In the first post of this series on the Azure Files preview, I discussed what the feature entailed, and what you can do with it, as well as how to sign up for the preview. In the second post, I showed how to get the PowerShell cmdlets for the preview, and how to use them to manage your share and transfer files to/from your share. In this post, I’ll show you how to create a VM in Azure, show you two ways to map the share, and how to copy files to it.
How to create a VM in Azure
I realize many who read this post will already know this; I’m including it for those who are new to Microsoft Azure and want to try out the Azure Files feature.
First, log into your Azure account. Select Virtual Machines from the menu on the left.
Next, at the bottom, select + New, Compute, Virtual Machine, FromGallery.
On the next screen, select Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter and click the right arrow in the bottom right hand side of the screen.
On the next screen, fill in a name for the VM. Then specify a username and password. These credentials will be used when you RDP into your VM, so don’t forget them! When you’re finished, click on the arrow on the bottom right-hand side of the screen.
On the next screen, specify “Create a new cloud service” and provide a DNS name for the cloud service. This is kind of a wrapper for the VM. (You can deploy multiple VM’s into the same cloud service, and they will be load balanced under the same IP address.) In my case, I already have a storage account set up. If you don’t, or want to use a different one, you can ask it to generate one for you (it’s an option in the Storage Account dropdown list). For optimal performance, pick a region that is close to your location. When you’re done, click the arrow at the bottom right-hand side of the screen.
The next screen is used to select the VM Extensions to be installed. Leave the checkbox checked for “Install the VM agent”; for the purpose of this exercise, you don’t need any of the other extensions, so just leave them unchecked and click the checkmark in the circle at the bottom right-hand side of the screen to continue.
Now Azure will provision and start up your VM. At this point, you just wait until it says “Running” (like the first one in my list displayed below), and then you’re ready to continue. This seems to take a long time, but you’ll find the wait much more enjoyable if you take a quick run to the closest Starbucks. (I’ll be right back…)
Now click on your VM and it will bring up the Dashboard. (It might bring up the QuickStart screen; if it does, just continue to the Dashboard.)
At the bottom of the screen, you will see the Connect icon is lit up and waiting for you.
Access your Share from inside your VM
Click Connect at the bottom of the portal screen to RDP into your VM. When prompted, specify the username and password that you provided when creating the VM. Click through the security prompts. If it’s the first time you’ve logged into your VM, click Yes when prompted with this screen:
Now let’s attach our share. There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to use the NET USE command.
Open a command window. The easiest way to do this is to click the Windows start button and on the Modern interface, just start typing “command”. This will bring up the search box on the right, and you should see what you’re looking for; click on it to open the command window.
Here is the command to use to connect your share:
C:\ net use [drive letter]: \\[storage account name].file.core.windows.net\[share name]
/u:[storage account name] [storage account key]
I’m going to mount the share I created in my previous post. It was called ‘nightbird’, and was on ‘nightbirdstorage3’. I’ve blurred out my storage account key in the following example:
Now open Windows Explorer, and you’ll see the share listed.
Now you can double-click on it and see what’s on it. On mine, I can see the images I uploaded and the folder I created in the previous post.
If you double-click on the folder Images, you can see the files in that folder. At this point, this is just like using any network share you’ve ever used on-premises.
Any changes you make from within the VM will of course appear if you go back and use the PowerShell commands to list the files on the share, whether you add, change, or delete files and/or directories.
At this point, if you go back to the command window, you can use the NET USE command to see what shares you have attached.
Another way to access the share
Instead of using the NET USE command, you can actually map the network drive from within Windows Explorer.
Bring up Windows Explorer, right-click on “This PC” and select “Map network drive:”.
Type in what would be the network UNC path to your share, which will be in this format:
\\[storage account name].file.core.windows.net\[share name]
Be sure that “Reconnect at sign-in” is checked. Click Finish to complete the drive mapping.
You will be prompted for username and password. This is for the share, so the username is the storage account name (nightbirdstorage3 in my case) and the password is the account key.
After doing this, it will open Windows Explorer, and show the share and the files and directories in the root.
So that’s the second way to map your network drive.
How do I put files on my share?
This is pretty simple; you can use the RDP session to do that. Just bring up Windows Explorer on your local computer. Select the directory and/or files that you want to copy and click Ctrl-C.
Switch to the RDP session. Using Windows Explorer, select where you want the files to go, then click Ctrl-V.
You can also copy the files on the share and paste them into Windows Explorer on the desktop to download them.
Another way to do this is when you click Connect in the portal, it will prompt you to save or open the RDP file. If you save it, you can then go find the RDP file, right-click on it and choose Edit. In the Local Resources tab, you can select More… under Local Devices, and then open up Drives and select a local drive. This will map the drive when you log into the VM, and you can access it as if it were local in the VM. I’m going to attach my D drive and then click OK, select the General tab on the main RDP window, and select Connect to connect to the VM.
Now after I log into my VM and bring up Windows Explorer, I can access that drive from inside the VM:
Now I can copy the files directly from my local computer to the file share accessed by my VM (and vice versa).
Regions and subscriptions and access, oh my!
An important thing to note is that your file share does not need to be in the same account as the VM’s you are going to use to attach it, it just needs to be in the same region.
I have multiple Microsoft accounts that have an Azure subscription. If I create a storage account in US West in one of my Azure accounts, and set up a file share, I can access that file share from any VM in any of my other Azure subscriptions that have VM’s in US West. This could bring up some interesting use cases.
Something to try
When you attach a file share to multiple VM’s, and one of the VM’s changes one of the files, a notification is sent to the other VMs that the file has changed and their view of the file share is updated. To see this work in action, you can follow these steps:
1. Create another VM in the same region as your file share.
2. RDP into the VM and attach the share.
3. RDP into the first VM and bring up the share folder.
4. Change one of the files on the share in one of the VMs.
5. Change over to the other RDP session and look at the files on the share, and you will see the update there as well.
Making the file share sticky
When I attach the share using NET USE, log out, restart the VM, and come back in, I have to provide credentials again to use the file share.
If I map the network drive using Windows Explorer, and check the box that says “Reconnect at sign-in”, then when I log out, restart the VM, and come back in, the share is still mapped and available without providing credentials.
This is tied to the user account used to map the drive. So be aware that you might need to map the drive under other user accounts. For more information, check out this article by the Microsoft Azure Storage team that addresses the stickiness of Azure File share mappings.
If you want to access that share from a web site, you would create a virtual directory on the VM hosting the web site. For example, if I wanted \\nightbirdstorage3.file.core.windows.net\nightbird\Images\ to be accessible as http://contoso.com/images, I would create a virtual directory that points to that folder on the share using that UNC path of the share. When I do that, it requests the credentials for accessing the share, and I can provide the storage account information at that time and it will be sticky if the role is rebooted. (Thanks to Steve Evans for the tip.)
In this post, I showed you how to create a VM in Azure and attach your share using two different methods. I also showed how to copy files to the share from your local computer. In my next post, I’ll show you how to programmatically create a share, create directories, and upload/download files using the Storage Client Library.