. This is either good or bad, depending on your perspective. If your website gets deleted, the data persists, and its simple to connect back to it, just like SharePoint. However, if you need to clean out the database, it’s pretty much impossible.

Thus far, I haven’t found any good way to manage the database directly. However, I haven’t looked very hard, as I haven’t needed to, and that’s a good thing.

The one thing that you should certainly be aware of if you’re going to be doing this to any sort of scale, is that the MySQL database that is created automatically is restricted to 20MB of total size, and that’s a limit that you will run into fairly quickly. I certainly never saw any indication of this limit while I was building the environment, but then, I never read any of the terms and conditions. Really, who does? The good news is that it can be upgraded.

The day after moving our blogs to this platform, I received an email from ClearDB stating that I was near my storage limit, and should consider upgrading. The email didn’t indicate how this could be done, so I navigated to the ClearDB site. Since there was a login button I used it, and entered the email that I use for my Azure subscription. Unfortunately my password didn’t work. Creating a MySQL database creates a ClearDB account, but I have no idea what password it uses. Using the “Lost Password” worked, but I was still  unable to log in. Finally, I logged a support issue with them using the provided support form. Very quickly, my account was enabled for “direct login” which is what was necessary, and allowed me to upgrade the database to a greater capacity. The plan that I opted for was $9.99/month, and allows up to 1 GB of space, which is plenty.

There was one other bump that I had to overcome. I was migrating existing blogs, and to do so, I used the export and import features that are a part of WordPress. The export feature downloads an XML file with all of your blog content. Supporting images are not included (they are downloaded at import time), but the file can still be rather large. The first step in the import process uploads the XML file, and then brings it back into the database. The problem is that by default, the maximum upload size for WordPress is 2MB, and I had two that were larger.

The way to get past this is to increase the maximum upload size. In Azure, this can be done through the addition of a configuration file in the web root. The file needs to be named “.user.ini”.

Open your web site using WebMatrix, right click on the site name, and select “New File”. Select TXT as the type, and name it “.user.ini”. Double click on it to open, and add the following line to it:

upload_max_filesize = 50M

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After saving, you should be able to upload files up to 50MB. It may be necessary to restart the site through the admin portal.

I’ve been quite liking the performance and the stability of this new setup, and I recommend it highly for this sort of requirement.

Setting up WordPress on Windows and SQL Azure: A Walkthrough

NOTE – July 17 2012 The post below was originally written in early 2011, and represents the effort required to get WordPress working in an Azure Web Role. With the release of the new Azure IAAS features  in June 2012, I wanted to note that I do not recommend this approach. I am leaving the post here as it may have historical value, or value for those using the tools described. WordPress can now be run as an Azure Web Site, or, as this blog is using, within an Azure Virtual Machine

As I mentioned in a post last week, the blog that you are currently reading is now hosted on Windows Azure. Nothing about the blog platform has changed, it’s still running on WordPress, but along the way I did switch the database from MySQL to SQL Azure. The process of getting this up and running was not exactly straightforward, so I thought that I would share my experience here.

To be clear, I am new to Azure. Brand new. What I’m writing below is simply my experience in getting this up and running, which happily I was able to do. This should not be taken as prescriptive guidance – that MVP badge at the top of this blog is for SharePoint – not Azure. If this helps you, then great. However, I would be happy to receive comments about mistakes, better approaches, or just other approaches.

Your mileage may vary – you’ve been warned…..

Since the Windows Azure operating environment is actually a Virtual Machine running Windows Server 2008 or 2008 R2, you can technically run anything on it that you can with either of those environments. Getting an ASP.NET service up into the cloud is a snap with Visual Studio, but getting other platforms up there, Like PHP requires a bit more effort. Luckily, Microsoft recently published the Windows Azure Companion, which makes it significantly easier to install PHP and PHP based applications like WordPress and Drupal on Azure. We’ll be working with this tool extensively.

1. Create the  Storage Account

The Azure Companion installs a series of files into blob storage, so it is necessary to have a storage account available. Log in to the Azure Dashboard, click on “Hosted Services, Storage Accounts, and CDN”, and select  “Storage Accounts”. Once this has loaded, click on “New Storage Account”.

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From the following dialog box, choose your subscription, enter a name (URL) for your account, and choose a region.

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The URL that you enter can be whatever you like, but it MUST be unique across all Azure storage accounts. I also always choose a specific data center. Given that you are charged for bandwidth in and out of the data center, and my WordPress install will be using SQL Azure, I want to make sure that all data moving between my front end server and my SQL Azure server is within the same data center, and this is the only way that I know to do this. The Storage Account should be created fairly quickly.

2. Create the SQL Azure WordPress database

Since we will be using SQL Azure for data storage, its necessary to create the database ahead of time. To do so, log into the Azure Portal select Database, drill into your subscription and select your server, and click create.

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Depending on your subscription, you may get different options, but you need to select a database name, edition, and maximum size.

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You can select whatever you want for edition and size, but 1 GB should be more than enough for WordPress. Make sure that you remember the name of the database.

Finally, you’ll need to make sure that the Firewall rules are configured to allow access for  Azure services. From the Server information screen, click on Firewall Rules.

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Unless already selected, clicking on “Allow other Windows Azure services…..” will add a rule permitting your Azure services to access the database.

In addition, make note of the following information. You will be needing it when it comes time to setting up WordPress, below:

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3. Install the Windows Azure Companion

You can download the Windows Azure Companion from here. You have three choices – the companion without SSL, with SSL, and the source code. The big difference between the first two is what endpoints are configured, and the source code obviously lets you change the entire solution. Unfortunately, since the solution package has not been configured for remote desktop access, working with the source code is necessary.

Why is remote desktop access necessary? Well, if you are absolutely satisfied that you can get everything configured perfectly in the solution package, then it isn’t but at this stage in the game, I just don’t have that much confidence. RD access lets me tweak things after deployment. The biggest reason for me however was that if you use the application installer in Azure Companion, it will want to install your WordPress Instance in a subdirectory off the root (ie http://blogs.cloudapp.net/MyBlogName). I didn’t want that, I wanted to use http://myblogname.mydomainname.com, and to get that going requires a few modifications to IIS afterwards – hence the need tor RDP access. However, if the default behaviour is OK for you, download the precompiled solution package, follow the instructions here and skip to the next section.

To Edit the Solution you will need Visual Studio 2010 along with the Windows Azure Tools 1.3 SDK installed. You will also need to download the Azure Companion source files. Once done, open the solution file. There are actually 2 to choose from, one using SSL and one not. We will be working with the non-SSL Solution.

The “AdminWebSite” role is what we’ll be working with. This is the central application for Azure Companion, and from there we’ll install PHP and WordPress. For now, we are primarily concerned with configuring the role, and setting up Remote desktop. In addition, we’ll create a certificate to be used both for the application and for management (Remote Desktop).

First we need to configure the role, and we do that by double clicking on the role name in the roles folder. his brings up the Configuration tab.

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The defaults on this page are fine, but the Instance Count is worth noting. According to my testing, Azure Companion can only be used with one instance. This is because multiple instances need to share a common file in the Blob storage, and this file is locked by the first process that accesses it. This will generate an availability warning on deployment.

The settings tab is where most of the configuration is performed.

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There are 5 values here that MUST be configured:

WindowsAzureStorageAccountName The name of the storage account created in step 1
WindowsAzureStorageAccountKey The storage account primary key that can be obtained from the portal after the account has been created
AdminUserName A new user  name that will be used to administer Azure Companion
AdminPassword Administrator’s password
ProductListXmlFeed A list of available products to install. Azure Companion is extensible, and you can maintain your own list*.

* There is a publicly available feed at : http://wazstorage.blob.core.windows.net/azurecompanion/default/WindowsAzureCompanionFeed.xml

Once these settings are made, we need to modify the endpoints. Azure allows for 5 endpoints, and if Remote Desktop occupies one of them. On the surface, the 4 endpoints specified should be fine, but my testing showed that either there is a hidden endpoint somewhere, or the limit is actually 4. Either way, we need to remove one of the endpoints. We have no need for MySQL, so that’s the one that loses.

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The rest of the settings are fine, so we don’t need to explore them. At this point it’s a good idea to save the project. If you get a write protected error, you’ll need to go to the folder where the project files are stored and remove the read only attribute from the project files. Don’t forget to come back and save the project.

While Visual Studio can deploy directly to Azure, for the first deployment, we have a bit of a chicken and egg problem. In order to deploy a solution that has Remote Desktop enabled, you need to have a service certificate and management certificate already available. The service certificates are installed as a node under the hosted service, but the hosted service hasn’t yet been created. Further, to create a new hosted service from the portal , you need to have the two package files available. Therefore, for our first deployment, we will create the service files and deploy manually.

Right click on your cloud project, and click “Publish”.

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In this case, the default value of “Create Service Package Only” is what we want, so click on “OK”. Visual Studio will then create the files that we need to deploy, and open up a Windows Explorer window to the path in which they’re contained. Copy this path to the clipboard, and we are now ready to create our first Service Application.

Open the Windows Azure Portal, click on Hosted Services, and then click “New Hosted Service”. The new Hosted Service dialog appears.

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The Service name only matters for management purposes, but the URL Prefix is the way that your application will be addressed from outside, so choose the name wisely. It must be unique among all Azure applications. For the region, make sure that you choose the same region specified for the SQL Azure database above. Since you likely won’t need deployment/production environments, just deploy to production. We’ll be changing this right after we create it, so we don’t want to start it, that just takes extra time. Finally, select the package and configuration generated by Visual Studio.

Once this is done, Azure will create the virtual machine to host the instance, and install the instance itself. The process will take a few minutes, but when you’re ready to proceed, The portal window should appear something like the window below.

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The next thing that we need to do is to create our service and management certificates. The two certificates can be based on the same root certificate but must be in two different formats. The management certificate will be a .cer file (which is what is  created when a self signed certificate is created) and the service certificate must be in X509 format. This can be done by exporting a .cer file.

If you already have a certificate, you can skip this creation step, but to create one, the easiest way is to use the Visual Studio tools. Once again, Right click on your cloud project, and click “Publish”. This gets a little tricky.

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Click on the credentials drop down and select <Add>. Then, the Project Management Authentication dialog appears. Again, select the drop down, and if there are no credentials already stored, choose <create>. Then enter a friendly name for the certificate (in this case sfiWordPress). Follow the instructions in step 2 – but note that there is no “Subscription Page”, but that you’ll be uploading a Management certificate into the Management certificate section. The subscription ID is obtained in the portal and the purpose of naming the credentials is so that Visual Studio can refer to them at a later date.

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When ready, click OK. VS will connect to Azure to make sure that everything OK, and load in all of your hosted services. However, we’re still not quite ready to redeploy. First we need to upload a service certificate to the service (we did the management certificate above). This is because we need such a certificate in order to use Remote Desktop.

First, we need to create our certificate,  To do so, click the “Configure Remote Desktop connections link”.

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Create a new certificate if necessary, and enter in a local machine (for the service) user name.  When ready click OK. We’re almost ready to deploy, but first we must upload this new certificate to the service. However, it’s not yet in an importable format, so we need to export our certificate to a .pfx file. To do so, without closing our deployment dialog, run the certificate manager add in by clicking on the Start Pearl, and entering certmgr.msc into the search box:

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When the certificate manager window opens, open the Personal branch, and click on Certificates.  Then, right click on your new certificate, hover over all tasks, and click on Export.

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The certificate export wizard will then start. Walk through the wizard, make sure that you select the option to export the private key, enter (and Remember!!!) a password, enter a file name and save it. When this is done, we’re ready to add it to our service application.

Go back to the Azure Portal, and navigate to your hosted service. Then click on the certificates node, and press the “Add Certificate” button in the ribbon. Browse to the certificate, and enter its password. When ready, click the create button.

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Now we’re ready to deploy our Remote Desktop enabled service. Go back to the Visual Studio Publish Dialog, make sure that you have the deploy to Azure option selected, and click the OK button.  If all is well you will receive the following prompt:

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This is simply warning you that you have another service deployed into the production slot, and that you will be overwriting it with this deployment. Since this is precisely what we want, go ahead and click the “Delete and Continue” button. The deployment process will take several minutes. I suggest going for coffee, or pursuing another vice that requires 5-10 minutes.

4. Use Azure Companion to Set Up PHP and WordPress

Once started, the Azure Companion management service is running on port 8080. You can access it by navigating to your service URL at that port. In this case, it’s http://sfiwhitepages.cloudapp.net:8080. You should see a screen similar to the following:

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You log in with the ID created in the service definition in Section 3. If you receive errors, chances are that all the services haven’t spun up yet. You will also receive errors here if you configures multiple instances of the service, because both instances are trying to access the same file.

Click on the Applications tab. You will find a number of applications listed, and the one we’re interested in is WordPress. Selecting it  and click next. The next page will show it selected, along with all of its dependencies, including the PHP runtime, and the PHP SQL drivers.

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One parameter above is quire important, the installation path. This path will be used  to form the URL to your blog, in the form http://serveraddress/InstallationPath. Unless you’ll be taking the additional steps to install the blog into the root that I describe below, you’ll want to choose this name wisely, as you’ll be handing it out.

After you have carefully read all of the licence terms (tee hee), click the “Accept” button. All of the requisite files will be installed for you. This process should take something less than a minute. When done, you will be returned to the application screen. You are now ready to set up WordPress. To begin the process, click on the launch button in the application window:

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Alternatively, you can enter the URL for WordPress on your service by adding the installation path to the end of your URL, i.e. http://sfiwordpress.clousapp.net/wordpress. Doing so will begin the WordPress configuration procedure. You should be presented with a page that indicates that the WordPress configuration file needs to be created. Go ahead and do so. After a confirmation page (click “Let’s go!”), you’ll be prompted for the database connection information. Here you’ll enter the information that you recorded at the end of the SQL Azure setup step above (step 2). The format of the user name is a little non standard (username@machinename), but the diagram below shows how the information from step 2 maps to the WordPress setup form.

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Clicking Submit causes WordPress to check the connections, and if all is well, you are prompted to Run the install. Clicking the install button brings up the standard WordPress configuration screen, looking for the Site Title (for use on pages), the administrator user name, the administrator password, and your email. WordPress will use your email for things like administrator password resets, but the sendmail function will not work, at least without further setup (which I haven’t done). In other words, don’t forget the password.

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Once complete, go ahead and click the “Install WordPress” button. You’ll receive a confirmation message, and clicking on Log In will take you to the login screen. Once logged in (as the administrator), you’ll be taken to the standard WordPress admin screen.

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Of course navigating to the blog’s address will take you to the blog itself.

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If you’re happy with the URL as is, you’re done. However, if you’re like me, and you want to have the blog at the root, and/or you want to use your own domain to host the blog, then read on…..

5. Move the Blog to its own Application

Once installation is complete, WordPress is stored in a subdirectory of the main PHP host site. If we don’t need the site for anything else, then we can change its port bindings, create a new web application on port 80, and move the WordPress files to it.

The first step is to connect to your Azure instance with Remote Desktop. To do this, open up the Windows Azure portal, navigate to the service instance, and click the connect button in the ribbon.

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This will open up the Remote Desktop window. You will log in with the credentials that you created in the Remote Desktop configuration settings in Visual Studio. When entering the User Name, make sure to preface it with a backslash (ie jwhite) to indicate a local user. If you used a self signed certificate, you will receive certificate warnings, but these can safely be ignored.

Once logged in, start the IIS Manager, then open up your virtual server, and open the sites tab. You should see two sites, one is the admin site for Windows Azure Companion, and the other is the PHP Host site. Our first step will be to change the port binding to something other than 80 for the PHP host site, so select it, and click on Bindings.

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Select the current binding click edit, and change the port to something other than 80 (I used 81). Keep in mind that because this endpoint is not defined in the service, it will be unavailable outside of the host instance.

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Next, open Windows Explorer and open up the F: folder. Create a new folder to house the WordPress files (in my case F:WordPress). This will be our new blog folder.  The name will only matter to the server. Next, open up the F:Applications folder. This is the root of the current WordPress site. Copy the two files stored there (phpinfo.php and web.cfg) to the folder that you just created. Next, navigate to the folder in the F:applications folder (in my case, F:applicationswordpress) and copy everything there into the same new folder.

Once this is done, go back into IIS Manager, right click on the Sites folder, and select Add New Site.

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Give the site a unique name, and for the Physical Path, use the new blog folder created above. Ensure that the app is explicitly bound to the server’s IP address, and in addition, ensure that the site is bound to port 80. When finished, the web site should start, but if there is an error, simply restart it.

You should now be able to navigate to the root of your site, but you will likely notice that all of your styles have gone. This is because WordPress still thinks it’s installed in the old folder. To fix this, you have two options. You could connect to your SQL Azure Instance with SQL Enterprise Manager, and edit the siteurl record in the wp_options table. Alternatively, you can navigate to the new blog folder, delete the wp-config.php file, navigate to the blog root, and re-set it up as above. This is likelier the easiest option, but be aware that before you do this, you will need to drop and recreate your SQL database.

We’re almost there…

6. Implement a custom Domain Name

OK. Now we have a WordPress blog running at the root of our application. However, if you’re like me, you likely want to use your own domain, and not cloudapp.net. Unfortunately, Azure uses variable external IP addresses, so there’s no way to use host headers and DNS A records. However, we can create a CName (alias) record that converts xxx.cloudapp.net to servername.mydomain.root.

The first step is to log in to your Domain Services provider. I use DynDNS so the example will be from there. Simply add a CNAME record that converts the Azure service name to your desired address. The DynDNS example is below.

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You should now be able to navigate to your blog at the new address. It may take a few minutes for changes to propagate.

We have one step to go. WordPress is answering on this new address, but it will still form all of its URLs using the old one. We need to tell it to use the new address, and we do that by navigating to the admin app. Until we make this change, we need to use the old address, which in my case is http://sfiwhitepages.cloudapp.net/wp-admin.

Once logged in, click on settings along the left menu, and then select General.

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Once those changes are made, you can use the new domain exclusively.

That’s it…we’re done! Easy right?  It’s worth it. No longer is my blog at the mercy of my local power provider, or any IT maintenance schedules. As I mentioned at the beginning, please feel free to comment with any better approaches, or any egregious errors that I may have made.

The White Pages are now Running on Windows and SQL Azure

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve hosted it internally on our premises. Part of the reason for this was that I wanted to have full control over what was going on with it, and I wanted to work in a familiar environment. For me, that was of course the Microsoft stack. While SharePoint has excellent blogging features, made even better by the Community Kit for SharePoint: Enhanced Blog Edition, my feeling is that its feature set is more applicable to an inside the firewall deployment. Also, if I were to use SharePoint for this purpose, I’d be constantly distracted by the desire to improve upon it.

What I needed was a platform that was focused on blogging, and that I wouldn’t wind up tinkering with too much. I settled on WordPress, which seemed to be very well supported, and quite good at what it did. WordPress had direct integration with Windows Live Writer, and had apps for the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and now Windows Phone 7.

WordPress natively runs on PHP and MySQL, and typically runs in Linux environments. However, since IIS supports PHP and MySQL runs on Windows, it is possible to get it running in my “familiar environment”. Normally doing this sort of thing is a bear, but by using the Web Platform Installer from Microsoft, the installation was a breeze. All that was necessary was to run it, and select WordPress as a desired application. The installer then took care of downloading PHP, MySQL, WordPress, and integrating them all together. After answering a few account and password questions, I was up and running, and have been ever since.

The one drawback of this approach was that I was hosting it myself, and therefore always concerned with reliability and uptime. More importantly it has been sharing a server with other applications, and more than once has gone down because another system needed a reboot, crashed, or something. A hosted environment was obvious, and since I’ve been exploring the Azure platform lately, I thought I’d see what was involved.  One of the advantages of the MVP program, which I’m newly a part of is that you are allocated a certain amount of Azure computing hours, so off I went experimenting.

Happily, one weekend later, this blog has been transitioned to a high speed, and highly available platform, that most importantly, I don’t have to maintain. Not only that, but I’ve been able to take MySQL out of the picture completely, and I’m using a SQL Azure database as my data store. I had several false starts right away, and I’m going to document the approach  that I took and post it here shortly, but for now, I’m pretty happy with the results.

Hello Azure!