Get started with Microsoft Cloud Infrastructure for free

Cloud computing is the most hackneyed term in the world of technology these days. However for many technologists, it still is a vague term and new enthusiasts often struggle to find a good place to start. There is so much information on the internet, dealing mostly with marketing and high level concepts, that one can easily get lost. After spending enough time on this myself and talking to a few experts, I have figured out a minimum set of resources one can use to setup cloud environment on Microsoft stack, making use of resources that are readily available for developers for free.

Follow these as a reference to get your feet wet and start learning by experiencing things in action.

Create a Microsoft account ID:

Create a Microsoft account, this is optional as you can use any other existing Microsoft account. My preference of creating a new account is outlook.com. Since it’s relatively new (released early 2013), you can find your preferred username.

Office developer program:

Go to https://dev.office.com/devprogram and sign up using your MS account. This provides office 365 developer subscription called “Office 365 Enterprise E3 Developer”. It is free for a year and includes the following capabilities:

  • Flow for Office 365
  • PowerApps for Office 365
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Microsoft Planner
  • Sway
  • The latest desktop version of Office
  • Skype for Business Online (Plan 2)
  • Exchange Online (Plan 2)
  • Office Online for Developer
  • SharePoint Online for Developer

Apart from that you also get a free version of Power BI.

Details of each of the above capabilities can be learnt at this site: https://dev.office.com/docs

Visual studio dev essentials:

Go to https://www.visualstudio.com/dev-essentials/ and join using the same MS account you used for the dev program. It provides many benefits like:

  • Visual Studio IDE community edition: A fully-featured, extensible, free IDE for creating modern applications for Android, iOS, Windows, as well as web applications and cloud services. The newest edition Visual Studio 2017 was recently released on 7th March, 2017.
  • Azure: Azure is Microsoft’s offering to IaaS and PaaS cloud solutions. Through dev essentials, you get our own personal azure sandbox for dev/test! VMs, cloud services, and more. You also get $25/month credit for 12 months that can be used against compute, storage and network resources. Additionally, for Azure App service you can also use 1-hour limited Azure App Service experience at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/try/app-service/
  • Visual Studio Team services: It provides unlimited free private code repositories. You can use Team Foundation Version Control (TFVC) for traditional centralized version control, or use Git if you prefer a distributed approach. You can even create a team up-to 5 for free. I use it extensively to store my code so that I can access it from anywhere.

There are many other benefits you get through dev essentials. Go to https://my.visualstudio.com/Benefits the see the complete list.

Xamarin:

With a C#-shared codebase, developers can use free Xamarin SDK tools integrated with Visual Studio to write native Android, iOS, and Windows apps with native user interfaces. Follow https://developer.xamarin.com/guides/cross-platform/getting_started/installation/ to install xamarin on your computer.

To summarize, Use O365 and Azure to host your application, Visual Studio with Xamarin tool for code editing. And use Visual Studio Team services for source control.

Even though this is not an exhaustive list of resource options that are available, but I hope it removes the information overload that riddles the world of MS cloud and gives you a clear path to take your first step in navigating MS Cloud Infrastructure. May the cloud reign!

Happy learning!!!

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