What is the Microsoft Azure SDK?
Many people might not be aware of the differences between Microsoft Azure Tools and the Microsoft Azure SDK. The Microsoft Azure SDK is simply a set of binaries and helpful utilities to help you use the Microsoft Azure SDK platform as a developer. The tools package, on the other hand, includes the SDK as well as plug-ins and templates for Microsoft Visual Studio. If you are a .NET developer you only need to download and install the latest version of the Microsoft Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio. Through the rest of the article I will refer to both packages as the SDK interchangeably.
If you have a prior version it is easy to upgrade. Just download the new version and run the setup program. It will install over the old version and handle everything for you. To run the SDK and the Tools you do need to have Windows Vista (or better). This is because the SDK uses IIS7, under the covers to simulate the real Azure cloud locally in what is called the devFabric, and only Vista or better versions of Windows support IIS7. This does include Windows Server OSes as well, if that is how you roll.
.NET Framework 4 Now Supported
The first and biggest feature of the new SDK is the new support for .NET 4. Prior to this release of the SDK Microsoft Azure only supported .NET framework 3.5 sp1. With the new support for.NET 4 you can take advantage of all of the great new features, like better WCF support and configuration, MVC2, and many more. Along with this feature comes the support for Visual Studio 2010 RTM. The old version of the SDK only supported the beta versions of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, so this makes it official. While you can develop for Microsoft Azure in Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 SP1, you should really use Visual Studio 2010. If you don't own professional you can use Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Express (see http://www.microsoft.com/express/downloads/ for details) to build most types of applications.
Cloud Storage Explorer
The rest of the features are really enhancements to the Microsoft Visual Studio tooling. The first new tool is called the Cloud Storage Explorer. This adds support to the Server Explorer window in Visual Studio to help you browse your cloud data. It can connect to any cloud storage account for Microsoft Azure, as well as connect to your local devFabric storage.
It has a few limitations. First, you can't use it to inspect queues, it only works for BLOBs and tables. Second, you can only read your data, you can't use the tool to edit your data. This does limit how you might use the tool, but it is still handy to watch what is happening in your storage account as your code is running. The table view does let you define custom queries so that you can limit the entities shown from your table. Also, when you double click a BLOB in the BLOB list, Visual Studio will do it's best to open the document. For example, if you double clicked on an image, Visual Studio would open the image in the image editor that Visual Studio includes.
You can have the Cloud Storage Explorer point to as many storage accounts as you would like, and it comes preconfigured for your local devFabric storage. To add your own cloud based storage account, right click on "Microsoft Azure Storage" in the Server Explorer window of Visual Studio and choose "Add New Account..."
At this point you will see the following screen. You will need to enter your account name, and the key that goes with it. You can choose to have Visual Studio remember the key or not. You can find this information by logging into your Microsoft Azure portal and browsing to your storage account. The account information is stored in the configuration for Visual Studio, and is not associated with your solution or project file. Once you have supplied the correct data, click OK.
Once you have configured your account your storage will appear in the server explorer. You can drill through the explorer to find your BLOB containers and tables. In the screenshot below I have added a cloud storage account, and I have my local devFabric storage showing.
My FurnData storage account in the cloud has a table for furniture data for our website, as well as several BLOB containers for storing photos of the products.
When I double click on the BLOB container teleport-pads, Visual Studio will display a list of all of the BLOBs (aka files) that are stored in that container. I can't use this tool to upload or change the files, but I can double click on one to open it.
When you double click on a table you will get a spreadsheet view of the entities in the table. Again, you can't edit the data, but this can help you see what is going on as your application is running. Near the top of the list you can provide your own query to filter the entities that are displayed.