TechEd North American 2012–Day 3

So I got to have a full day of sessions today, complete with a little bit of wandering around the expo floor. As if that weren’t enough, I learned a few things, confirmed some others, and also managed to meet a few folks and help them along the way.

Building Web Sites with Windows Azure

So my first stop after a quick breakfast was to a workshop being run by Brady Gaster and Cory Fowler, friends and members of Microsoft’s Windows Azure DPE (Developer Platform Evangelism). They were jointly running a workshop to help folks create their first windows azure web sites and get them up and running. Brady had a really cool car decal of the Visual Studio 2012 logo for whoever completed the lab first so folks were trying hard. Since I was the ringer in the audience, I just hung back and worked on some email.

Eventually there were enough problems and questions going on that I was drafted to help out and jumped at the chance. I helped one gal past a bug in the preview of the new HTML based management portal, and helped someone else just find their way around (it was their first time learning Windows Azure).

At the end, I had someone stop me to talk about their shop and any opportunities. Fortunately, I was so late to my next session (sorry Karandeep, I know I promised to come) that it was filled up so I had plenty of time to sit and talk. Again, my favorite part of Tech Ed (next to the tackle hug I received from Cory). Smile

As if that weren’t enough, we realized part way through the workshop that the LCD monitors in the workshop lab were actually TOUCH SENSITIVE. I so want one know. I may have to stop by tomorrow and get the model numbers.

Deep Dive into Windows Azure Virtual Machines (from a cloud vendor and enterprise perspective)

My next session was with Vijay Rajagopalan of the MSFT Product team. In this session he did some really detailed walkthroughs of the new Windows Azure Virtual Machine features and more importantly brought up a couple vendors, Scalextreme and RightScale to show us how their products can be used in conjunction with this new feature to really speed up the deployment of new solutions as well as reduce the management burden of a more infrastructure and less passed based solution.

I think my favorite part was seeing that they had automated failover of a SQL Server Virtual Machine. They didn’t take it to a fully automated state where the failure was detected and a backup copy spun up. But it was still very impressive to see that with just the push of a button, a new VM was brought into an active state. They said that with a bit of additional work, you can even automate the provisioning of SQL Server virtual machines and joining them to a cluster to help scale out traffic. Pretty cool stuff I can’t wait to show folks when I get home.

Modern Application Design : Cloud Patterns for Application Architects

My final session was by Ulrich Homann of Microsoft Consulting Services. This session touched on some great topics. I hope folks in the audience were paying attention. I knew many of the tidbits that Uri was talking too, but loved his delivery. I need to put my own version of these items up soon. Smile Once this session recording is posted, I’m going to come back here and make sure I link it so you can all check it out.

Final Notes for Day 2

I ended the day with a visit to the Microsoft Private and Public cloud theater where I watched a vendor presentation and snagged a cool TechEd/Cloud t-Shirt. A great end-cap for the day.

But there was something else I wanted to close out today with. Last night, long after I had posted my day 1 and 2 thoughts, I was invited to dinner with members of the Microsoft cloud team. Aside from the fact that they are all very warm and fun people, I continue to be amazed by how much their thirst for stories about how we use their products. What we tend to forget is that these are developers just like us. And outside of the rare instances where they get to go out and mingle at events, they actually don’t often get to interact with the folks that use their products. And when they get time with someone that is, they can’t seem to get enough about how the tools they built are used.

The story here is that we tend to think that conferences are all about getting swag and getting tips/tricks that make us better professionals. What we need to remember is that these events are as important to Microsoft because it allows them to learn first hand how their products are being used and what challenges their customers still face. So when you stop by a vendor booth, don’t just grab a pen/t-shirt/thumbdrive and duck out before they can scan your badge. Stop and let them know what you think of their products. Help them make it better.

Well, that’s all I have time for today. I have a couple evals to complete yet and then its off to dinner with Mark Brown and a bunch of the Windows Azure Insiders and MVPs.

Until next time!

PS – I’m in a rush, so I apologize for a larger than normal number of typos in this post.

TechEd North America–First Impressions

Just got out of the second day keynote for TechEd North America in sunny and almost unbearably muggy (at least for this Minnesotan) Orlando, Fl.  Its my first trip to TechEd and honestly the experience has been awesome. I’ve only attended a couple sessions so far, mainly because I’ve been either networking with folks I know, a few new folks, or best yet helping staff the Windows Azure booths for Microsoft.

The Keynotes

There are only two keynotes for this event, day 1 and day 2. The Monday keynote was all about cloud. Public and private. I’d seen all the public cloud stuff last week online during the Meet Azure live event. But the private cloud gave me much to chew on.

First thing I need to do is give credit to the System Center and Server 2012 teams. About a year ago, I posted a blog post about missed opportunities. Essentially, I didn’t believe that Microsoft’s “private cloud” was really that. It was just another example of cloud washing. Well I was WRONG. Microsoft’s private cloud has the features that are IMHO critical: resource pooling, redundancy/failover, automated resource management, and most importantly self service. While it doesn’t have the seemly deployment model that is present in Windows Azure (yet), it does give us the ability to easily provision and deploy virtual machines. Add to it some of the “infrastructure glue” things that aren’t really my expertise and you have a solution that’s really competitive with VMWare. It will take some time to change minds enough to get people to leave existing investments, but Microsoft has definitely gotten serious about competing with them.

Day two was all about Windows 8. I learned a couple UI tricks which addressed some issues I had with the platform (the mail app still needs SMTP/POP support) as well as got a better idea of what the WOA (Windows on ARM) experience will be like. Yes, you WILL be able to manage and trust ARM devices from your enterprise, yes you will be able to have internal/private app stores, yes you will still have a desktop mode. Not any real clarification though on building apps for ARM beyond what’s already been published regarding WinRT. But that will hopefully come in time. Still, the future it bright and I think consumers are going to really like Windows8. Unfortunately, beyond providing support for BYOD (bring your own device), I can’t see anything compelling enough to force the enterprise to migrate, especially if they already migrated to Windows 7.

Staffing the Booth

I spent about 4.5hrs yesterday staffing the “Migrating Applications” Windows Azure booth. The last time I manned a convention booth like this was at E3 when they launched the XBox. It was much easier than that experience. Partially because TechEd is about 90% less of a zoo, and partially because I know the product. Or at least I knew it well enough yesterday to help answer folks questions about migration of applications.

I met some great folks, many of which I shared some experiences with. There were a couple folks from the University of Iowa (my brother is an alum there and I grew up less than an hour from the campus). They worked in the civil engineering area and had some great questions about data and Homeland Security requirements. They were the only real stumper I had during the shift and were still great to talk to and very understanding that I couldn’t directly answer the question. But they appreciated the compliance knowledge I did have.

What really surprised me was how much interest there was in moving apps. The message the Windows Azure is ready for prime time is really coming through. One person even looked at me and said “Windows Azure is everywhere, I can’t ignore it”.

I’m back at the booth this afternoon for my final 4.5hr shift. Between the keynote and writing this blog post, I won’t really make any sessions today but It’s a small price to pay for the great opportunity to network with the folks at Microsoft and potential cloud adopters. I’ve never been asked for and handed out so many business cards.

Sessions

I’ve only squeeze in two sessions for far. One was Scott Gu on Windows Azure (pretty much what we saw last week), and the other was a System Center MVP from Belgium on creating a private cloud in 75 minutes. There’s no way I could do it that fast, but I could follow along enough to see how complete the picture was for Microsoft’s Private cloud. 

Both sessions were great, but I’m looking forward to more. Tomorrow and Thursday will definitely be stacked with great info so I’m going to reexamine my planned sessions. There’s not much new for Windows Azure for me here, but there is definitely a lot to learn about Microsoft’s Private Cloud and the potential for Windows 8.

Until next time!

PS – I’m authoring this blog post from my Windows 8 slate.

Meet Windows Azure–Christmas in June

November 2010 marked the release/launch of Windows Azure. In November of 2011, we received the 1.3 SDK and our first major updates to the service since its launch a year before. Over the next 18 months, there were numerous updates that added features. But we really didn’t have a fundamental shift in the product. All that changed on June 7th 2012.

The BIG NEWS

June 7th marked the Meet Windows Azure Virtual conference. This three hour event was broadcast on the internet from San Francisco in front of a small, live audience. And in its first hour took thecovers off of several HUGE new features:

  • Persistent Virtual Machines – IaaS style hosting of Windows or Linux based virtual machines
  • Windows Azure Web Sites – high density hosting
  • Dedicated Cache – a new distributed, in-memory dedicated cache feature
  • Windows Azure Virtual Network – create trust relationships with cloud hosted VM’s via your existing VPN gateway

Also announced were:

  • A new management portal – compatible with multiple browsers and devices (it’s a preview though, not 100% feature complete)
  • “Hosted Services” renamed to “cloud services”
  • new 1.7 SDK w/ Visual Studio 2012 support
  • updated Windows Azure Storage Pricing – transaction costs reduced by 90% and option to turn off geo-replication and save $0.032/gb
  • Media Services (already announced, but general preview now available)
  • Additional country support (89 total countries and 19 local currencies)

The reality is that bloggers all over the world area already working on posts on the new features. I had limited bandwidth these days (I’d love consulting if it wasn’t for all those pesky clients – just kidding folks), so I figured I’d provide you with some links for you to explore until I’m able to spend some time exploring the new features on your behalf and diving into them in detail. Smile

Virtual Machines, Web Sites, and a new Cache option

The first update that came out a day before the event from Bill Laing, Corporate Vice President of Server and Cloud at Microsoft (aka the person that owns the datacenter side of Windows Azure). In his Announcing New Windows Azure Services to Deliver “Hybrid Cloud” post, Bill gave a quick intro to what was coming. But this wasn’t much more than a teaser.

The next big post was from “the Gu” himself and posted as he was giving his kick-off presentation. In Meet the new Windows Azure, Scott was kind enough to dive into some of the new features complete with pictures. So if you don’t have a subscription you can see the preview of the new management portal (it’s a preview because its not yet 100% complete, so expect future updates). He also discussed the new Windows Azure Virtual Machines feature. Unlike the previous VM Role, Virtual Machines are persistent (the PaaS roles are all stateless) and MSFT is providing support not just for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012 (RC) but also Linux distros CentOS 6.2, OpenSUSE, and Ubuntu. You may also see a pre-defined SQL Server 2012 image. So this indicates we may see more Microsoft server products available as Windows Azure Virtual Machine images.

The real wow factor of the event seemed to be Windows Azure Web Sites. For lack of a better explanation, this is a high density hosting solution for web sites that features both inexpensive shared hosting or dedicated (non-multi-tenant) hosting. With this you can do just a couple clicks and deploy many common packages such as WordPress to Windows Azure Web Sites in just a few minutes. And to top it all off, this supports multiple publishing models.

The distributed cache feature was the one I was really waiting for. I was fortunate enough to get early access to this feature because of a project I was working on. And I think someone at MSFT might have taken a bit of pity on me when I posted a while back that I was going to build my own distributed cache system. This new feature allows you to set aside Windows Azure Cloud Services resources (memory from our deployed compute instances) and use them to create a “ring” that is an in-memory distributed cache. Some call this a “free” cache, but I don’t like that term because you are paying for it. You’re just able to leverage any left-over memory you might have in existing instances. If there isn’t any, you’re forced to spin up new instances (maybe even a specific role that does nothing) to host it. And hosting those VM’s still costs you per hour. So “free” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the distributed cache, I prefer “awesome”.

Windows Azure Storage Pricing Changes

Now the most confusing announcement yesterday was some changes to Windows Azure pricing. It was so confusing that the storage team has published two separate blog posts on the subject. The first post was simply announcing the that the “per unit” pricing for Azure Storage transactions went from 10,000 to 100,000, all for the same $0.01 per unit. This is great news and takes away a pricing disparity between Windows Azure and Amazon Web Services.

The next big change is that the Geo-replication features that were announced last fall (I can’t recall it was at BUILD or the “Learn Windows Azure” event), can be turned off. Now Azure storage costs were already reduced to $0.125/gb back in March of 2012. Well with this latest announced, you can turn off geo-replication and save yourself an additional $0.032/gb.

Brad Calder if you read this, thanks for taking the time to help clarify these changes! I would have simply said “it’s a net win!”

Videos, Videos, Videos

Now as you can see, there’s lots to cover. Fortunately, MSFT was prepared and posted slew of new videos.

MeetWindowsAzure.com has a series of Chalk Talk videos covering many of the new features. These range from 10 to 30 minutes in length (with most being only just under 10 minutes) and are great “why should I care” introductions. And as if that weren’t enough, the WindowsAzure account/channel over on YouTube has posted over 20 “tech bite” sized videos of the new features ranging from 2 to 10 minutes in length. You can’t go wrong with these quick and simple intros.

Wrap-up

So its still pretty exciting right now. I was present for most of yesterday’s live broadcast. But I still spent a good portion of today sorting through the news to pull this post together. I think these new features merit a honest and open re-evaluation of Windows Azure for anyone that has dismissed it in the past. And for those of us that already like and use the platform, we have some great new tools to help us better deliver exciting solutions.

BTW, if you have a Windows Azure subscription and would like to test drive the preview of some of these new features, you can sign up for it here!

So until next time, I’m going to try and take some time to learn this new features and you can bet I’ll be bringing you along for he ride!  Safe travels.

PS – I wonder if there are any surprises left in store for next week at TechEd North America 2012.

TechEd North American 2012

I’m going to TechEd North America 2012. It sounds simple, and for many it may even seem mundane. But I don’t do many conferences, and outside of the Microsoft MVP summit I haven’t been to a vendor specific conference since a Borland event back in the late 90’s. So it’s safe to say I’m excited. But I was recently asked what I was looking forward to the most. As an MVP, I’ve already been given sneak peeks at many of the new features that will be announced (at least as it relates to Microsoft’s cloud initiatives). So I’d say what I’m looking forward to most is spending time with everyone there; the speakers, the attendees, the staff. Talking with people, the sharing of ideas, these to me is the real value of these events. Call it networking is you will. But to me it’s actually a rare chance to do in person what I do virtually most of the year, talking with people, sharing experiences, and learning.

This is where I count myself a bit fortunate. Unlike most of the conferences I’ve attended lately, I’m not speaking or presenting (my submissions weren’t accepted this year, maybe next time). So there are no concerns about preparing session materials, putting myself into “presenter mode”, or stressing out about being on time and living up to the audiences expectations. Instead, I’ve been selected to help staff some of the “expert” areas. I couldn’t imagine a better outcome for my first trip to TechEd. I get to spend at least 16hrs of the event specifically talking with and helping people with the technology I’ve focused the last 3+ years of my career on.

Now I don’t want to discount all the great sessions that will be at the conference. I always pick up new info no matter how many times I see presentations from the likes of Mark Russinovich, Clemans Vasters, Nathan Totten, Nick Harris, Brad Calder… the list goes on. But it’s the stories and questions from the vast array of fellow professionals, all working to solve their own challenges, that I never tire of. I’ll slow down when I overhear something in a hallway or inadvertently eavesdrop on conversations on an airplane. If they’re struggling with an issue, I stop and offer to help. Sometimes I’m fortunate and can give them that one piece of info they need to solve the problem, but as often as not I learn from them.

As a consultant, my experiences are limited largely by the clients that engage my services. I rarely have the time to work on side projects. But at TechEd I’m hoping to have a never ending buffet of stories, ideas, and challenges I can learn from.

So if you’re going this year, please stop by the Windows Azure booth or the expert center, look for a guy named Brent wearing a green shirt, and say “hi”, and share your stories with me. I’ll be easy to spot. I’m the guy that’s grinning like a kid in a candy store.

PS – oh, and swag. Swag is always good. ;)

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