Microsoft Hackathon at PHPBenelux Conference 2012

I started these series on Zend Framework Apps on Windows Azure and maybe it's nice to know I'll be at the PHPBenelux Conference 2012 Microsoft Hackathon where I'll be joined by Windows Azure MVP Maarten Balliauw, Katrien De Graeve and Craig Kitterman of Microsoft and offer you the opportunity to hack on the PHP tools Microsoft and partners have developped to integrate your apps on the various Microsoft platforms.

Even if you have no knowledge of any of Microsoft's PHP solutions you're more then happy to join us and see how you can build applications so they can be distributed with the Web Platform Installer for running on Windows IIS servers.

Or maybe you just ended up with a new job in a company that only runs Windows Servers. We'll explain what you need to do so your applications run smoothly on these Microsoft IIS infrastructures.

And of course we'll have a look at Windows Azure, the cloud solution of Microsoft that allows you to develop PHP apps for the future. With grandmasters Maarten Balliauw and Craig Kitterman it's going to be an experience comparable to Alice in Wonderland. Are you ready to see how deep the Microsoft PHP tunnel runs?

Get your tickets now for the PHPBenelux Conference 2012 and join us to hack and learn more of all the Microsoft PHP tools and blow away your teammates and competitors with awesome applications.


Configuring Zend Framework apps for Windows Azure

Building web applications is nothing new anymore, as we've been doing it since the early days of the internet, but we've always done this on a single system. Even when Zend Framework came round, we kept doing the same thing and build apps for a single environment.
But as I've discussed already in my previous article, developing for the cloud requires another approach.

As you can see, your system now falls appart into all different components that are systems by themselves. And each system has its own purpose, completely independent from each other.

With Zend Framework developing applications running on these separate compontents becomes really easy. It's like having your cloud toolbox right in your pocket.


With Zend Framework, connecting to databases is really easy and swapping out a database brand is just a matter of modifying your configuration application/configs/application.ini.

resources.db.adapter = "pdo_mysql" = ""
resources.db.params.username = "user1"
resources.db.params.password = "secret"
resources.db.params.dbname = "db1"
resources.db.isDefaultTableAdapter = true

Even if you need to connect to multiple databases, you can just pile them up as configuration setting and be done with it.

resources.multidb.server1.adapter = "pdo_mysql" = ""
resources.multidb.server1.username = "user1"
resources.multidb.server1.password = "secret1"
resources.multidb.server1.dbname = "db1"
resources.multidb.server1.default = true
resources.multidb.server2.adapter = "pdo_pgsql" = ""
resources.multidb.server2.username = "user2"
resources.multidb.server2.password = "secret2"
resources.multidb.server2.dbname = "db2"

resources.multidb.server3.adapter = "pdo_sqlite"
resources.multidb.server3.dbname = APPLICATION_PATH "/files/db/project.db"

But this is just the basics. When dealing with the cloud you often get a connection string for the host, so it's real easy to hook up to an relational database in the cloud. Here's an example to connecting to SQL Azure.

resources.db.adapter = "SQLSRV" = ""
resources.db.params.port = 1234
resources.db.params.username = "user1"
resources.db.params.password = "secret"
resources.db.params.dbname = "db1"
resources.db.isDefaultTableAdapter = true

Bottom line, no worries connecting to a cloud database. Zend Framework has your back!


As you want to assist your visitors as much as possible, you probably want to use sessions in your application. If you don't configure anything, PHP stores session on your filesystem by default and so does Zend Framework.

For the cloud, you don't want to write to your local filesystem, so you set up session storage. I chose to use the SQL Azure server I already had setup using the following settings.

resources.session.use_only_cookies = true
resources.session.gc_maxlifetime = 864000
resources.session.remember_me_seconds = 864000
resources.session.saveHandler.class = "Zend_Session_SaveHandler_DbTable" = "session"
resources.session.saveHandler.options.primary = "id"
resources.session.saveHandler.options.modifiedColumn = "modified"
resources.session.saveHandler.options.dataColumn = "data"
resources.session.saveHandler.options.lifetimeColumn = "lifetime"

No further changes need to be done as all fields are defined and this Zend_Session_SaveHandler_DbTable takes care of all the rest.


Just like databases, providing caching for your application requires just a few simple configuration settings, this example sets up a memcache service. = Core
resources.cachemanager.memcached.frontend.options.automatic_serialization = On = Libmemcached = localhost = 11211 = On

Caching on the cloud requires a little different approach as most cloud services offer their own flavor of caching, making it difficult to find a PHP driver that is capable to access this cloud caching layer. But don't let this stop you in moving to the cloud. Windows Azure provides a superb caching platform, and I'll show you later in these series how to modify your application as it requires a little tweek on the configuration of your Windows Azure installation.


Uploading and distributing files can be considered as an importan part of any application, and with Zend Framework you can manage file uploads relatively simple using Zend_Form and Zend_File.

An example would be to upload a small image.

public function uploadAction()
$adapter = new Zend_File_Transfer_Adapter_Http();

$adapter->setDestination(APPLICATION_PATH '/files/upload');

if (!$adapter->receive()) {
$messages = $adapter->getMessages();
echo implode("\n", $messages);
$this->view->filename = $adapter->getFileName('avatar', false);

Saving into a specific location is done with $adapter->setDestination(), but this still requires the usage of a local location! And we know that in the cloud saving locally has no use! Luckily for you, Zend Framework has a bunch of components that will allow you to store files onto a Windows Azure Storage instance.

 public function uploadAction()
$config = new Zend_Config_Ini(APPLICATION_PATH . '/configs/api.ini', APPLICATION_ENV);

$azure = new My_Cloud_WindowsAzure_AzureStorage(

$container = $config->azure->storage->container;

$adapter = new Zend_File_Transfer_Adapter_Http();
$adapter->setDestination(APPLICATION_PATH '/files/upload');

if (!$adapter->receive()) {
$messages = $adapter->getMessages();
echo implode("\n", $messages);

$storageClient = new Zend_Service_WindowsAzure_Storage_Blob(
$azure->getAccountName(), $azure->getPrimaryKey());

$result = null;

if (!$storageClient->containerExists($container)) {
$result = $storageClient->createContainer($container);

$fileName = $adapter->getFileName('resume', true);
$result = $storageClient->putBlob(
$container, basename($fileName), $fileName

$this->view->filename = basename($fileName);
$this->view->location = sprintf('http://%s.%s/%s/%s',

As you can see, you only need to add a little more functionality to the first example. But once you have everything in place, nothing can stop you achieving your goals.

; These are local configuration settings
; Primarily used to access API's using credential tokens
... = "myblobstorageaccount1" = "fjldjljdlfjadladjsljdfljfdljd/akjddfjldfjjd22kajdajfei3234ajldjfjklajlajd==" = "myblobstoragecontainer"

[staging: production]
[testing: production]
[development: production]

In this example I used an api.ini which is very convenient to store your most import settings like account names, api keys and passwords to various api services. It's just a file containing key-value pairs for easy configuration. In this case my INI settings look like the following listing.


Now that we've talked about the specific settings in your Zend Framework application it's about time we set up our environment, download all the tools, register for a Windows Azure account and get started with running our Zend Framework app in the cloud. So stay tuned for more.


Windows Azure for PHP developers


Since a couple of years the term "cloud" has moved from simple buzz-word to real business opportunities that make a difference within the market. The technology behind "cloud" is not new as we've grown accustomed to server clusters, distributed datacenters and separation of responsibilities, but the "cloud" offers everyone the opportunity to scale and not just the companies who have a huge cash reserve to purchase another rack with servers.

The strange thing is that cloud is being provided by companies you wouldn't expect to serve it. Best known are and that offers a complete set of services you can use to run applications in the cloud, they provide the infrastructure and you have to set up and maintain your platform and infrastructure. Microsoft also jumped on this cloud hype offering a platform in the cloud. And this is exactly the reason it caught my attention and got me interested. I'm a developer and I don't want to fiddle with setting up and maintaining an operating system, basically since I don't have the time for it.

If you are eager to learn more about cloud and what different kind of cloud solutions are out there, I can recommend the book "PHP Development In The Cloud" by Ivo Jansch and Vito Chin. In this book both authors look beyond the buzz of the cloud and discuss what each cloud service provider has to offer for PHP developers and how you can easily consume their services using PHP code. A must read for everyone that has an interest in developing web applications using PHP and cloud technology, as I already posted a book review for this book here on my blog.

Windows Azure

I got in touch with Microsoft's Windows Azure back in 2008 through our local Microsoft Evengalist Katrien De Graeve, who told me Windows Azure is like running a Windows 2008 Server with IIS in the cloud. Along with Maarten Balliauw Microsoft was working out more tools and features to support PHP (amongst other open source technologies) on their new cloud platform.

I was completely sold when Josh Holmes came to Brussels in 2009 and told us more about what Windows Azure has to offer and how perfectly it is to build applications consuming these cloud services, without having to deal with setting up and maintaining the platform the run on. And so, I started playing with it and discovering about what Windows Azure is all about, what kind of services they offer and how I as a PHP developer could make good use out of it. In 2010 PHPBenelux and Microsoft joind efforts to promote Windows Azure by organizing a PHPonAzure contest to develop an application that would run and make use of Windows Azure's services.

Developing for cloud

When developing PHP applications, you mostly develop for a single server setup or maybe one server running your PHP code and one server for the database. This is the easiest way to set up an environment as you don't need to worry about anything except to connect to the correct database.
When developing for the cloud, more things should be considered before you get started. Some things that you take for granted require some additional thoughts when designing the architecture of your application. Fortunately for you, there are only a few things to take into account before you can deploy your latest killer app in the cloud provided by Windows Azure.

Operating System

On a bare metal server or even a virtual server, you know you need to set up your own operating system (or have your hosting service provider or sysadmin do this for you). This means you need to take responsibilty in keeping your OS up-to-date with security fixes and all kinds of software upgrades.
Windows Azure is a platform on it's own, comparable to a fully set up Windows 2008 Server complete with IIS 7. Microsoft takes care of updating and securing their instances you use without compromizing your application.

Data Storage

When creating a normal website session data, logs, caches and file uploads are often stored on the local filesystem. With a cloud solution, you need to consider that multiple instances of your web application might be up and running and don't share each others filesytem. To facilitate filesystem storage, cloud services offer so called "file buckets" or storage endpoints. Windows Azure offers 5 types of storage:

  • Blob storage: simple binary storage for video, images, audio and other types of files
  • Table storage: a structured storage for large amounts of data, behaving like a NoSQL storage
  • Queue: a messaging queue to transfer messages between applications and services
  • Windows Azure Drive: a mounted shared disk partition formatted as NTFS VHD
  • SQL Azure: a true relational database based on Microsoft SQL Server technology

One storage location I need to mention a little separate is Windows Azure Cache, a memory storage. It's a caching layer comparable to Memcached or WinCache, residing completely in memory.

File uploads are easy as you only need to worry where they end up and how you make sure files cannot overwrite existing files, unless specified to do so. Using one of the 5 storage solutions provided by Windows Azure is not difficult using PHP, it only requires correct settings for transferring the uploaded file to the chosen storage. PHP's move_uploaded_file() method can be used in most cases. In other cases, use the Windows Azure SDK for PHP as it offers a rich abstraction layer for the different storage options of Windows Azure.

Sessions in PHP can easily be stored in a database, a storage endpoint or on a memory layer by modifying the session_set_save_handler(). Windows Azure can store session data on the blob storage, table storage, the Windows Azure Drive, in SQL Azure or on it's Cache layer. I prefer to use either the SQL Azure or the Cache, as they both perform really fast, even for session data.

When using logs within your application, you also need to be aware that your log files should reside somwehere central. Best is to either log against Table storage or SQL Azure as it's a fast way to keep track of changes and easily accessible. But, storing logs on the blob storage is perfectly good as well, only know it might grow your storage space too much.

Caching is something best handled by Windows Azure Cache, the memory storage I mentioned earlier. It's fast, very easy to maintain and super easy to scale in or out.

Data itself can be stored in SQL Azure or on Table Storage. SQL Azure is a full featured relational database, comparable to Microsoft SQL Server. It offers all the features you can expect from a relational database, including stored procedures, transactions and separation of responsibilities. Table Storage is a simple key/value storage table, that behaves more like a NoSQL storage and thus capable of storing documents and constructs in an organized way.

Other considerations

Cloud applications should be designed to scale horizontally. This means when your application requires more resources to cope with the usage, more instances of the application will run together behaving as a single application.

Cloud is also "pay as you go". If you use a little, you pay a little. If you use a lot, you pay also a lot but less then when you need to scale with traditional hardware. The following graphs by Josh Holmes explains it best.

Now it doesn't matter if you're a big company or just a start-up. You can launch your product slowly and grow as your usage and budget grows. A perfect match.


Now that I've introduced you to what Windows Azure has to offer PHP developers, or any other technology developer for that matter, I show you how I have a simple Zend Framwork application build on a traditional LAMP stack deployed to Windows Azure. So stay tuned for more.

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