Taking Azure Container Apps for a spin

At Ignite November 2021, Microsoft released Azure Container Apps as a public preview. It allows you to run containerized applications on a serverless platform, in the sense that you do not have to worry about the underlying infrastructure.

The underlying infrastructure is Kubernetes (AKS) as the control plane with additional software such as:

  • Dapr: distributed application runtime to easily work with state, pub/sub and other Dapr building blocks
  • KEDA: Kubernetes event-driven autoscaler so you can use any KEDA supported scaler, in addition to scaling based on HTTP traffic, CPU and memory
  • Envoy: used to provide ingress functionality and traffic splitting for blue-green deployment, A/B testing, etc…

Your apps actually run on Azure Container Instances (ACI). ACI was always meant to be used as raw compute to build platforms with and this is a great use case.

Note: there is some discussion in the community whether ACI (via AKS virtual nodes) is used or not; I will leave it in for now but in the end, it does not matter too much as the service is meant to hide this complexity anyway

Azure Container Apps does not care about the runtime or programming model you use. Just use whatever feels most comfortable and package it as a container image.

In this post, we will deploy an application that uses Dapr to save state to Cosmos DB. Along the way, we will explain most of the concepts you need to understand to use Azure Container Apps in your own scenarios. The code I am using is on GitHub and written in Go.

Configure the Azure CLI

In this post, we will use the Azure CLI exclusively to perform all the steps. Instead of the Azure CLI, you can also use ARM templates or Bicep. If you want to play with a sample that deploys multiple container apps and uses Bicep, be sure to check out this great Azure sample.

You will need to have the Azure CLI installed and also add the Container Apps extension:

az extension add \
  --source https://workerappscliextension.blob.core.windows.net/azure-cli-extension/containerapp-0.2.0-py2.py3-none-any.whl

The extension allows you to use commands like az containerapp create and az containerapp update.

Create an environment

An environment runs one or more container apps. A container app can run multiple containers and can have revisions. If you know how Kubernetes works, each revision of a container app is actually a scaled collection of Kubernetes pods, using the scalers discussed above. Each revision can be thought of as a separate Kubernetes Deployment/ReplicaSet that runs a specific version of your app. Whenever you modify your app, depending on the type of modification, you get a new revision. You can have multiple active revisions and set traffic weights to distribute traffic as you wish.

Container apps, revisions, pods, and containers

Note that above, although you see multiple containers in a pod in a revision, that is not the most common use case. Most of the time, a pod will have only one application container. That is entirely up to you and the rationale behind using one or more containers is similar to multi-container pods in Kubernetes.

To create an environment, be sure to register or re-register the Microsoft.Web provider. That provider has the kubeEnvironments resource type, which represents a Container App environment.

az provider register --namespace Microsoft.Web

Next, create a resource group:

az group create --name rg-dapr --location northeurope

I have chosen North Europe here, but the location of the resource group does not really matter. What does matter is that you create the environment in either North Europe or Canada Central at this point in time (November 2021).

Every environment needs to be associated with a Log Analytics workspace. You can use that workspace later to view the logs of your container apps. Let’s create such a workspace in the resource group we just created:

az monitor log-analytics workspace create \
  --resource-group rg-dapr \
  --workspace-name dapr-logs

Next, we want to retrieve the workspace client id and secret. We will need that when we create the Container Apps environment. Commands below expect the use of bash:

LOG_ANALYTICS_WORKSPACE_CLIENT_ID=`az monitor log-analytics workspace show --query customerId -g rg-dapr -n dapr-logs --out tsv`
LOG_ANALYTICS_WORKSPACE_CLIENT_SECRET=`az monitor log-analytics workspace get-shared-keys --query primarySharedKey -g rg-dapr -n dapr-logs --out tsv`

Now we can create the environment in North Europe:

az containerapp env create \
  --name dapr-ca \
  --resource-group rg-dapr \
  --logs-workspace-id $LOG_ANALYTICS_WORKSPACE_CLIENT_ID \
  --logs-workspace-key $LOG_ANALYTICS_WORKSPACE_CLIENT_SECRET \
  --location northeurope

The Container App environment shows up in the portal like so:

Container App Environment in the portal

There is not a lot you can do in the portal, besides listing the apps in the environment. Provisioning an environment is extremely quick, in my case a matter of seconds.

Deploying Cosmos DB

We will deploy a container app that uses Dapr to write key/value pairs to Cosmos DB. Let’s deploy Cosmos DB:

uniqueId=$RANDOM
az cosmosdb create \
  --name dapr-cosmosdb-$uniqueId \
  --resource-group rg-dapr \
  --locations regionName='northeurope'

az cosmosdb sql database create \
    -a dapr-cosmosdb-$uniqueId \
    -g rg-dapr \
    -n dapr-db

az cosmosdb sql container create \
    -a dapr-cosmosdb-$uniqueId \
    -g rg-dapr \
    -d dapr-db \
    -n statestore \
    -p '/partitionKey' \
    --throughput 400

The above commands create the following resources:

  • A Cosmos DB account in North Europe: note that this uses session-level consistency (remember that for later in this post πŸ˜‰)
  • A Cosmos DB database that uses the SQL API
  • A Cosmos DB container in that database, called statestore (can be anything you want)

In Cosmos DB Data Explorer, you should see:

statestore collection will be used as a State Store in Dapr

Deploying the Container App

We can use the following command to deploy the container app and enable Dapr on it:

az containerapp create \
  --name daprstate \
  --resource-group rg-dapr \
  --environment dapr-ca \
  --image gbaeke/dapr-state:1.0.0 \
  --min-replicas 1 \
  --max-replicas 1 \
  --enable-dapr \
  --dapr-app-id daprstate \
  --dapr-components ./components-cosmosdb.yaml \
  --target-port 8080 \
  --ingress external

Let’s unpack what happens when you run the above command:

  • A container app daprstate is created in environment dapr-ca
  • The container app will have an initial revision (revision 1) that runs one container in its pod; the container uses image gbaeke/dapr-state:1.0.0
  • We turn off scaling by setting min and max replicas to 1
  • We enable ingress with the type set to external. That configures a public IP address and DNS name to reach our container app on the Internet; Envoy proxy is used under the hood to achieve this; TLS is automatically configured but we do need to tell the proxy the port our app listens on (–target-port 8080)
  • Dapr is enabled and requires that our app gets a Dapr id (–enable-dapr and –dapr-app-id daprstate)

Because this app uses the Dapr SDK to write key/value pairs to a state store, we need to configure this. That is were the –dapr-components parameter comes in. The component is actually defined in a file components-cosmosdb.yaml:

- name: statestore
  type: state.azure.cosmosdb
  version: v1
  metadata:
    - name: url
      value: YOURURL
    - name: masterkey
      value: YOURMASTERKEY
    - name: database
      value: YOURDB
    - name: collection
      value: YOURCOLLECTION

In the file, the name of our state store is statestore but you can choose any name. The type has to be state.azure.cosmosdb which requires the use of several metadata fields to specify the URL to your Cosmos DB account, the key to authenticate, the database, and collection.

In the Go code, the name of the state store is configurable via environment variables or arguments and, by total coincidence, defaults to statestore πŸ˜‰.

func main() {
	fmt.Printf("Welcome to super api\n\n")

	// flags
	... code omitted for brevity
	// State store name
	f.String("statestore", "statestore", "State store name")

The flag is used in the code that writes to Cosmos DB with the Dapr SDK (s.config.Statestore in the call to daprClient.SaveState below):

// write data to Dapr statestore
	ctx := r.Context()
	if err := s.daprClient.SaveState(ctx, s.config.Statestore, state.Key, []byte(state.Data)); err != nil {
		w.WriteHeader(http.StatusInternalServerError)
		fmt.Fprintf(w, "Error writing to statestore: %v\n", err)
		return
	} else {
		w.WriteHeader(http.StatusOK)
		fmt.Fprintf(w, "Successfully wrote to statestore\n")
	}

After running the az containerapp create command, you should see the following output (redacted):

{
  "configuration": {
    "activeRevisionsMode": "Multiple",
    "ingress": {
      "allowInsecure": false,
      "external": true,
      "fqdn": "daprstate.politegrass-37c1a51f.northeurope.azurecontainerapps.io",
      "targetPort": 8080,
      "traffic": [
        {
          "latestRevision": true,
          "revisionName": null,
          "weight": 100
        }
      ],
      "transport": "Auto"
    },
    "registries": null,
    "secrets": null
  },
  "id": "/subscriptions/SUBID/resourceGroups/rg-dapr/providers/Microsoft.Web/containerApps/daprstate",
  "kind": null,
  "kubeEnvironmentId": "/subscriptions/SUBID/resourceGroups/rg-dapr/providers/Microsoft.Web/kubeEnvironments/dapr-ca",
  "latestRevisionFqdn": "daprstate--6sbsmip.politegrass-37c1a51f.northeurope.azurecontainerapps.io",
  "latestRevisionName": "daprstate--6sbsmip",
  "location": "North Europe",
  "name": "daprstate",
  "provisioningState": "Succeeded",
  "resourceGroup": "rg-dapr",
  "tags": null,
  "template": {
    "containers": [
      {
        "args": null,
        "command": null,
        "env": null,
        "image": "gbaeke/dapr-state:1.0.0",
        "name": "daprstate",
        "resources": {
          "cpu": 0.5,
          "memory": "1Gi"
        }
      }
    ],
    "dapr": {
      "appId": "daprstate",
      "appPort": null,
      "components": [
        {
          "metadata": [
            {
              "name": "url",
              "secretRef": "",
              "value": "https://ACCOUNTNAME.documents.azure.com:443/"
            },
            {
              "name": "masterkey",
              "secretRef": "",
              "value": "MASTERKEY"
            },
            {
              "name": "database",
              "secretRef": "",
              "value": "dapr-db"
            },
            {
              "name": "collection",
              "secretRef": "",
              "value": "statestore"
            }
          ],
          "name": "statestore",
          "type": "state.azure.cosmosdb",
          "version": "v1"
        }
      ],
      "enabled": true
    },
    "revisionSuffix": "",
    "scale": {
      "maxReplicas": 1,
      "minReplicas": 1,
      "rules": null
    }
  },
  "type": "Microsoft.Web/containerApps"
}

The output above gives you a hint on how to define the Container App in an ARM template. Note the template section. It defines the containers that are part of this app. We have only one container with default resource allocations. It is possible to set environment variables for your containers but there are none in this case. We will set one later.

Also note the dapr section. It defines the app’s Dapr id and the components it can use.

Note: it is not a good practice to enter secrets in configuration files as we did above. To fix that:

  • add a secret to the Container App in the az containerapp create command via the --secrets flag. E.g. --secrets cosmosdb='YOURCOSMOSDBKEY'
  • in components-cosmosdb.yaml, replace value: YOURMASTERKEY with secretRef: cosmosdb

The URL for the app is https://daprstate.politegrass-37c1a51f.northeurope.azurecontainerapps.io. When I browse to it, I just get a welcome message: Hello from Super API on Container Apps.

Every revision also gets a URL. The revision URL is https://daprstate–6sbsmip.politegrass-37c1a51f.northeurope.azurecontainerapps.io. Of course, this revision URL gives the same result. Our app has only one revision.

Save state

The application has a /state endpoint you can post a JSON payload to in the form of:

{
  "key": "keyname",
  "data": "datatostoreinkey"
}

We can use curl to try this:

curl -v -H "Content-type: application/json" -d '{ "key": "cool","data": "somedata"}' 'https://daprstate.politegrass-37c1a51f.northeurope.azurecontainerapps.io/state'

Trying the curl command will result in an error because Dapr wants to use strong consistency with Cosmos DB and we configured it for session-level consistency. That is not very relevant for now as that is related to Dapr and not Container Apps. Switching the Cosmos DB account to strong consistency will fix the error.

Update the container app

Let’s see what happens when we update the container app. We will add an environment variable WELCOME to change the welcome message that the app displays. Run the following command:

az containerapp update \
  --name daprstate \
  --resource-group rg-dapr \
  --environment-variables WELCOME='Hello from new revision'

The template section in the JSON output is now:

"template": {
    "containers": [
      {
        "args": null,
        "command": null,
        "env": [
          {
            "name": "WELCOME",
            "secretRef": null,
            "value": "Hello from new revision"
          }
        ],
        "image": "gbaeke/dapr-state:1.0.0",
        "name": "daprstate",
        "resources": {
          "cpu": 0.5,
          "memory": "1Gi"
        }
      }
    ]

It is important to realize that, when the template changes, a new revision will be created. We now have two revisions, reflected in the portal as below:

Container App with two revisions

The new revision is active and receives 100% of the traffic. When we hit the / endpoint, we get Hello from new revision.

The idea here is that you deploy a new revision and test it before you make it active. Another option is to send a small part of the traffic to the new revision and see how that goes. It’s not entirely clear to me how you can automate this, including automated tests, similar to how progressive delivery controllers like Argo Rollouts and Flagger work. Tip to the team to include this! πŸ˜‰

The az container app create and update commands can take a lot of parameters. Use az container app update –help to check what is supported. You will also see several examples.

Check the logs

Let’s check the container app logs that are sent to the Log Analytics workspace attached to the Container App environment. Make sure you still have the log analytics id in $LOG_ANALYTICS_WORKSPACE_CLIENT_ID:

az monitor log-analytics query   --workspace $LOG_ANALYTICS_WORKSPACE_CLIENT_ID   --analytics-query "ContainerAppConsoleLogs_CL | where ContainerAppName_s == 'daprstate' | project ContainerAppName_s, Log_s, TimeGenerated | take 50"   --out table

This will display both logs from the application container and the Dapr logs. One of the log entries shows that the statestore was successfully initialized:

... msg="component loaded. name: statestore, type: state.azure.cosmosdb/v1"

Conclusion

We have only scratched the surface here but I hope this post gave you some insights into concepts such as environments, container apps, revisions, ingress, the use of Dapr and logging. There is much more to look at such as virtual network integration, setting up scale rules (e.g. KEDA), automated deployments, and much more… Stay tuned!

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