ZachStagers

Zach Stagers

Introduction to Azure Notebooks

Azure Notebooks is a Microsoft Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering of Jupyter Notebooks, here I’d like to introduce you to the Azure version and some of its benefits over the traditional version.

A brief overview of Jupyter Notebooks

By downloading and installing you’re able to create documents with a mixture of markdown text, code, and visualizations from within your web browser. This isn’t just any document though – it allows for code modification, execution, and live visualization generation.

It’s a fantastic tool for documentation, training, learning, and interactive report generation and exploration.

For more information on Jupyter, check out Nigel Meakins’ Introduction to Jupyter Notebooks post.

Benefits of Azure Notebooks

No installation, no maintenance

As with any PaaS solution, Azure Notebooks makes it far quicker and easier to get up and running, as there’s no download or installation required. Microsoft handles all the maintenance for you too!

Easier sharing

Just click your library, and hit Share to be presented with a popup of sharing options:

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At the moment, you can share via a direct URL, social media (options being Twitter, Facebook, and Google+), embed code, and emailing directly from the pop-up.

Other Features of Azure Notebooks

Slides

This is an excellent tool for presenting your work from directly within your notebook – meaning you can modify and execute code from your slideshow. This allows you to better adapt your presentation to your audience, helping explain or answer questions with additional examples and not having to swap to another application.

To set up your presentation, open your Notebook, from the View menu, go to Cell Toolbar, and select Slideshow.

This gives you the Slide Type option on each Cell of your notebook. Once you’ve configured each of your cells, you can select Enter/Exit RISE Slideshow to enter presentation mode and see how it looks.

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Notebook Cloning

Companies and universities are turning their books and other content in to Azure Notebooks, making it publicly available for all to clone to their own libraries to play around with and learn.

Here are a few to get you started:

https://notebooks.azure.com/Microsoft/libraries

https://notebooks.azure.com/jakevdp/libraries/PythonDataScienceHandbook

It’s also smart to clone your own notebook if you plan on tinkering around and don’t quite know where you’ll end up, essentially backing up and preserving an original copy.

Public and private notebooks

Not ready to share your work? Keep your notebook private until you are.

If you’ve already shared your notebook, but later want to lock it down to make changes, go in to the settings of your library and make it private again. It couldn’t be simpler.

Limitations

This product is still in preview, and I’ve no doubt will be growing in capability, but at time of writing, the following limitations are in place:

  • Jupyter supports over 40 languages, at time of writing Azure Notebooks supports three: Python (2 and 3), R, and F#.
  • 4GB memory usage limit.
  • The service restrictions documentation mention Microsoft reserving the right to remove your data after 60 days of inactivity.
  • I’ve read elsewhere online that there’s a 1GB storage limit – but I haven’t been able to find this detailed in Microsoft documentation.

Get Started

To start producing your own notebook, head to https://notebooks.azure.com, sign in with a Microsoft account, and create a library.

Add a notebook file to your library by pressing “New”, select the type of Notebook you’d like to create (Python/R/F#), give it a name and press New again to create it. The same New button can be used to add files, such as CSV’s you can reference in your notebook, to your library, either from your own computer, or from the web.

Click on your notebook file to start editing, and once in the editor, I’d recommend taking the self-paced user interface tour available from the Help menu if you haven’t worked with Jupyter before.