Create AWS Windows VM

I wrote a post a few weeks about creating an Azure Windows VM so wanted to follow up with a post about creating an AWS Windows VM to compare both platforms. I like Azure and AWS so I’m not going to throw either one under the bus. Both are great and easy to use.

Let’s create an AWS (EC2) Windows VM.

Log into the AWS portal and click on EC2 under All Services, Compute:

AWS Management Console

Next, click Launch Instance:

AWS Create Instance

Step 1 allows you to choose an Amazon Machine Image or AMI. There are tons of options here, but for this post, I’m going to use Microsoft Windows Server 2019 Base

Windows 2019 Base

Once I click Select, I’m brought to Step 2: Choose an Instance Type. Instance Types comprise varying combinations of CPU, memory, storage, and networking capacity and give you the flexibility to choose the appropriate mix of resources for your applications. Each instance type includes one or more instance sizes, allowing you to scale your resources to the requirements of your target workload. More info here:

For this post, and for cost sake, I’m going to use the free tier t2.micro type which is 1 CPU, 1GB RAM

Once I’ve selected my instance type I’ll click Next:Configure Instance Details.

Step 3: Configure Instance Details is where we’ll configure our new server. Let’s go down the list.

  • Number of Instances – This is the number of servers you want to create. If you need 5 of the same servers, this makes it easy.
  • Spot Instances – A Spot Instance is an unused EC2 instance that is available for less than the On-Demand price. Because Spot Instances enable you to request unused EC2 instances at steep discounts, you can lower your Amazon EC2 costs significantly. The hourly price for a Spot Instance is called a Spot price. The Spot price of each instance type in each Availability Zone is set by Amazon EC2, and adjusted gradually based on the long-term supply of and demand for Spot Instances. Your Spot Instance runs whenever capacity is available and the maximum price per hour for your request exceeds the Spot price.
AWS Spot Instances
  • Network – The network you want the new server to join. You can create an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and select your own IP address range, subnets, gateways, etc. Learn more here:
  • Subnet: the range of IP addresses in your VPC that can be used to isolate different EC2 resources from each other or the internet.
  • Auto-assign Public IP – requests a public IP address from Amazon’s public IP address pool, to make the server reachable from the internet.
  • Placement Group: You can launch or start instances in a placement group, which determines how instances are placed on underlying hardware. When you create a placement group, you specify one of the following strategies for the group:
    • Cluster – clusters instances into a low-latency group in a single Availability Zone
    • Partition – spreads instances across logical partitions, ensuring that instances in one partition do not share underlying hardware with instances in other partitions
    • Spread – spreads instances across underlying hardware
    • There is no charge for creating a placement group. Learn more:
  • Capacity Reservations – enables you to reserve capacity for your Amazon EC2 instances in a specific Availability Zone for any duration. This gives you the ability to create and manage capacity reservations independently from the billing discounts offered by Reserved Instances (RI). By creating Capacity Reservations, you ensure that you always have access to EC2 capacity when you need it, for as long as you need it.
  • Domain join directory – enables you to join a domain that you’ve already created.
  • IAM role – automatically deploys AWS credentials to resources that assume it.
  • Shutdown behavior – specifies what happens when an OS level shutdown is performed.
  • Enabled termination protection – You can protect instances from being accidentally terminated. Once enabled, you won’t be able to terminate the instance until this option has been disabled.
  • Monitoring – Monitor the instance with Amazon CloudWatch.
  • Tenancy – You can select to run your server on a shared server or a dedicated server.
  • Elastic Graphics – Enables graphic acceleration.

For this post I’ll use defaults and click Next.

Step 4 is Add Storage.

I’m not going to go over each Storage option, but you can get more info here:

AWS Storage

Selecting default and clicking next.

Step 5: Add Tags.

Like Azure, A tag consists of a case-sensitive key-value pair. For example, you could define a tag with key = Name and value = Webserver. A copy of a tag can be applied to volumes, instances or both. Tags will be applied to all instances and volumes

Click Next.

Step 6 is Configure Security Group

A security group is a set of firewall rules that control the traffic for your instance. On this page, you can add rules to allow specific traffic to reach your instance. For example, if you want to set up a web server and allow Internet traffic to reach your instance, add rules that allow unrestricted access to the HTTP and HTTPS ports. By default, the RDP port is added, but it allows all IP addresses to connect. Changing the Source column will allow you to filter what IP’s are able to RDP into the server. For this post, I’m going to change the Source column to allow “My IP”

AWS Security Groups

Next…and last page is a summary of the options selected. To finish configuring the instance, click Launch.

AWS EC2 Summary

After clicking launch, you will see a popup where you can create or use an existing key pair. A key pair consists of a public key that AWS stores, and a private key file that you store. Together, they allow you to connect to your instance securely. For Windows AMIs, the private key file is required to obtain the password used to log into your instance. For Linux AMIs, the private key file allows you to securely SSH into your instance.

Once the new VM is created, you can go back to the EC2 dashboard and click on Instances to see the new VM:

AWS EC2 Dashboard

Creating a Dynamic Date Range Title in Power BI

Creating a dynamic title in Power BI helps present the data and let’s the viewers know what the data is filtered on. In this post I’ll go over how to do this…

I have a sales report that I’d like to add a title that is based on the Order Date Slicer. Currently, the title is static text “Sales Report”

Sales Report

To create my dynamic title, I’ll first need to create a measure table that has my Order Date data. In this case, that table is FactInternetSales and the column is OrderDate.

To create a measure, click New Measure in the Power BI Desktop ribbon

Power BI Desktop Ribbon

Next, you’ll see a window where you can type code. In this example, I’ll use the following DAX

Next, you’ll see a window where you can type code. In this example, I’ll use the following DAX

Order Date Title = “Sales For ” &
MIN ( FactInternetSales[OrderDate] ) & ” to “
& MAX ( FactInternetSales[OrderDate] )

Let’s walk through this real quick.

The first line (Order Date Title = “Sales For “ &) is basically naming the measure and adding the beginning text for the title.
The second line (MIN ( FactInternetSales[OrderDate] ) & “ to “) is finding the minimum order date from FactInternetSales.OrderDate and then adding the “to” text.
The last line (MAX ( FactInternetSales[OrderDate] ) is finding the maximum order date from FactInternetSales.OrderDate.

This one was pretty easy. Once I’ve typed my DAX, hit the checkmark to make sure there are no errors and the click off screen.


Our measure has been created! Let’s go back and find it under the FactInternetSales fields pane.

Power BI Fields

Next, let’s click on the Card Visualization and move and size it appropriately to fit in our title space.

Card Visualization

While the card is highlighted, click on the new measure from the Fields pane and it will populate the card with the measure we created.

The only thing left to do is format the title and we’re all set! If we change the Order Date Slicer, you’ll notice the title changes with the date. See live example at the beginning of this post.

March Madness Power BI Dashboard

At the beginning of the year I set a goal to learn something new. I’ve always loved business intelligence and bringing data to life in the form of dashboards and charts so for the 1st half of the year I wanted to focus on Microsoft’s Power BI. I’m not going to explain what Power BI is, but if you want to read up on it go here:

This post is just going to show off my dashboard. ? See live example above.

I’m a huge sports fan and the best time of the year happens to fall in March. Besides my birthday being in March, it’s also March Madness. Hours and hours of basketball. I could of used AdventureWorks for my dataset, but I wanted to use something I’m interested in. I found some data containing every NCAA tournament game result since 1985 (when the tournament was expanded to the 64 team bracket). The dataset contains the year, round (1-6), seed of the teams (1-16), region (1-4) and the scores. Perfect. Let’s use this to create a dashboard.

There’s not a ton of data, but I used what I could and tried to answer some questions around wins and upsets. Here’s a screenshot of the final product:

March Madness Power BI Dashboard

You can see Wins By Team (Duke with 93, North Carolina with 78, etc), Wins by Seed, National Championships, and Upsets vs Wins by Year. You can also see that a total of 2142 games have been played with 199 different teams in the tournament.

This was really fun and answers a lot of the questions I was thinking in my head while designing. The top left corner also has slicers which help filter the data. For example, if I wanted to see only the data for 2015 I could change the Year slicer to 2015 and it would update all my visualizations:

March Madness Power BI Dashboard filtered by year 2015

You can see that Duke won the National Championship from the National Championships visualization. If you hover over the Wins and Upsets visualization, you’ll see there were 30 upsets out of 63 games.

Let’s say I want to view data for a certain Team. Let’s choose Alabama Crimson Tide. If I change the Team slicer to Alabama I can see some data based around this team.

March Madness Power BI Dashboard filtered by team Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama has won 19 NCAA tournament games, 0 national championships, has been a 5 or 7 seed 21% of the time and they’ve had a few upsets along the way. Not bad for a football school.

What about data for the National Championship game? I can change the Round slicer to 6, which is the National Championship round and view the data this way.

March Madness Power BI Dashboard filtered by Championship game

I can see out of 34 games, there has only been 16 different teams make the National Championship. Duke leads the way with 6, followed by North Carolina and Connecticut with 4. The 1 seed has played in this game 59% of the time, and there were upsets in 1988, 1990, 1997, 2003, 2006, and 2016.

We can also click on the visualizations themselves to view data. For example, if we reset our slicers to show all data and click on the #1 seed in the Wins By Seed Donut Chart we see the following:

March Madness Power BI Dashboard filtered by #1 seed

We can see that the #1 seed has played in 419 games with a total of 41 different teams. Duke has won 51 games as the #1 seed while North Carolina has won 46. Duke has also won the National Championship 4 times as the #1 seed and in 1999 the #1 seed won 17 games which is the highest.

Really cool stuff. I loved working on this project and working with this data.

Change SQL Collation without reinstalling SQL

I ran into an issue where SQL Server was installed with the wrong collation and a lot of user databases were already attached. I could easily backup the databases, uninstall, reinstall, and restore the databases back, but this could take literally all day. There is a better and much faster way to make this change. This post will go over it….

First, backup all databases (duh)

Next, we’ll verify the current collation. On this server it’s set to Latin1_General_CI_AS and I want to change it to SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS.

Next, we’ll double check and make sure we have backups of all databases ?

Open SQL Configuration Manager and turn off all SQL Services:

Open Command Prompt (as administrator) and browse to the BINN directory and type the following command.

sqlservr -m -T4022 -T3659 -q”SQL_Latin1_General_CP1_CI_AS”

-m – starts SQL Server in single user admin mode
-T4022 – bypasses all startup procedures
-T3659 – undocument trace flag. enables logging of all errors to the errorlog during startup
-q – new collation

Before hitting Enter, let’s triple check and make sure those backups exist.

Hit Enter.

SQL will run through its startup routine:

Voila. Recovery is complete.

Close Command Prompt and start the SQL services back up.

Back in SQL Server Management Studio, verify that the collation has changed.

Create Azure Windows VM

Creating an Azure Windows VM seems pretty easy, but there are a lot of settings to be careful of before hitting the Create button. In this post, we’ll go over some of those so the next (or first) time you create an Azure VM, you’ll be ready!

Here we go….

Log into the Azure portal and click Virtual Machines and Create Virtual Machine:

Azure VM 1

Note: I’m using a free trial.

Under the Basics tab, there are a few options. Let’s start at the top.

Subscription: An Azure subscription is the agreement with Microsoft to use Azure, for which charges accrue. You can create multiple subscriptions to separate billing or management.

Resource Group: A container that holds related resources for an Azure solution. The resource group includes those resources that you want to manage as a group. You decide how to allocate resources to resource groups based on what makes the most sense for your organization.

Virtual machine Name: The identifier and host name for the VM.

Region: The region in which your VM will reside. To see more go here:

Availability Options:

  • No infrastructure redundancy required: No High Availability.
  • Availability Zone: VM’s are in a different physical location within an Azure region. This offers 99.99% SLA.
  • Availability Set: A group with two or more virtual machines in the same Data Center is called Availability Set, this ensures that at least one of the virtual machines hosted on Azure will be available if something happens. This configuration offers 99.95% SLA.

Image: The base Operating System for the VM. The following Windows versions are supported.

Azure VM 2Size: This is the size of the VM. Here’s a good chart to use when sizing. Remember, pricing! Another cool thing with Azure is that you can resize pretty easy by shutting down the VM, resizing it, and restarting. Of course, this depends on your region and availability options.

Azure VM 3

There’s also a free tool on the web that will help you size your VM based on certain resources.

Username: The administrator username for the VM

Password: The administrator password for the VM

Public inbound ports: Ports that are accessible from the public internet.

Already have a Windows license?: You can save money if you already have a Software Assurance license or an Active Windows server subscription.


In my example, I’m using a Free Trial, so that’s the only option for Subscription. For Resource Group, let’s create a new group (by clicking Create New), named SQLFreelancerRG.

I’ll name my VM SQLVM, put it in the East Region, with no redundancy and a fresh copy of Windows Server 2016 DataCenter.

Azure VM 4

Next, I’ll size this VM with the Standard DS1 v2, which is going to give me 1vCPU and 3.5GB RAM. I’ll create an Administrator account, allow no ports from the public internet and choose No for the Azure Hybid Benefit.

Azure VM 5

The next page is all about the Disks.

OS disk type: This is type of disks we can use for the VM. Let’s look at Standard vs. Premium:

Azure VM 6

You can also create and attach a new disk or attach an existing disk (from snapshot of another disk or BLOB storage)

In my example, I’ll use a Premium SSD disk and I’ll create a second disk called SQLVM_DataDisk_1.

Azure VM 7

The next page gets into a little Networking.

Virtual Network: A virtual network enables VM’s to communicate privately with each other, and with the internet.

Subnet: The subnet is the range of IP addresses in the Virtual Network.

Public IP: Public IP addresses allow Internet resources to communicate inbound to Azure resources. Public IP addresses also enable Azure resources to communicate outbound to Internet and public-facing Azure services with an IP address assigned to the resource. The address is dedicated to the resource, until it is unassigned by you. If a public IP address is not assigned to a resource, the resource can still communicate outbound to the Internet, but Azure dynamically assigns an available IP address that is not dedicated to the resource.

NIC network security group: Security rules in network security groups enable you to filter the type of network traffic that can flow in and out of virtual network subnets and network interfaces.

Public inbound ports: Ports that are accessible from the public internet.

Accelerated Networking: Enables low latency and high throughput on the network interface.

Load Balancing: Azure Load Balancer delivers high availability and network performance to your applications. A load balancer can be configured to balance incoming Internet traffic to VMs or balance traffic between VMs in a VNet. A load balancer can also balance traffic between on-premises computers and VMs in a cross-premises network, or forward external traffic to a specific VM.

For this post, I’m just going to use the defaults and move forward.

Azure VM 8

Next up is Monitoring.

Boot diagnostics: As VMs boot, the boot diagnostic agent captures boot output and stores it in Azure storage. This data can be used to troubleshoot VM boot issues.

OS guest diagnostics: Allows you to get metrics every minute for your VM. You can use them to create alerts and stay informed.

Diagnostics storage account: The storage account in which your diagnostics are stored.

System assigned managed identity: Managed identities for Azure resources provides Azure services with an automatically managed identity in Azure Active Directory. You can use this identity to authenticate to any service that supports Azure AD authentication, without having credentials in your code.

Enabled auto-shutdown: Configures your VM to automatically shutdown each day.

Enable backup: Auto backup for your VM.

I’m going to keep defaults and click Next.

Azure VM 9

The next page is Guest Config where you can add additional configuration, scripts, agents, or applications via VM extensions. Click Next.

Tags are name values pairs that enable you to categorize resources and view consolidated billing. Think of this as Twitter hashtag.

Last page is Review and Create. This is the page that displays a summary of our selections including price per hour of uptime. You’ll also notice at the bottom there is a link that will allow you to download a template for automation. This will allow you to use the same specs that you created for this VM on other VM’s. Click Create to build your new VM.

Azure VM 10

If you click on the Notification Bell at the top of the portal, you’ll see that Deployment is in progress.

Azure VM 11

Once the VM is created, you can click Virtual Machines from the Favorite Bar and view your newly created VM:

Azure VM 12

If you click on the new VM it will bring up the Overview page (along with tons of other pages to choose from).

Click on the Networking tab and Add inbound port rule. Under Destination Port Range type 3389 and under Name type RDP inbound. This will allow RDP access.

Azure VM 13

Click Connect and Download RDP file to remote into the server.

Azure VM 14




What’s new in SQL Server 2019

SQL Server 2019 preview builds on previous releases to grow SQL Server as a platform that gives you choices of development languages, data types, on-premises or cloud, and operating systems. This article summarizes what is new for SQL Server 2019. For more information and known issues, see the SQL Server 2019 Release Notes.

Try SQL Server 2019!

CTP 2.0

Community technology preview (CTP) 2.0 is the first public release of SQL Server 2019 preview. The following features are added or enhanced for SQL Server 2019 preview CTP 2.0.

Click here to view the rest of this post.

Create Always Encrypted Certificate

In SSMS, browse to Database, Security, Always Encrypted Keys, right click Column Master Keys and click New Column Master Key:

In the New Column Master Key box you can choose from several key stores. The most popular stores are Current User or Current Machine. See below for description.

Local machine certificate store
This type of certificate store is local to the computer and is global to all users on the computer. This certificate store is located in the registry under the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE root.

Current user certificate store
This type of certificate store is local to a user account on the computer. This certificate store is located in the registry under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER root.

Be aware that all current user certificate stores inherit the contents of the local machine certificate stores. For example, if a certificate is added to the local machine Trusted Root Certification Authorities certificate store, all current user Trusted Root Certification Authorities certificate stores also contain the certificate.

In this example, we’ll use Local Machine. Type a name for the Master Key, choose Key Store and click Generate Certificate.

Click OK and a new Column Master Key will appear:

Do the same for any other master keys you would like to create. For example, Developer:

To create a Column Encryption Key, right click on Column Encryption Key and choose New Column Encryption key:

Give the key a name and select the Column Master Key that you would like to associate it with:

Do the same for the Developer keys. You should have two column master keys and two column encryption keys:

To view Local Machine certificates:

Open Certlm.msc

Browse to Personal, Certificates:

Double click a certificate and go to the Detail tab where you will see the thumbprint:

Match this thumbprint with the Column Master Key in SSMS:

Right click the certificate in Certlm.msc and choose Properties. Enter a friendly name to identify which certificate belongs with the Column Master Key.

To Export and certificate, right click and choose All Tasks, Export:

Always On Availability Group Latency Reports

With SQL Server 2012 we introduced Always On Availability Groups, and the Always On Availability Group Dashboard in SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). This dashboard can be utilized by database administrators to view the current health of an Availability Group and its availability replicas and databases. While the dashboard can be configured to provide information regarding the latency between Primary and Secondary Replicas (can be calculated using the Commit LSN, Sent LSN and harden LSN values), it does not provide insights into the reason for the latency. To understand the reason for latency, requires capture and analysis of Extended Events and Performance Monitor counters. This activity can be time consuming and requires extensive knowledge of the Extended Events associated with Always On.

With the new SSMS 17.4 release, we are introducing the Availability Group Latency data collection and reporting built into the Availability Group dashboard. This feature masks the capture and analysis of the Extended Events from the end user and provides an easy to understand report detailing the time spent during the various phases of the Log Transport process.

What to use it for?

The Latency data collection functionality and the associated reports allows a database administrator to quickly discern the bottleneck in the log transport flow between the Primary and the Secondary replicas of an Availability Group. This feature does NOT answer the question “Is there latency in the Availability Group deployment?” but rather provides a way to understand why there is latency in the Availability Group Deployment. This functionality provides a way to narrow down the potential cause of latency in an Availability Group deployment.

How does it Work?

As seen below, the Availability Group Latency Data Collection functionality can be accessed from the Availability Group Dashboard.

Click here to view the rest of this post.

SSMS SQL Server Diagnostics

Microsoft is releasing the SQL Server Diagnostics (Preview) extension within SQL Server Management Studio and Developer APIs to empower SQL Server customers to achieve more through a variety of offerings to self-resolve SQL Server issues.

What this offers to our customers?

Analyze Dumps – Customers using this extension will be able to debug and self-resolve memory dump issues from their SQL Server instances and receive recommended Knowledge Base (KB) article(s) from Microsoft, which may be applicable for the fix. The memory dumps are stored in a secured and compliant manner as governed by the Microsoft Privacy Policy.

Click here to view the rest of this post.

Community driven Enhancements in SQL Server 2017

While SQL Server 2016 runs faster, SQL Server 2017 promises to run faster and empower customers to run smarter with intelligent database features like the ability to run advanced analytics using Python in a parallelized and highly scalable way, the ability to store and analyze graph data, adaptive query processing and resumable online indexing allowing customers to deploy it on platform of their choice (Windows or Linux). SQL Server is one of the most popular DBMS among SQL Community and is a preferred choice of RDBMS among customers and ISVs owing to its strong community support. In SQL Server 2017 CTP 2.0, we have released several customer delighters and community driven enhancements based on the learnings and feedback from customers and community from in-market releases of SQL Server.

Smart Differential Backup – A new column modified_extent_page_count is introduced in sys.dm_db_file_space_usage to track differential changes in each database file of the database. The new column modified_extent_page_count will allow DBAs, SQL Community and backup ISVs to build smart backup solution which performs differential backup if percentage changed pages in the database is below a threshold (say 70-80%) else perform full database backup. With large number of changes in the database, cost and time to complete differential backup is similar to that of full database backup so there is no real benefit of taking differential backup in this case but it can rather increase the restore time of database. By adding this intelligence to the backup solutions, customers can now save on restore and recovery time while using differential backups.

Consider a scenario where you previously had a backup plan to take full database backup on weekends and differential backup daily. In this case, if the database is down on Friday, you will need to restore full db backup from Sunday, differential backups from Thursday and then T-log backups from Friday. By leveraging modified_extent_page_count in your backup solution, you can now take full database backup on Sunday and lets say by Wednesday, if 90% of pages have changed, the backup solution should take full database backup rather than differential backup. Now, if the database goes down on Friday, you can restore the full db backup from Wednesday, small differential backup from Thursday and T-log backups from Friday to restore and recover the database quickly compared to the previous scenario. This feature was requested by customers and community in connect item 511305.

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