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11 Visual Studio Azure Tools that You Really Need to Know

The benefits of software development and testing in the cloud have become apparent. Migrating to the cloud gives you the ability for self-service development and testing (aka DevOps) without the wait for in-house hardware and software and without direct intervention of a service provider or IT enterprise.

You have speed for production and scaling and you can collaborate with others on design and development. Just relative to the time savings, a recent   reported a savings in development time from 11% to 20%.

These benefits result in more rapid deployment, security, cost savings, and, with the right IDE, all of the build, editing, and debugging tools you need.

If you have not yet explored Microsoft’s Visual Studio and its tools for Azure, then this would be a good time to do so.

The Values of Visual Studio Tools for Azure

  is an IDE that provides a comprehensive environment for development of computer programs, web sites, web apps, web services and mobile apps.

First and foremost, Visual Studio allows you to build any software, app, or extension in the programming language of your choice, using a full kit of tools.

The key features this IDE offers are the following:

  • Development: Write and fix code rapidly.
  • Debugging: Diagnose and debug easily.
  • Testing: comprehensive testing tools. By configuring a full CI/CD pipeline, builds and tests are automatically triggered.
  • Collaborating: teams can collaborate efficiently through version control and agile processes.
  • Extending: There are literally thousands of extensions for customization of the IDE, or you can write your own extension.
  • Wide reach: apps and games can reach any device that runs Windows.
  • Mobile, Azure, and Web Apps – develop native or hybrid apps quickly and easily with state-of-the-art tools.
  • Microsoft Office Development: Visual Studio Tools for Office is an SDK of development tools for the Office suite.
  • Games: Design, code, and debug quickly through great graphics and scripting tools.

Essential Azure Tools: Features and Benefits

First, a word about the business value of Visual Studio on Azure. Visual studio 2017 includes all you need to enable the Azure workload. It is seamless and easy.

Once Azure is enabled, you can deploy in minutes with integration and deployment tools that automatically build and test your code and then deploy all changes directly to Azure. You can scale up or down effortlessly.

Monitoring tools will provide alerts with built-in diagnosis to identify problem causes. And all of the Azure security functionalities, such as  , will improve customer trust. When you do move your Visual Studio to Azure, your current subscription is credited to the Azure subscription, cutting costs of the migration.

There are some key integrations that you should know about, some developed by Microsoft and others developed by individuals and other third-parties. Here is a list of the most important ones.

1. Cloud Explorer

This tool allows you to search and find all Azure resources by name, type, or resource group, and to do so directly from your Visual Studio IDE. Extensions for this tool are still being developed, so expect to see more features in the future.

2. Database.Net

Here are database development and management tools within Visual Studio Project Explorer that are fully integrated with Azure – object navigators, data visualizers, and table designers, etc. Integrations are supported for all versions of Visual Studio.

3. Code Editor

This tool is common with all IDE’s, of course, but here are some key features of Visual Studio’s. It supports syntax highlighting and code completion via IntelliSense. Autocomplete suggestions are placed in a list box over the editor window.
Users can also set bookmarks in code for quick navigation. There are also collapsing code blocks and an incremental search feature. In addition, the code editor provides a clipboard/task list, supports saved templates of code snippets, for repetitive code that may be inserted elsewhere.
One unique feature is background compilation. As developers are writing code, the editor compiles it and then provides feedback about errors. These are flagged by red wavy lines. Green underlines constitute warnings.
It’s an essential tool to improve overall code quality and team’s productivity and is fully integrated with Azure.

4. Debugger

The Visual Studio debugger operates at both source and machine levels, as well as with both managed and native code. It can be attached to running processes, monitoring and debugging them. It will also create memory dumps, saving them for later debugging. And one very cool feature is that it can be configured to be deployed as an app that is operating outside the environment crashes.
Developers can set breakpoints and watches and allow for code to be edited as it is in the debugging process (“edit and continue”).
Azure has integrated all of Visual Studio Designer tools, and they perform a wide array of functions.

5. Windows Forms Designer

Windows Forms Designer will help build GUI apps via Windows Forms. Control of layout is achieved by housing controls within other containers or via locking them off to the side. Data-bound controls are crafted by simply dragging the desired items from the Data Sources window onto the surface of the design. An event-driven programming model links UI with code.

6. WPF Designer

Visual Studio introduced “Cider,” its WPF designer, with its 2008 version. It supports the same drag and drop feature as the Forms Designer. The purpose of this tool is to design user interfaces through Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). The core of WPF functionality is to take advantage of the latest graphics hardware, extending the core with a number of app development features, including generating XAML code, data binding, 2D and 3D graphics, animation, templates, media, documents, and typography, among others. And because WPF is within the .NET Framework, developers can easily incorporate other elements from that class library.
WPF allows both markup and code-behind app development. So, developers can use XAML markup for an app’s appearance and code-behind for its behavior. Separating out appearance and behavior means the appearance and the behavior can be developed simultaneously.

7. Web Designer / Development

Dragging and dropping widgets allows web pages to be authored quickly and easily. This tool is used primarily in developing ASP.NET apps and supports JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. The layout engine for this tool is shared with Microsoft Expression Web.

8. Class Designer

This tool will help developers understand the class structure of those projects that others have written. It can be used to share the project information with others, as well as to customize how that information is presented. Developers can create a class diagram that displays what is to be shared or presented.
There are other tools in the designer category, and they can all be explored as desired. Suffice it to say that no design element is impossible with the designer tool.

9. Azure Storage Connected Service

Available at  , this utility will provide designtime tools to create and configure your Visual Storage project to consume Azure Storage. The Standard Storage Account will provide access to Blob, Queue, Table, and file storage. You can create up to 100 storage accounts with a single Azure subscription, and there are several pricing options.

10. Connected Service for Azure IoT Hub

This   allows developers to connect to the Azure IoT Hub, and there are step-by-step procedures provided to do so. There are a multitude of functions within this hub, including:

  • Building and deploying AI models;
  • Processing real-time data;
  • Processing events using Serverless code;
  • Building custom logic;
  • Supports almost every language.

Azure Functions and Web Job Tools for Visual Studio 2017

If you have a Visual Studio 2017 subscription, you have access to a substantial number of tools for creating, debugging and publishing Azure functions and projects:

  • Create Azure Web projects;
  • Create C++ functions better than those that are script-based;
  • Open access to the entire ecosystem of Visual tools, such as unit testing, code analysis, IntelliSense, other extensions from third parties;
  • Build, edit and run apps locally on Visual Studio and then directly publish to Azure.

The Costs

There are a number of pricing options, dependent upon the level of functionality a business may want. Pricing is based upon annual or monthly subscriptions:

  • The Community edition is free for students and individual developers but includes only the most basic features.
  • The Professional Edition is usually recommended for small development teams, at a cost of $539/year or $45/month.
  • The Enterprise Edition, for teams of all sizes, is the full-featured one, at $2,999/year or $250/month.

A Case Study from Infopulse – Using Azure to Improve DevOps Practices

If you are looking to “see” the real value of Visual Studio, Infopulse has created an educational video series introducing the essential DevOps best practices:

The series is based on a development project for one of our clients, the Ireland State Agency for Qualifications and Quality Assurance. Prior to contracting with Infopulse and its DevOps team, delivery of any new version of an app was a manual and time-consuming process.

Using the Visual Studio Team Services and Azure tools, the Infopulse team was able to put into place app development that significantly reduced both client costs and time to deployment.

In this video series, the narrator explains the entire process, and developers will gain great insights into the value of Visual Studio on Azure. Alternatively, you can always and explore how Azure can be integrated in your current setup.