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Microsoft started herding IT pros to Azure at TechEd 2014

The Reg's man on the spot wraps Redmond's tech talkfest

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TechEd North America has wrapped up for 2014, and many IT pros have been left with the impression that Microsoft's cloud solution Azure has gone from optional to mandatory. With that in mind, the word 'Azure' is going to appear many times in this article.

Right from the keynote, corporate veep Brad Anderson hammered home to anyone listening the 'mobile first, cloud first' mantra that Microsoft has now adopted. It might as well just say 'cloud first and second' because cloud is how Microsoft makes the mobile experience better in their all-encompassing solutions.

The word 'dream' was also used numerous times, which if I understand marketing-speak means that we need to not focus on technical issues and all the pain of migrating to Azure, but jump head-first without a worry in the world, and rely on our amazing futuristic vision to carry us forward - maybe not the best angle to take with the kind of technical folk who come to TechEd.

Another disappointment was the lack of attendance of a big name. No Steve Ballmer, no Bill Gates and no Satya Nadella. Steve Wozniak did turn up later, but that was for a competition to go bowling with him run by Fusion-io, a company that "The Woz" has the role of Chief Scientist.

Once the keynote was over, there was general disappointment that no new products were released. No mention of Surface hardware, new mobile phones (even with the mobile first slogan), and most importantly no new software release. What we did get though, was some rather nice features added on to existing products.

Azure was the main source of news at the event, thanks to new offerings like the following:

  • Azure ExpressRoute, a partnership between Microsoft and certain telecommunication companies enabling private links between your company and Azure;
  • Azure Files lets you use a Server Message Block (SMB) share from a file share created in the Azure cloud. Strangely this one is only using SMB version 2.1 and not the newer v3.x that comes with Windows Server 2012;
  • Antimalware for Azure which lets you install an anti-malware agent inside Azure Virtual Machines as well as other cloud services. This one was built in conjunction with Symantec and Trend Micro, which may mean they have invested fairly heavily in this feature.
  • Office 365 for business saw the addition of encryption and data loss prevention for SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. Both of these are more likely covering holes that would convince many business users so far to not put their data 'up there', but is that enough?
  • ASP.NET vNext was also announced, unsurprisingly with new features and optimisations for the cloud. Since I'm not a developer, I won't pretend to know anything more, but those inclined can watch "The Future of .NET on the Server" here.

Finally, one of the most interesting announcements was Azure RemoteApp, which appears to be a direct competitor some of Citrix's virtual offerings. It lets you present applications in a remote desktop fashion, with planned support for every common platform you'd expect.

Overall the keynote didn't get the crowd too excited (no Star Wars undergarments were thrown on stage), but there weren't too many grumblings either. Many walked away realizing it was a very different future planned by Microsoft compared to what they were used to. They even used an iPad on stage!

Even though it was a sellout event, there was disappointment from many attendees that we didn't get any goodies. Other recent Microsoft event attendees had received Microsoft Store vouchers or Dell 8" tablets, but TechEd gave away nothing. The people I spoke to didn't have the expectation of getting free stuff, but they were feeling a bit left out being IT Pros, both loot wise and content wise.

The sessions for TechEd were quite varied. A good mix of Azure and on-premise content, and one of the sessions I arrived late to I couldn't attend as the room was overflowing with people. There were also many to choose from in each time slot, so it never felt like you had to watch something you weren't interested in. The buzz around some of the famous breakout sessions (such as any of Mark Russinovich's) both before and after was impressive, and meant that presenters were delivering. I didn't see or hear of any "bad" sessions, so Microsoft are doing well in choosing who delivers content.

For the rest of the conference, I felt as if I was left to my own devices. TechEd Australia has something they call a "Locknote". I foolishly assumed there would be one, and mentioned it to several attendees, just getting a smile and nod back. It wasn't until someone asked me what a locknote was that I realised there wasn't one, and apparently never had been. The locknote in Australia is the opposite of the keynote - it's held at the end of the conference and wraps it all up, giving you a going away message. Instead, we were all invited to go to the local baseball field, known as the Minute Maid Stadium.

The stadium walkway was filled with many novelties such as free stadium food and drinks, jugglers, a tattoo artist and a mechanical bull. There was a casino area with blackjack (since gambling is illegal in Texas, I'm not sure what they were playing for) and a few bands rocking, with the highlight being "The Spazmatics". Again, the attendees I spoke to thought the event was average and decent, but not amazing.

The community that attends TechEd North America is a very social and friendly community. Many people I spoke to weren't too fussed about where it was, what goodies they received or what was being announced - for them it was about meeting both old and new contacts, talking shop or just finding like-minded people to spend some time with. That's what I experienced too, and is possibly the most valuable thing about TechEd... let's hope they don't ever lose that magic. ®

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