Janet Moonshot & FreeRADIUS on Microsoft Azure – An important step for Researchers for being able to use Microsoft’s Public Cloud Platform

Over the past months I’ve spent some time working with Janet the UK’s National Research and Education Network. As well as managing the operation and development of the Janet network, Janet runs a number of services for educationand research including operating eduroam(UK), the UK part of a large, global network established between all sorts of research and education facilities and institutions.

In addition to eduroam and other services, one of the most important projects Janet is leading is the development and standardization of an open platform for authentication, authorization and trust management based on existing standards:

This platform is called Project Moonshot.

Simply put, Moonshot in conjunction with FreeRADIUS is an identity provider and a security token service. Nevertheless it is primarily based on the protocols mentioned above – EAP, RADIUS and GSS-API/SSPI/SASL instead of WS-Federation, OAuth or SAML-P (although one of the token formats supported by Moonshot are SAML tokens).

What I personally think is really cool about Moonshot!?

The really cool and practical thing by being built on the protocols above, is in my personal opinion, that those protocols are supported by almost all relevant operating system platforms deeply integrated since these standards are also used by Kerberos. For example Windows as an OS has SSPI deeply built into the logon-process of Windows which means with an SSPI-provider for Moonshot, the Windows logon itself can be sourced from a federation through a variety of trust-relationships instead of the OS or a direct domain controller by itself. That is one thing that is not possible with the commonly more widely known standards such as WS-Fed, OAuth or SAML-P since they’re all web-focused.

Why is Moonshot so important for Microsoft and Microsoft Azure?

Independent of what I think the advantages are of Moonshot, the most important part for Microsoft and Microsoft Azure is, that Janet is working with NRENs, academia and research across Europe and internationally to establish Moonshot as THE prime authentication mechanism for research communities, building up trust relationships between them and thus allowing federated authentication and authorization for research projects across the world.

In other words: if Microsoft Azure wants to play an important role in research in the future, Moonshot needs to be somehow supported in Azure as a platform. Through our partnership and work with Janet we achieved a first step for this over the past months, together!

Moonshot IdP Base Image on VMDepot…

Working together with Janet we managed to get a base-image prepared, tested and published on Microsoft Open Technologies VMDepot that can be used by anyone who wants to get connected to research communities through Moonshot Trust Routers and IdPs for federated security.

You can find this image here on VMDepot for getting started.

Although it seems like a simple thing to do, we had to undergo a few steps to get this far. Moonshot was required to be updated to support the Linux-distributions officially supported on Microsoft Azure. Furthermore we had to test if the semantics of the protocols used, especially EAP, do work well on Microsoft Azure. At least for single VM deployments we did this and the image above on VMDepot contains all the bits with which we’ve tested.

Of course that’s just the first step and we know we need to take some future steps such as making the deployments ready for multi-instance deployments for the sake of high availability and eventually also performance. Nevertheless, this is a great first step which was required and enables us to move forward.

The image by itself is based on Ubuntu Linux 12.10 LTS, it has the Moonshot and FreeRADIUS package repositories configured correctly and has other useful packages installed that are required or nice to have for Moonshot and FreeRADIUS (such as “screen” for example).

Using the Moonshot/FreeRADIUS VMDepot Image

Next I’d like to summarize how you can make use of the Moonshot VMDepot image. Note that most probably you should be involved in academia or research projects for this to be useful to you J. Of course you can also setup your own, single IdP using the image, but the full power gets unleashed when you become part of the Janet Trust Router network which is what I am focusing on in this blog post right now.

Let’s start with a few assumptions / prerequisites:

  • Assumption #1:
    Since the primary target group is academia and research which is very Linux-focused, I am assuming people who’re trying this will most probably try the steps below from a Linux-machine. Therefore I am only using tools that also work on Linux (or Mac), although I am running them from a Windows machine.
  • Assumption #2:
    For the steps to complete you need an active Microsoft Azure subscription. To get one, navigate to http://azure.microsoft.com and click on the “Free Trial” button in the upper, right corner.
  • Assumption #3:
    You are able to get in touch with Janet to participate in their Moonshot pilot to get the credentials required to connect your Moonshot IdP/RP to their Trust Router Network and that way become part of the larger UK and global academia and research community implementing Moonshot.

Now let’s get started with the actual deployment of a Moonshot VM based on the image Janet and we have published together on VMDepot:

  • Install Node.js if on your machine if not done, yet.
    Node.js is needed since the Microsoft Azure Cross Platform Command Line Interface which we will use for setting up the Azure environment is built with Node.js.
  • Install the Azure Cross Platform Command Line Interface (xplat CLI).
    The Azure xplat CLI is a command line interface that allows you to script many management operations for services in your Azure subscription from either a Linux, Mac or also a Windows machine. For more details on setting it up, please refer to the Azure xplat CLI homepage.
  • Import your Subscription Publish Profile Settings through the xplat CLI.
    Before you an issue any operation to your Azure subscription in the cloud through the xplat CLI, you need to download and import a credentials file. This is the only operation that requires a GUI with a web browser, so if you issue the following command, you should sit on a machine with x-Windows installed or be on a Mac or Windows machine. Open a shell-window or a command prompt and execute the following command:
    • azure account download
      This will open a web browser and browse to a page where you’ll need to sign-in with the account that has access to your Azure subscription (your Microsoft account with which the subscription has been created or which is a Co-Admin of another subscription). It results in the download of a “xyz.publishsettings”-file which contains the credentials. Save that file to your local disk. Next execute the subsequent command:
    • azure account import <path & filename to xyz.publishsettings>
      This command finally makes the Azure xplat CLI aware of your credentials. After that step you can finally start with true management commands against your subscription.
    • Note: if you have multiple Azure subscriptions, you also need to select the subscription in which you want to create the VM using azure account set <subscription-id>
  • Create a VM image based on our VMDepot base image using the xplat CLI.
    Finally we can create the Virtual Machine based on the VMDepot image. For this purpose execute the following command in your previously opened shell:
    • azure vm create yourdnsprefix -o vmdepot-28998-1-16 -l “North Europe” yourusername yourpassword –ssh
    • This command creates a VM which will get a public DNS-name called “yourdnsprefix.cloudapp.net” through which you then can connect to your VM (e.g. via SSH).
    • The result of issuing the command should look similar to the following:
    • What you see here is that the script transfers the template for the virtual machine from VMDepot with the VMDepot image id 28998-1-16 to your storage account and then creates the VM from that template. Finally it does some clean-up stuff.
  • Make sure Moonshot/FreeRADIUS and SSH endpoints are open on the Azure firewall.
    The last step is to open up the required TCP-endpoints on the Azure firewall. This can happen after the VM has been created successfully. Ports required are 2083 and 12309 for Moonshot/FreeRADIUS, SSH is open by default on 22 given our previous command including the -ssh switch. Issue the following commands:
    • azure vm endpoint create-multiple DNS_PREFIX 2083:2083,12309:12309
    • The result should look similar to the following (note that I’ve added port 22 before, already, therefore you won’t see it in the screenshot):

After you’ve completed those steps and the VM has been created, successfully, you need to connect to the VM and perform the final Moonshot/FreeRADIUS-configuration steps. These are pretty much the same as those you’d need to do on an on-premise machine in your own data center, we’ve prepared anything in that image in a way that it should work smooth in Azure.

  • SSH into the newly created VM.
    Make sure you connect as root so you can perform all administrative tasks. All subsequent steps are to be executed in that SSH-session to your newly created VM!
  • Update to the latest package versions.
    Since the image is Ubuntu-based, use apt-* to update to the latest version of the packages. Issue the following commands:
  • Update the FreeRADIUS certificate files to match your organizational values.
    As part of the bootstrapping process, Moonshot and FreeRADIUS generate certificate files required for setting up trust relationships between your RP/IdP and other RP/IdPs. These are generated through openssl based on settings-files prepared in the bootstrap-image from VMDepot. You should customize those to match your organizational values, for example such as the common name to be used for your organization and IdP. Perform the following steps:
    • Switch to the directory /etc/freeradius/certs.
    • Open the file ca.cnf and update the following values to match your own values:
      • emailAddress
      • commonName

    It should look similar to the following if you’re using VI, if you’re really taking it serious, then also update the other values (e.g. passwords for private key files):

    • Open the file server.cnf and update the following values to match your own values:
      • emailAddress
      • commonName
      • It should look similar to the following if you’re using VI:
    • Finally update the same values also in the file client.cnf to match your own values:
    • Execute the command sudo /etc/freeradius/certs/bootstrap. This produces a lot of output, but at the end your screen will look similar to the following after executing this command:
  • Fine-tune Client Private Key Files:
    Next you need to “fine-tune” the private key files for the clients. This is supposed to be something that will be fixed/made easier in future versions of Moonshot and FreeRADIUS. Perform the following steps:
    • Change to the directory /etc/freeradius/certs.
    • Run the following command: cat client.crt client.key > client.txt
    • Now overwrite client.key with client.txt by executing the following command:
      mv client.both client.key
    • Open client.key in VI and delete all lines until the first —- BEGIN CERTIFICATE —- appearance as shown below:
  • Realm configuration – Part #1
    Now that all certificates are configured, you need to configure your “realm”-settings such as the name of your realm and other options Moonshot and FreeRADIUS allows you to set. For this blog-post we keep it with the simple creation of a realm for your setup:
    • Switch to the directory /etc/freeradius.
    • Open the file proxy.conf in VI and add the following section anywhere in the file:
      realm yourrealm.com
    • The realm you select should match the DNS-name you’re planning to use for setup. This DNS-name should then be mapped using a DNS CNAME-alias or DNS A-Record to your xyz.cloudapp.net setup in Azure.
    • You can look at the sample-realm configurations in the file so that you can decide which other options you’d prefer to set for your setup. For this post we keep things at a default-setup.
  • Realm configuration – Part #2:
    For the next realm-setting perform the following steps in the SSH-session:
    • Open the file /etc/freeradius/mods-enabled/realm in VI for editing.
    • Add the following section at any place in the file:
      realm suffix {
      change rp_realm = “yourserver.yourrealm.com”
    • Make sure you use the same domain-name as before (e.g. yourrealm.com) and that the name you specify here (yourserver.yourrealm.com) is a resolvable DNS-name.
    • The results should look similar to the following:
  • Modify post-authentication step that issues the SAML assertion.
    Next you need to modify the post-authentication steps. One action that happens in those post-authentication steps is the definition of SAML-assertions that get issued as a token after a successful authentication. We prepared the image with a default-template that you can customize based on your need. But even if you don’t customize the assertions, there’s one step you need to complete and that’s bringing your realm into the context of the post-authentication steps.
    • Open the file /etc/freeradius/sites-enabled/default with VI.
    • Search for a configuration section starting with post auth { … }.
    • Modify it to issue the SAML-assertion for your realm as follows:
      post-auth {
          if (Realm == LOCAL) …
      change to
          if (Realm == “cloudapp.net”) (same as above)
    • The result should look similar as the following:
  • Request and setup Trust Router Credentials (through Janet).
    As mentioned most use of a Moonshot/FreeRADIUS install is given when you connect it to a research community. For this purpose get in touch with Janet to join their pilot via https://www.ja.net/products-services/janet-futures/moonshotOnce accepted onto the pilot, Janet  will send you Trust Router credentials which allow you to get into a federation with the research network Janet operates.
    • Janet (or other Trust Router operators) will send you the trust router credentials for setting up the trust relationship as an XML file. Put that XML-file on your Moonshot VM created earlier.
    • Next execute the following commands (assuming the XML-file with the Trust Router credentials is called mytrustcreds.xml):
          su –shell /bin/bash freerad
          unset DISPLAY
          moonshot-webp -f mytrustcreds.xml
    • With those credentials your IdP/RP will be able to connect and federate with the Trust Router network Janet operates for academia and research (or the one you’ve received the credentials for).

Finally that’s it, we’ve completed all steps for configuring the Moonshot/FreeRADIUS setup. Now it’s up to test the environment or start using it for your single-sign-on and authentication purposes. A simple test for your environment together with Janet could look as follows:

  • Open up three terminal sessions to your Moonshot/FreeRADIUS VM you just created.
  • In Terminal #1 perform the following steps:
    • Open /etc/freeradius/users using VI.
    • Look for the following line: testuser Cleartext-Password := “testing”
    • Leave it for the test or modify it as per your needs. Also that’s where you could add your own users of your IdP. If you leave it as above that’s the credentials you can use for testing.
    • Now execute the following commands:
      • su –shell /bin/bash freerad (runs a shell under the FreeRADIUS user)
      • freeradius -fxx -l stdout (runs freeradius for debugging with logging to stdout)
  • In Terminal #2 perform the following steps:
    • moonshot-webp -f <path to previously received trust router credentials XML>
    • tids <your-external-ip> trustrouter@apc.moonshot.ja.net /var/tmp/keys
      • The external IP for your Azure VM is visible in the Azure Management portal (manage.windowsazure.com) for your virtual machine.
      • trustrouter@apc.moonshot.ja.net is an example for a trusted trust router. In case you federate with Janet, that’s most likely the one you’ll use.
  • In Terminal #3 perform the following step:
    • tidc tr1.moonshot.ja.net {your rp-realm} apc.moonshot.ja.net apc.moonshot.ja.net
  • Important Note: for the commands above to succeed, you need to have valid Janet Trust Router credentials and Janet needs to have your IdP/RP configured in their trust-settings as a trusted party! Otherwise later when executing the tidc-command the test will fail!
  • Finally to complete the test someone needs to use Moonshot and its identity selector on a client machine to authenticate using your IdP. The best way to do that is using the LiveDVD for Moonshot provided by Janet.

That’s it, now you have your Moonshot / FreeRADIUS IdP to get yourself connected with a huge community of researchers, scientists and students across the world… for further questions it’s best to get in touch with the people from Janet and Moonshot via moonshot-community@jiscmail.ac.uk. And go to the Moonshot home page to find more details here:



GeRes2 – An OSS Framework for Reliable Execution of Background Jobs on Azure

A few weeks ago we published an open source framework that covers a scenario required by many partners I’ve been working with on Azure over the course of the past 4 years: asynchronous execution of jobs on compute instances in the background – or simple batch processing. Finally now I found the time (on the plane) to blog a bit about it and point you to that framework.

Being one of the product owners of this OSS framework I am very proud of what we achieved. Note that there might be something way more sophisticated and complete coming as a platform Service in Microsoft Azure at some point in time in the future. Until that time, our OSS Framework fills this requirement of “batch-processing” in a more simplified way.

Generic Resource Scheduler v2.0 (GeRes2) for Microsoft Azure

In a nutshell, GeRes2 is a framework for scalable, reliable and asynchronous execution of a large amount of jobs on many Worker Machines in Windows Azure. It is built with Azure Cloud Services, provides a Web API for submitting jobs and querying data about jobs and executes Jobs in parallel across multiple worker roles.

As such, GeRes2 implements a ready-to-use framework which you can use in your own solutions. It is all available as open source and you can use the code or the deployment packages to get GeRes2 running in your own subscriptions.


GeRes2 essentially implements an all-so well-known pattern from the Azure-world as shown in the sketch below:

Classic scenarios partners are implementing through a pattern like this are:

– Generating documents in the background (e.g. massive amount of documents)
– Image or Video post processing (although for Video you should consider WAMS)
– Complex, distributed calculations
– Asynchronous provisioning jobs (e.g. when provisioning new tenants for your system)
– anything that needs to run multiple jobs in parallel reliably and asynchronously…

Of course this outlines just the generic pattern and it looks fairly simple. But when digging into details there are a whole lot of challenges that need to be solved when implementing such an architecture such as:

– Execution of long-running and short-running jobs across multiple instances
– Status tracking & status-querying of jobs
– Notifications (status & progress) to consumers and clients
– Prioritization of jobs
– Reliability features (e.g. retry logic, dead-letter handling etc.)
– AutoScaling that is aware of which instances are not executing long-running jobs

Exactly those are the features GeRes2 implements for you – so you can take care of the implementation and scheduling of your jobs. For the while GeRes2 fills a gap that might be filled through a native Azure platform service later (as of today no details are available).

Side Note: We built GeRes2 because we do have partners that needed the functionality outlined below right now. Note that some for you obvious features might be missing since partners we’ve worked with did not immediately require those features, today.

Side Note: if you have HPC-background than you might think about a separation of jobs and tasks (jobs as compositions of more fine-granular tasks). In GeRes2 we don’t make that separation, so for GeRes2 Jobs are equal to Tasks and you can use that tger

Backend Work: Implementing a Job for GeRes2

Creating jobs is fairly easy (whereas we focused on .NET developers, first): You need to create a library that implements an Interface which contains the logic of your job. The interface is part of the server-SDK from GeRes2 that defines the IJobImplementation-interface.

public class FinancialYearEnd : IJobImplementation
    // make the property volatile as it may be set by more than one thread
    private volatile bool _cancellationToken = false;

    // default constructor (required by MEF)
    public FinancialYearEnd()

    public JobProcessResult DoWork(Job job,
        string jobPackagePath, string jobWorkingPath, 
        Action<string> progressCallback)
        // Your Job-logic goes here

    public string JobType
        get { return "FinancialYearEnd"; }

    public void CancelProcessCallback()
        _cancellationToken = true;

Every job gets executed on a single Worker Role instance reserved by GeRes2 for job-execution. The number of jobs executed in parallel is defined by the number of workers you reserve for the job execution. On each worker. every job gets his own, isolated directory where the job files (executables, anything required by a job) are temporarily stored for execution as well as a temporary folder available for local processing.

Job files are deployed automatically by GeRes2 from Azure Blob storage to the worker VMs on job execution. So all you need to do is implement your job, package it in a ZIP-archive and push it into a container called “jobprocessorfiles” in Blob Storage (in a sub-folder matching your TenantName). For more details look at the documentation Wiki from the GeRes2 OSS project workspace.

Front-End Work: Submission of Jobs for Execution and Notifications

When GeRes2 is deployed in your subscription it provides a WebAPI secured by Azure Active Directory. More details are also available on the documentation wiki from GeRes2. We also provide a client/consumer-SDK for applications and services that want to use GeRes2 for submitting jobs.

With that SDK the submission of a Job is as simple as shown in the following lines of code:

var geresServiceClient = new GeresAzureAdServiceClient

geresServiceClient.Authenticate(clientId, clientSecret).Wait();

var newJob = new Job
    JobType = "FinancialYearEnd",
    JobName = "Job Display Name",
    TenantName = "YourTenant",
    JobProcessorPackageName = "yourjobpackage.zip",
    Parameters = "any parameters you need to pass in"

string jobId = geresServiceClient.Management.SubmitJob(newJob, batchId).Result;

This leads to the execution of a job in the GeRes2 system on a worker. The status of a job can be tracked in two ways:

– Through “near-real-time” notifications via SignalR and/or Service Bus.
– By polling the monitoring API of GeRes2.

Setting up notifications with SignalR can happen through the client-SDK, directly, as shown in the following code-snippet:

// Setup notification handlers
geresServiceClient.Notifications.JobStarted += (sender, args) =>
    // ...
geresServiceClient.Notifications.JobProgressed += (sender, args) =>
    // ...
geresServiceClient.Notifications.JobCompleted += (sender, args) =>
    // ...

// Connect to the SignalR Hub

// Schedule jobs and subscribe to job notifications
string jobId = geresServiceClient.Management.SubmitJob(newJob, batchId).Result;

As mentioned, there’s also the option to query the status of jobs manually. The status of jobs is kept in an Azure-table. Of course you can query that table, directly since you are in full control of your GeRes2 deployment. But we’ve created a WebAPI and a corresponding client-API that should make it a bit easier for you as shown below:

var batchesTask = geresServiceClient.Monitoring.GetBatches();

geresServiceClient.Monitoring.PageSize = pageSize;
var jobsList = geresServiceClient.Monitoring.GetJobsFromBatch(batchIdToGetJobs);

var jobDetails = geresServiceClient.Monitoring.GetJobDetails(j.JobId);

Final remarks:

We’ve created GeRes2 based on concrete partner projects we’ve been involved into across the world. They all started implementing the pattern outlined above manually and it always turned out it is a whole lot of work that needs to get done.

GeRes2 implements a simple set of batch-processing features we’ve seen a lot with partners across the world. Of course it is not a full-blown HPC or batch-processing/job-scheduling platform. It covers simple yet often required scenarios. Nevertheless, what I can confirm is that we’ve partners who are using GeRes2 with > 100 job execution instances and tested way above 100 instances (to be precise: with 800 instances; but note that the built-in AutoScaler works up to 100 instances, only, but is not required to be used, either).

If you’re interested, then go to our project workspace, download and play the source code, dig into our docs and share feedback if you have.

is where you can look for further details.

Have much fun and thanks for your interest!