How I Work: A Cloud Developer's Workstation

I've written here a little about how I work during the day, including things like using a stand-up desk (still doing that, by the way). Inspired by a Twitter conversation yesterday, I thought I might explain how I set up my computing environment.

First, a couple of important points. I work in Cloud Computing, specifically (but not limited to) Windows Azure. Windows Azure has features to run a Virtual Machine (IaaS), run code without having to control a Virtual Machine (PaaS) and use databases, video streaming, Hadoop and more (a kind of SaaS for tech pros). As such, my designs run the gamut of on-premises, VM's in the Cloud, and software that I write for a platform.

I focus on data primarily, meaning that I design a lot of systems that use an RDBMS (like SQL Server or Windows Azure Databases) or a NoSQL approach (MongoDB on Azure or large-scale Key-Value Pairs in Table storage) and even Hadoop and R, and also Cloud Numerics in F#.

All that being said, those things inform my choices below.


I have a Lenovo X220 tablet/laptop which I really like a great deal - it's a light, tough, extremely fast system. When I travel, that's the system I take. It has 8GB of RAM, and an SSD drive. I sometimes use that to develop or work at a client's site, on the road, or in the living room when I'm not in my home office.

My main system is a GateWay DX430017 - I've maxed it out on RAM, and I have two 1TB drives in it. It's not only my workstation for work; I leave it on all the time and it streams our videos, music and books. I have about 3400 e-books, and I've just started using Calibre to stream the library. I run Windows 8 on it so I can set up Hyper-V images, since Windows Azure allows me to move regular Hyper-V disks back and forth to the Cloud. That's where all my "servers" are, when I have to use an IaaS approach.

The reason I use a desktop-style system rather than a laptop only approach is that a good part of my job is setting up architectures to solve really big, complex problems. That means I have to simulate entire networks on-premises, along with the Hybrid Cloud approach I use a lot. I need a lot of disk space and memory for that, and I use two huge monitors on my stand-up desk. I could probably use 10 monitors if I had the room for them. Also, since it's our home system as well, I leave it on all the time and it doesn't travel.  


For the software for my systems, it's important to keep in mind that I not only write code, but I design databases, teach, present, and create Linux and other environments.

Windows 8 - While the jury is out for me on the new interface, the context-sensitive search, integrated everything, and speed is just hands-down the right choice. I've evaluated a server OS, Linux, even an Apple, but I just am not as efficient on those as I am with Windows 8.

Visual Studio Ultimate - I develop primarily in .NET (C# and F# mostly) and I use the Team Foundation Server in the cloud, and I'm asked to do everything from UI to Services, so I need everything.

Windows Azure SDK, Windows Azure Training Kit - I need the first to set up my Azure PaaS coding, and the second has all the info I need for PaaS, IaaS and SaaS. This is primarily how I get paid. 🙂

SQL Server Developer Edition - While I might install Oracle, MySQL and Postgres on my VM's, the "outside" environment is SQL Server for an RDBMS. I install the Developer Edition because it has the same features as Enterprise Edition, and comes with all the client tools and documentation.

Microsoft Office -  Even if I didn't work here, this is what I would use. I've just grown too accustomed to doing business this way to change, so my advice is always "use what works", and this does. The parts I use are:

OneNote (and a Math Add-in) - I do almost everything - and I mean everything in OneNote. I can code, do high-end math, present, design, collaborate and more. All my notebooks are on my Skydrive. I can use them from any system, anywhere. If you take the time to learn this program, you'll be hooked.

Excel with PowerPivot - Don't make that face. Excel is the world's database, and every Data Scientist I know - even the ones where I teach at the University of Washington - know it, use it, and love it. 

Outlook - Primary communications, CRM and contact tool. I have all of my social media hooked up to it, so when I get an e-mail from you, I see everything, see all the history we've had on e-mail, find you on a map and more.

Lync - I was fine with LiveMeeting, although it has it's moments. For me, the Lync client is tres-awesome. I use this throughout my day, present on it, stay in contact with colleagues and the folks on the dev team (who wish I didn't have it) and more. 

PowerPoint - Once again, don't make that face. Whenever I see someone complaining about PowerPoint, I have 100% of the time found they don't know how to use it. If you suck at presenting or creating content, don't blame PowerPoint. Works great on my machine. 🙂

Zoomit - Magnifier - On Windows 7 (and 8 as well) there's a built-in magnifier, but I install Zoomit out of habit. It enlarges the screen. If you don't use one of these tools (or their equivalent on some other OS) then you're presenting/teaching wrong, and you should stop presenting/teaching until you get them and learn how to show people what you can see on your tiny, tiny monitor. 🙂

Cygwin - Unix for Windows. OK, that's not true, but it's mostly that. I grew up on mainframes and Unix (IBM and HP, thank you) and I can't imagine life without  sed, awk, grep, vim, and bash. I also tend to take a lot of the "Science" and "Development" and "Database" packages in it as well.

PuTTY - Speaking of Unix, when I need to connect to my Linux VM's in Windows Azure, I want to do it securely. This is the tool for that.

Notepad++ - Somewhere between torturing myself in vim and luxuriating in OneNote is Notepad++. Everyone has a favorite text editor; this one is mine. Too many features to name, and it's free.

Browsers - I install Chrome, Firefox and of course IE. I know it's in vogue to rant on IE, but I tend to think for myself a great deal, and I've had few (none) problems with it. The others I have for the haterz that make sites that won't run in IE.

Visio - I've used a lot of design packages, but none have the extreme meta-data edit capabilities of Visio. I don't use this all the time - it can be rather heavy, but what it does it does really well. I also present this way when I'm not using PowerPoint. Yup, I just bring up Visio and diagram away as I'm chatting with clients. Depending on what we're covering, this can be the right tool for that.

Tweetdeck - The AIR one, not that new disaster they came out with. I live on social media, since you, dear readers, are my cube-mates. When I get tired of you all, I close Tweetdeck. When I need help or someone needs help from me, or if I want to see a picture of a cat while I'm coding, I bring it up. It's up most all day and night.

Windows Media Player - I listen to Trance or Classical when I code, and I find music managers overbearing and extra. I just use what comes in the box, and it works great for me.

R - F# and Cloud Numerics now allows me to load in R libraries (yay!) and I use this for statistical work on big data loads.

Microsoft Math - One of the most amazing, free, rich, amazing, awesome, amazing calculators out there. I get the 64-bit version for quick math conversions, plots and formula-checks.

Python - I know, right? Who knew that the scientific community loved Python so much. But they do. I use 2.7; not as much runs with 3+. I also use IronPython in Visual Studio, or I edit in Notepad++

Camstudio recorder - Windows PSR - In much of my training, and all of my teaching at the UW, I need to show a process on a screen. Camstudio records screen and voice, and it's free. If I need to make static training, I use the Windows PSR tool that's built right in. It's ostensibly for problem duplication, but I use it to record for training.


OK - your turn. Post a link to your blog entry below, and tell me how you set your system up.


Comments (4)

  1. AJ Mendo says:


    Here is a link you my post about my workstation.



  2. Buck Woody says:

    Paul, AJ - Great work! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Gary Woodfine says:

    This post is one of several that inspired me to do one of my own.

    Here's a link to my workstation setup

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