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Azure preparedness for Hurricane Florence

As Hurricane Florence continues its journey to the mainland, our thoughts are with those in its path. Please stay safe. We’re actively monitoring Azure infrastructure in the region. We at Microsoft have taken all precautions to protect our customers and our people.

Our datacenters (US East, US East 2, and US Gov Virginia) have been reviewed internally and externally to ensure that we are prepared for this weather event. Our onsite teams are prepared to switch to generators if utility power is unavailable or unreliable. All our emergency operating procedures have been reviewed by our team members across the datacenters, and we are ensuring that our personnel have all necessary supplies throughout the event.

As a best practice, all customers should consider their disaster recovery plans and all mission-critical applications should be taking advantage of geo-replication.

Rest assured that Microsoft is focused on the readiness and safety of our teams, as well as our customers’ business interests that rely on our datacenters. 

You can reach our handle @AzureSupport on Twitter, we are online 24/7. Any business impact to customers will be communicated through Azure Service Health in Azure portal.

If there is any change to the situation, we will keep customers informed of Microsoft’s actions through this announcement.

For guidance on Disaster Recovery best practices see references below: 

Windows troubleshooting tools to improve VM performance

Whether virtualized workloads stay on premises or move to the cloud, support for those VMs remains in the data center with the administrator.

When virtualized workloads don’t perform as expected, admins need to roll up their sleeves and break out the Windows troubleshooting tools. Windows has always had some level of built-in diagnostic ability, but it only goes so deep.

Admins need to stay on top of ways to analyze ailing VMs, but they also need to find ways to trim deployments to control resource use and costs for cloud workloads.

VM Fleet adds stress to your storage

VM Fleet tests the performance of your storage infrastructure by simulating virtual workloads. VM Fleet uses PowerShell to create a collection of VMs and run a stress test against the allocated storage.

This process verifies that your storage meets expectations before deploying VMs to production. VM Fleet doesn’t help troubleshoot issues, but it helps confirm the existing performance specifications before you ramp up your infrastructure. After the VMs are in place, you can use VM Fleet to perform controlled tests of storage auto-tiering and other technologies designed to adjust workloads during increased storage I/O.

VM Fleet tests the performance of your storage infrastructure by simulating virtual workloads.

Sysinternals utilities offer deeper insights

Two Windows troubleshooting tools from the Microsoft Sysinternals collection, Process Explorer and Process Monitor, should be staples for any Windows admin.

Process Explorer gives you in-depth detail, including the dynamic link library and memory mapped files loaded by a process. Process Explorer also lets you dig in deep to uncover issues rather than throwing more resources at an application and, thus, masking the underlying problem.

Process Explorer
Process Explorer lets administrators do a technical deep dive into Windows processes that the Task Manager can’t provide.

Process Monitor captures real-time data of process activity, and Registry and file system changes on Windows systems. It also provides detailed information on the process trees.

Administrators can use Process Monitor’s search and filtering functions to help administrator focus on particular events that occur over a longer period of time.

VMMap and RAMMap detail the memory landscape

Another Sysinternals tool called VMMap shows what types of virtual memory is assigned to a process and its committed memory, which is the virtual memory reserved by the operating system. This tool shows where allocated memory is used with a visual presentation.

VMMap measurements
VMMap shows how the operating system maps physical memory and uses memory in the virtual space to help administrators analyze how applications work with memory resources.

VMMap doesn’t check the hypervisor layer, but it does detail virtual memory use provided by the OS. Combined with other tools that view the hypervisor, VMMap gives a complete picture of the applications’ memory usage.

Another tool called RAMMap is similar to VMMap, but it works at the operating system level rather than the process level. Administrators can use both tools to get a complete picture of how applications are getting and using the memory.

BgInfo puts pertinent information on display

BgInfo is a small Sysinternals utility that displays selected system information on the desktop, such as the machine name, IP address, patch version and storage information.

While it’s not difficult to find these settings, making them more visible can help when you log into multiple VMs in a short amount of time. It’s also helpful to avoid installations on the wrong VM or even rebooting the wrong VM.

Inside Xbox One X Enhanced: Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Xbox Wire

Many of gaming’s most compelling stories come from those who’ve helped to create our favorite Xbox One games. In our Inside Xbox One X Enhanced series, these creators will share the behind-the-scenes accounts of the work involved in enhancing these epic games for Xbox One X, how they’ve helped chart the course of the world’s most powerful console, and what that means for the future of gaming. Today, we’ll be chatting with Eidos-Montreal Programming Director Frédéric Robichaud on the highly anticipated Shadow of the Tomb Raider which sees Lara Croft’s defining moment as she becomes the Tomb Raider.

What specifically is your development team doing to enhance Shadow of the Tomb Raider for Xbox One X?

To ensure that Shadow of the Tomb Raider looked crisp and amazingly polished on Xbox One X, we have worked incredibly hard to fully support HDR mode. We’ve revamped the entire pipeline to be HDR from the get go: realistic lights intensity calibration, HDR textures and global illumination energy conservation.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we offer two modes for players: High Resolution and High Framerate mode. With the GPU power of the Xbox One X, we were able to get 4K at a constant 30 FPS and with the CPU boost, we are targeting 60 FPS with full HD (1080p) in High Framerate mode.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Screenshot

We’ve been able to improve the quality of certain algorithms on the Xbox One X like stochastic screen-space reflections and atmospheric effects. With the extra memory, we have increased the shadow maps and texture resolution to enhance the visual quality.

Audio wise, we are fully supporting Dolby Atmos to create real 3D audio immersion.

How do these enhancements impact the gaming experience, and why did your development team choose to focus on these enhancement areas?

The recent Tomb Raider games are known for their high quality graphics and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as the final entry in the origin trilogy, pushes the visual boundaries more than ever before. Supporting 4K was mandatory for us. Players that do not own a 4K TV will still see the visual improvements, mostly with less aliasing and more details in the image.

If the player chooses the High Framerate mode, they will enjoy the fluidity and reactivity of the controls in a seamless gameplay experience.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Screenshot

The audio immersion is perfect with Dolby Atmos, especially in the jungle areas which are dense with wildlife like the locusts below and birds above. Spatial audio is best experienced with a home theater system; however, all players will still hear those effects and an overall increase in audio fidelity.

How do you expect fans of Shadow of the Tomb Raider will respond to playing it on Xbox One X with these enhancements?

Those playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the Xbox One X will be blown away by the visual quality in High Resolution mode or the fluidity if they choose the High Framerate mode. Players will not want to go back to the previous generation of consoles!

What enhancement were you most excited about to explore leveraging for Shadow of the Tomb Raider on Xbox One X?

Without a doubt, High Framerate mode. Maximizing the CPU power to target 60 FPS with a huge, living crowd like in the Cozumel café or Paititi was an interesting challenge. A lot of optimization to our engine was done to achieve these stunning results.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Screenshot

What does 4K and HDR mean for your game, games in the future and development at your studio?

We completely revamped our pipeline to integrate HDR from the beginning of production. Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks more real and better than ever before because of 4K and HDR. Better resolution, less aliasing, more intensity and more nuance.  We hope that players are blown away by the visual fidelity of the most recent edition to the Tomb Raider franchise.

It is only the beginning; 4k and HDR will become standard to all the games, especially when all developers begin to follow a common HDR standard.

Thanks to Frédéric for taking the time to chat with us about Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which releases on September 14. We’ll bring you more interviews with more developers in the future, as well as more on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, so stay tuned to Xbox Wire!

Learn at your own pace with Microsoft Quantum Katas

For those who want to explore quantum computing and learn the Q# programming language at their own pace, we have created the Quantum Katas – an open source project containing a series of programming exercises that provide immediate feedback as you progress.

Coding katas are great tools for learning a programming language. They rely on several simple learning principles: active learning, incremental complexity growth, and feedback.

The Microsoft Quantum Katas are a series of self-paced tutorials aimed at teaching elements of quantum computing and Q# programming at the same time. Each kata offers a sequence of tasks on a certain quantum computing topic, progressing from simple to challenging. Each task requires you to fill in some code; the first task might require just one line, and the last one might require a sizable fragment of code. A testing framework validates your solutions, providing real-time feedback.

Working with the Quantum Katas in Visual Studio
Working with the Quantum Katas in Visual Studio

Programming competitions are another great way to test your quantum computing skills. Earlier this month, we ran the first Q# coding contest and the response was tremendous. More than 650 participants from all over the world joined the contest or the warmup round held the week prior. More than 350 contest participants solved at least one problem, while 100 participants solved all fifteen problems! The contest winner solved all problems in less than 2.5 hours. You can find problem sets for the warmup round and main contest by following the links below. The Quantum Katas include the problems offered in the contest, so you can try solving them at your own pace.

We hope you find the Quantum Katas project useful in learning Q# and quantum computing. As we work on expanding the set of topics covered in the katas, we look forward to your feedback and contributions!

Jump In With Two New Xbox One Bundles

Games play best on Xbox One, but for those of you that haven’t already made the jump, we have two new bundles joining the Xbox One family today: the Xbox One X PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Bundle and the Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle. More details below:

Xbox One X PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Bundle

With over 8 million players on Xbox One, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has been one of the most popular games on the platform since its release as a console launch exclusive in the Xbox Game Preview program. Today, you can join the Battle Royale phenomenon with the Xbox One X PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Bundle, which comes with the following:

  • Xbox One X with a 1TB hard drive
  • Xbox Wireless Controller
  • Full-game download of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds enhanced for Xbox One X
  • 1-month Xbox Game Pass trial
  • 1-month Xbox Live Gold trial

The Xbox One X PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Bundle is available later this week for $499 USD at most major retailers worldwide.

Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle

If the Xbox One S is more your style, we’ve also got the Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle. Beat the summer heat with the cool new Update Aquatic and explore new ocean biomes, shipwrecks, ruins and more. Infinite worlds and ways to play can be found in this bundle, as well as the option to play with your friends on nearly any other platform thanks to Xbox Live! Join millions of players in the Minecraft community on Xbox, Windows, Nintendo Switch and mobile devices with this new bundle, which comes with the following:

⦁ Full-game download of Minecraft featuring the exciting Update Aquatic plus the Explorer’s Pack
⦁ Season one of Minecraft: Story Mode – The Complete Adventure
⦁ 1-month Xbox Game Pass trial
⦁ 14-day Xbox Live Gold trial

The Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle starts shipping today and will be available soon for $299 USD at select retailers in select regions. In the U.S., the bundle is exclusively available at Microsoft Store and Walmart.

Xbox One is the only console system that plays the best games of the past, present and future with more than 1,300 games available today – including over 200 exclusives and over 400 Xbox classics. If you’re on Xbox One S or Xbox One X, you can also enjoy the ultimate 4K entertainment experience with a built-in 4K UHD Blu-ray player, premium audio with Dolby Atmos support and the fastest, most reliable gaming network with Xbox Live.

For more information on Xbox One, visit xbox.com or Microsoft Store, near you or online.