A Close-Up View of TechEd

Rob Enderle

This is an interesting decade so for Microsoft, with interesting not necessarily indicating a good thing. The client market, solidly Windows in the 1990s, ended last decade largely owned by Apple and Google on a class of devices, smartphones and tablets that didn’t exist in much volume when Microsoft was clearly dominant. Now the trend is to move everything to the cloud. The world is also a more hostile place, with governments attacking other governments and others through weaponized malware.

Today, I’m at TechEd, Microsoft’s show that talks to IT managers. It is designed to promote and enable Microsoft’s products and services. One of the biggest problems it is trying to overcome is the poor acceptance of Windows 8, and it’s bringing out a point release to address this problem.

I’m covering the keynote today and I’ll talk about how Microsoft does against this set of goals.

TechEd Opening

Microsoft is somewhat famous for its videos during this show and the keynote. The opening video was a James Bond-like series, in which Microsoft data is stolen on a USB drive. The video has high production values and features a Microsoft customer, Aston Martin, as the chase vehicle. The punch line is that after the thieves are caught, Microsoft doesn’t have to take back the USB drive because it is impenetrable. Now, I could argue that it could have described the solution a bit better (or at all), but leading with security showcases how major a change we have gone through over the last decade. A decade ago, security was something you heard about in some obscure session at the show; now it opens the keynote. Brad Anderson, who leads Microsoft’s corporate efforts, is the MC.

One of the things that Microsoft does during these events that is relatively unique is put a series of customer testimonials right up front. This is a peer-to-peer advocacy effort and considered one of the most powerful ways to engage a potential customer on a product. People will listen to those like them far more than they will a vendor. These customer testimonials set the initial stage.

Windows 8.1

The next segment focuses on Windows 8.1 and the showcase is how granular the control over user permissions is and how easy it is to change. Once again, the focus is on security, but on another aspect, employee access. The focus then moved to mobility and what a pain it is to connect a variety of devices together, with projectors being one of the biggest pains of the bunch. Microsoft is showcasing a new feature, Miracast, in a Windows device (a tablet, in this instance).

Touch the device to a receiver that has been added to the projector, and instantly the tablet and projector are connected wirelessly. The presenter is projecting (doing anything wirelessly is painful at an event like this because everyone is trying to connect to a variety of networks). He then demonstrates printing with an NFC pair, which allows him to do something very similar with the printer: Tap it and be instantly connected (well, this was kind of painful because network performance is clearly a major problem and the presenter is sweating bullets).

Apparently, developers can now build VPN capability directly into apps so that the apps can connect using a secure tunnel without the user needing to launch a separate VPN session. This moves us into a discussion of security that has to be fully integrated into the product.

We transition into hardware. The first showcase product is a 20-inch tablet from Panasonic. Nice product and the speaker, soon to be an ex-Microsoft employee, holds up a picture of Steve Ballmer and says “Windows, Windows, Windows,” referring back to the “Developers, Developers, Developers” talk that Ballmer did years ago. He shows an award-winning Toshiba notebook, Lenovo’s Hybrid, and an Acer tablet with a full-size keyboard. Ian McDonald, who gave this segment, is clearly well liked but he struggled because he hadn’t rehearsed enough. He needed to realize that doing a wireless demo is just a bad idea at a large event; the networks aren’t robust enough, and this damaged his flow.

Smart Devices

There are a ton of smart devices in the market, 1.2 billion, and while BYOD is in 80 percent of the market, the vast majority of IT organizations haven’t been given budget relief to manage these. The first focus in this segment is on identity, and Microsoft positions Windows Server Active Directory and Windows Azure Active Directory against this. For management, System Center Configuration Manager has been bridged to Windows Intune. In both cases, this is the transition of Microsoft’s traditional management products to its cloud services. And at the event, Microsoft is announcing Windows Server 2012 R2, Systems Center R2, and Windows Intune.

A Microsoft developer is brought on stage to demonstrate some of the new features. The first is called a “Workplace Join.” This showcases how someone could register a new device to the network. She attempts to log on and fails because the network doesn’t recognize the device. She is then taken through a process that uses her phone number to validate that she really is who she says she is; the result is that her device is now also registered, providing a two-factor authentication method (password + device) and a higher level of user authentication. As a user, she gets a listing of all of her devices connected to the company services, the services can push down anything she needs in order to work (apps, VPNs, etc.), and her files are made available, all driven by the user without needing additional IT resources. Finally, she demonstrated that the user or IT could do a selective wipe of the device, removing the business resources but leaving the personal stuff in place. This works on Windows, Android and iOS devices.

Apps and Azure

The goal for this effort is to make sure that apps can have a rapid cycle, and can securely work on a variety of devices. For this, Microsoft brings Easy Jet, a customer, on stage.  Easy Jet is basically a Southwest Airlines clone in Europe. It blended its reservation and seating system on Azure. It’s moved to seat assignments with premium pricing for certain seats. The user can move from the initial reservation to seat selection in what appears to be the easiest reservation seat selection and option process I’ve ever seen (and I travel a lot). Easy Jet puts its seats on sale at the beginning of summer and this app has to handle, and does, 20,000 concurrent users during this time. Azure instantly scales for this extra load.

We move to a demonstration of Azure for development. The argument is on cost savings against on-premise services. With Azure, you pay only for what you use, and that allows the cost to go up and then down. One of the new changes is that Microsoft no longer charges for stopped VMs. It’s moving to per-minute billing (it used to be per hour). MSDN server licenses can be used on Azure at no charge. MSDN subscribers get a massive discount (up to a 97 percent discount over standard rates) on Azure, and this is on top of a $50 to $150 monthly credit for Azure resources. For instance, you could run up to 100 web sites against a SQL database for the $100 credit, combining the discount and credits. The Azure management portal now provides a full account view, showing how much you’ve spent in cash and credits within the month. Oh, and any MSDN customer is potentially eligible to win a new Aston Martin (even I’m tempted).

Visual Studio 2013 and Team Foundation Server 2013

Microsoft is announcing a new iteration of Visual Studio that has some impressive improvements to project management and collaboration improvements in Team Foundation Server. One of the interesting features of Visual Studio is called a Heads Up display, which showcases key information about every line of code, including who changed the code last, whether the background tests on it are passing or not, and how it relates to other parts of the application. Another interesting new capability is cloud load testing. Microsoft announced at the event the acquisition of InRelease, which manages the app release process and related approvals.

Data Explosion and SQL

Using Gartner for data support, Microsoft argues that data is growing massively and that the most successful companies will be those that have developed a strong data management infrastructure. This is the segment on Microsoft’s database product, SQL. Microsoft’s cycle is to go from data through analytics to provide business insight. (I’m reminded of Dell’s presentation last week, which seemed far more powerful because it was showcasing how its analytics were helping it make better decisions, and application is so much more powerful as a message than just theory). Microsoft is launching SQL server 2014 at this event. With this release, it is announcing massive improvements in performance and scalability. EdgeNet was used as an example of a firm using these latest capabilities and apparently, Microsoft has transformed this service.

Windows Azure Pack

This is a version of Azure that is delivered as a package, so you can create your own version of Azure. It’s for companies that want the Azure experience but want it hosted on premise. The audience really seemed to like this announcement a lot.

Demo City

Closing out the presentation were a series of demonstrations showcasing that cloud storage could be made nearly as fast as direct attached, that VM migrations could be done in a fraction of the time with the new tools, and management has been significantly simplified and made more powerful.

Wrapping Up: Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson, who stands over most of these efforts, served as host and MC and did a nice job. He started with Aston Martin as an element of a video but ended with it as a customer example for a firm using Azure and other Microsoft products, speaking as an advocate. His core comment was that Microsoft’s tools help him enjoy his job and help his company build rolling art. Damned if I don’t suddenly want to own an Aston Martin. Brad did a nice job of summarizing what we would see, weaving the different presenters together, and then closing with a summary of what we’d seen. The keynote did what it was supposed to do. The IT audience appeared very receptive, and it feels like Microsoft has now become comfortable with and confident in its cloud offerings. But client, particularly mobile client, content was very light (not all that unusual at TechEd, which generally focuses on server), but this is reconfirming that Microsoft, at least from the enterprise view, is a very different company than it was in the 1990s. It’s also very different from how most outside of its IT customers still may view the company.

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