In-Depth

TechEd 2012: A Turning Point?

As Microsoft prepares to release the most radical redesign of Windows in its history -- and bolsters its cloud computing platform -- TechEd 2012 will prep IT pros and developers.

Microsoft is on the cusp of a renaissance as it overhauls Windows both on the client and in the datacenter. It's no secret the company's core software platforms are under siege by Amazon Web Services LLC, Apple Inc., Google Inc. and VMware Inc. But Microsoft's day of reckoning is fast arriving as it prepares to deliver its response later this year.

The imminent launch of Windows 8 (the most radically redesigned release of the client OS to date) and Windows Server 2012 (which is aimed at letting enterprises transition to cloud computing) will shape Microsoft's fortunes as it battles to convince consumers and IT pros alike that its best days aren't behind it. Critical to Microsoft's future is making sure it doesn't lose its footprint in the datacenter and its dominance on PCs or whatever client devices workers choose as alternatives.

Thousands of IT pros and .NET developers will get to weigh in on these products as they learn how to work with the new Windows at the 20th annual Microsoft TechEd North America conference. TechEd is taking place in Orlando, Fla. -- the site of the first TechEd, held in 1993, where the new products of the day were Windows 3.1 and Visual Basic.

Kicking off the Orlando event on June 11 will be keynote addresses by Server and Tools President Satya Nadella, Corporate VP for Visual Studio Jason Zander and Corporate VP for Windows Web Services Antoine Leblond.

It will be the first TechEd keynote for Nadella since he replaced longtime server and tools front man Bob Muglia, who was pushed out last year by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer after more than two decades in Redmond. Whether Nadella will make any directional or visionary announcements -- or merely call members of his group's team on stage to give demonstrations -- remains to be seen.

"I think his No. 1 message needs to be about Microsoft's plan for the cloud, both private and public," says Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Helm. "Basically [Nadella] has to convince the audience that the new and coming platform from Microsoft for the cloud is a worthy competitor to Amazon and VMware in particular."

TechEd attendees will get to look under the hood of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, as well as recently released versions of SQL Server and System Center. They'll also get a better idea of the Microsoft private cloud strategy and where the company is headed with Windows Azure.

Understanding the Windows Store
Perhaps nothing underscores Microsoft's business changes more than the Windows Store, where customers will be able to purchase apps and utilities designed to run on Windows 8 and programmed for the new Metro-style interface.

Just as Microsoft has designed Windows 8 to attract customers who want touch-based tablets and PCs, the Windows Store is aimed at letting users buy software in this new model. That poses significant implications for how software is delivered, as it provides a new playing field for large players ranging from Intuit Inc. and SAP AG to individual developers who've never sold software.

Patrick Hynds, president of Boston-based CriticalSites Inc., an IT and development consulting firm, is among those who have built Windows 8 Metro applications for sale through the Windows Store. Hynds' app is a task manager for software development teams. He plans to talk about his app and how to use the Windows Store at his TechEd session, "Can You Make a Million Dollars with a 99 Cent App?"

"If you're in the actual application space where you're building Metro apps, you can be a first mover in the market, even if it's a space that's well developed in other platforms," Hynds says. And he's confident Windows 8 will be a hit. "I know Windows 8 will be popular," he asserts.

Hynds also believes the Windows Store will be a key draw for IT pros and developers alike. "I'm working on an app, because I think it's too good of an opportunity," he says. "It's almost like a captive market. There's going to be a ton of people who get Windows 8, and the marketplace is just a logical place to look for a wide range of widgets."

Hynds believes that, as a result, the Windows Store will broaden the marketplace of apps available to the new Windows platform. In his TechEd session, he'll explain how those who come up with apps can capitalize on using the Windows Store. "If you write a competent app and you put it into a large enough market, you'll get some market share," he says. "It enables someone to be a garage developer, get some revenue, some remuneration for the app without having to build the sales force."

The Windows Store will also evolve into a key distribution mechanism for traditional apps, because it will allow Windows 8 users running the conventional PC interface to discover and deploy .NET-developed apps on desktop systems, Hynds adds.

'All in' the Cloud
While Metro and the Windows Store "re-imagine" the Windows client experience, cloud computing is changing the fundamentals of the datacenter. A growing number of IT buyers are turning to the likes of Amazon Web Services, Rackspace US Inc. and Verizon Communications' Terremark unit to provide off-premises datacenter capacity. Think of it as the Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, equivalent of the datacenter. Consequently, every major provider of datacenter infrastructure -- including Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Inc., EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and VMware -- is rapidly rolling out both public cloud services and private cloud platforms.

Microsoft is no exception, with its two-year-old Windows Azure platform public cloud service and its new tools for building private clouds, namely the combination of System Center 2012 and Windows Server. These moves are consistent with Ballmer's "all in" proclamation in 2010 that everything the company builds will be cloud-enabled -- a vision that's now coming to fruition.

Ultimately, Microsoft is endeavoring to accomplish that vision with its System Center-controlled private cloud management platform, with Windows Server and Hyper-V underpinning it as well as the Windows Azure service. Private clouds offer self-service provisioning of IT resources that may be on-premises or at a dedicated collocation facility.

Those attending TechEd will have the option of learning how to build private clouds with System Center and Windows Server. Marteen Goet, System Center MVP and managing consultant at Amsterdam, Netherlands-based Inovativ, will teach a session called "How to Build a Private Cloud in 75 Minutes." Goet's session will focus on how to use the new System Center 2012 with Microsoft Hyper-V to build a self-service computing architecture.

"It's about resource pooling," Goet says. "You might have virtualization already, you might have storage network capacity and you might have all these things ready from a private cloud perspective. Now you want to pool them together, create an abstract to provision this pool, delegate it and, if you want, create resource pools on the current infrastructure you have today."

A key aspect of Goet's talk will address how to use System Center 2012 to allow business units to scale capacity up and down as needed. "It's all about self service: delegating the control to the end user and the business units for them to request capacity across business logic behind that," Goet says.

"If you're in the actual application space where you're building Metro apps, you can be a first mover in the market, even if it's a space that's well developed in other platforms."

Patrick Hynds, President, CriticalSites Inc.

Early Days
If you haven't built a private cloud yet, you're not alone. These are still early days for private clouds, and while many companies have started offering some self-service capabilities, others are still in the proof-of-concept stage, Goet says. Many are just now learning more about it, he adds.

Mike Resseler, a senior technical consultant and MVP at Toronto-based Infront Consulting Group, agrees. "A lot of companies were very interested in the concept, but none of those companies are ready to start deploying," says Resseler, who's giving a TechEd session on private cloud backup strategies. "They have to do more work before they can start deploying these new systems."

Many organizations' IT infrastructures are not ready for systems automation, and their applications are not suited for self-provisioning of services, Resseler explains. And even among those that can get over some of those technical barriers, many have not overcome their fears of allowing self-service access to infrastructure and applications, he adds. "I've personally noticed that people have difficulties with the concept," he says. Nevertheless, he believes that will change because business users and CFOs will demand it. "That's why IT departments have to start thinking like cloud providers," Resseler notes.

For his part, Goet intends to describe in his TechEd session how IT pros can build private clouds using System Center 2012 -- either with the forthcoming Windows Server 2012 or with the latest available version, Windows Server 2008 R2.

In a separate session, Goet will help IT pros and developers determine whether an app is better suited to run in a private cloud or on a publicly hosted service such as Windows Azure. He'll use the new System Center 2012 capabilities of evaluating performance and availability of any number of infrastructures; with these metrics, and taking into consideration the application, Goet will demonstrate how to make a decision as to whether to deploy the app in a private or public cloud.

Ready for Windows Azure?
While Goet will touch on helping IT pros determine whether their apps are better suited for a private or public cloud, MVP David Giard, a senior manager and consultant at Farmington Hills, Mich.-based systems integrator Sogeti USA LLC, will delve further into deploying apps to Windows Azure. Like Goet, Giard says that IT pros are in the early stages of deploying apps to Windows Azure.

"We have some Windows Azure projects going on that I've been working on with clients, but they're not directly billable," Giard says. "My experience is people are still in the learning phase. I think demand for cloud computing is expanding: People are waiting to see what this cloud thing is. They're educating themselves today and deciding whether to move to the cloud next year."

Giard spends much of his time working with clients on proof-of-concept applications running on Windows Azure. In his TechEd session -- targeted at those who are concerned about storing data off-premises -- he'll explain how organizations can use the Windows Azure platform while pulling data from internal SQL Server databases.

"There are tools that let you use part of Windows Azure to build a Web site where you can get the elasticity but still access data behind the firewall so people don't have to move their app," Giard says. This is possible via the Windows Azure Service Bus, middleware hosted in the Microsoft public cloud that provides messaging and connectivity services among systems.

Orlando in June can be hot. With Microsoft remaking Windows and preparing IT to transition traditional datacenter operations to the cloud, there will no doubt be some heated discussions at TechEd.

Will enterprises adopt Windows 8 and its Metro interface, or will consumers determine its fate? What if it's a flop? How quickly will enterprises move their core apps and systems to public and private clouds? These are all discussions that will surely take place on the convention floor, in the hallways and at the evening hospitality suites.

But there also are millions of PCs running Windows XP, and many IT shops are in the middle of upgrades to Windows 7 -- and IT pros from those shops will be at the show to learn how to optimize those PC environments. Others will seek information about getting better performance out of their existing systems, such as SQL Server (see "Speeding Throughput of SQL Server").

While TechEd will certainly generate a few headlines, much of what happens at this annual conference will generate information that trickles out in these pages, on Redmondmag.com and on TechNet in the year to come

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