The blogs of Black Marble staff

Tech Ed EMEA 2008 IT – Day 1 reflections

Today has been interesting. Rik and I started the day doing the sightseeing we had time for. The Gaudi cathedral had been particularly recommended, so with limited time at our disposal, that’s what we decided to see. We arrived at the gate just as it opened, and were in within a few minutes. The cathedral is very, very impressive, though there is an awful lot of construction work going on at the moment. It is an amazing structure, with a very impressive sense of light and space inside:


Following the trip to the cathedral, we headed back towards the convention centre to get lunch and to try to get into the main auditorium for the keynote early enough to get a good seat. I was glad that we made the effort as we managed to get seats near the front tucked off to one side. Here’s our view of the stage, and the auditorium once it had nearly filled:

IMG_2901 IMG_2908

The keynote by Brad Anderson was interesting, with a number of announcements and some very useful demos. I was particularly impressed with the drive towards virtualisation, and the available and forthcoming tools to help you manage the resulting data centre. There was a live migration demo using Server 2008 R2 which demonstrated a live move of a virtual machine from one host to another with no interruption of service. In addition, Gemini was demonstrated; a self service BI offering allowing anyone within the organisation to view and manipulate data from sources such as SQL Server. The most impressive part of the demonstration as far as I was concerned was the ease (and speed!) with which the data could be published to SharePoint for consumption within the business:


Also mentioned were items such as Cross Platform Extensions for SCOM allowing monitoring and management of non-Microsoft systems and server Application Virtualisation allowing the separation of the server OS and the server application allowing each to be managed (and patched) separately – all very interesting! A number of announcements were also made, for example System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 Beta will be available for download at the end of November.

From there it was off to the first session; Planning and Operations Tools for SharePoint which provided some useful pointers and allowed the possibility of some feedback to the managers of the solution accelerators programme.

After the sessions this afternoon, Rik and I spent some time wandering around the Ask The Expert area generally asking awkward questions of most of the people we could find.

All in all it’s been a very useful first day.

patterns & practices Acceptance Test Engineering Guidance

Robert blogged about the new beta release of the patterns & practices Acceptance Test Engineering Guidance document. I have had a chance to do a quick read now and I have to say I am impressed. If nothing else it gives great comparative look at waterfall and agile methods for delivery, and a review of many types of acceptance testing.

As with many of the p&p documents it is not exhaustive in what it covers, but what it does give is an excellent and detailed starting point for you to make the decisions that are right for your project. It does not give all the answers just most of the right questions.

Tech Ed EMEA IT 2008: Day 1 - Keynote

So, the keynote was interesting. Much of the content I had seen before, but there were some demos that were interesting and a few snippets that made me take note.

For example, I had not understood that the acquisition of Kidaro will enable interaction between applications running within a virtual machine and the host desktop in ways that are not currently achievable. That the technology will ship as part of a new Desktop Optimisation Pack was news. I believe the technology is name MEDV - Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualisation.

Softgrid was also mentioned as solid way to achieve application virtualisation - a technology that I have not previously had chance to play with, but which is most definitely on my To Do list - I think of a few specific practical uses for us. One of the 'announcements' of the keynote was the RTM of Application Virtualisation 4.5 (I believe, the solution formerly known as SoftGrid). Critically, the team behind application virtualisation are working on virtualising the server applications. That has big implications for simplifying the deployment of new virtualised solutions and the stack of differencing disks and other VHDs needed.

Also of note - Server 2008 R2 includes the ability to live migrate virtual machines. What I did not know until today was that Server 2008 R2 M3 is available for download. I can feel some testing coming on...

On the subject of virtualisation, the release of System Centre Virtual Machine Manager including support for Hyper-V was also 'announced'. I believe we've been running that for about a week now and I am pretty impressed with it (we're currently migrating our Virtual Server 2005 VMs to Hyper-V - I'll post about that experience another time).

What was new to me was the idea being worked on of using M - the modelling language launched as part of Oslo - to create models of systems which can then be provisioned using SCVMM. For the creation of development and test environments that sounds cool!

All of this is part of a concerted (if a little low-key, I thought) push to position Microsoft as the cost effective (read, cheaper!) solution for virtualisation and virtualisation management.

A couple of enviro-quickies:

  • Microsoft is the largest commercial purchaser of servers in the world and is brining a new datacenter on-stream roughly once per quarter.
  • Their new DC in Quincy, WA is built next to a hydro-electric dam to ensure a clean source of energy.
  • The upcoming Dublin, Ireland DA will use natural air cooling, not air-con (and I'd love to hear more about that).

Announcement quickies:

  • SCOM 2007 R2 beta will be available for download at the end of November.
  • Centro - Essentual Busines Server will be 'announced' on November 12th.
  • Identity Lifecycle Manager '2' RC is now available

A key new feature in Server 2008 R2 is the availability of ASP.Net on Server Core. That has big implications for SharePoint and you can bet I will be talking to the guys from Microsoft about that one later!

Also interesting were a few new Server 2008 R2 features:

  • DirectAccess - device can connect securely over internet without requiring VPN. We currently use ISA server but there are limitations. This might be handy...
  • Bitlocker to Go - encryption for USB drives (and other removable storage, I assume). Definitely interested in that one.
  • BranchCache - branch office caching solution for data. Sounds like WAN acceleration a la Riverbed to me, and the demo did nothing to change that view. Does this mean the caching server has to be the gateway for the WAN? What does it support in terms of applications, protocols etc? Another one to discuss during the week.

Tech ED EMEA IT: Day 1 - Waiting for the Keynote

It's an exercise in surreality. I've just walked through tunnels reminiscent of THX1138, to emerge in a wonderful blue-bathed auditorium, and they're playing the Akira soundtrack (specifically the bit from just after the first nuclear explosion). Weird.

Andy and I travelled all the way from Bradford, and the first guy we strike up conversation with... is from Salford! What are the odds?

Anyway, here's a pic of the view from our seats. More after the keynote...The Tech Ed stage - waiting for the keyonte

PDC Review

Having just returned from PDC in LA, here are my highlights from the week.

Windows Azure - this is the OS for the cloud. Microsoft have learnt from their experiences and created a secure, scalable platform for developing and deploying your web applications.

.Net Services - Are a set of services hosted in the cloud to help you to develop cloud based or cloud aware applications. .Net services consists of 3 main components: Access Control, Service Bus and Workflow. Access control uses standards based identity systems including LiveId to help to secure your cloud applications. Whether the service is hosted behind your fire wall or in the cloud, the service bus allows you to connect your applications and services together across the internet. Workflow services is a cloud based host for your WF workflows and includes a set of management tools and api

OSLO - A platform for model driven development and consists of a modelling language called M; A tool for interacting with models called Quadrant; and a Repository which is a SQL server based database for storing and sharing models. M is used to define the domain specific data model, create a grammar for entering data and create a way of visualising the data.

Dublin - this is the codename for Microsoft's Application server. Dublin is a robust and scalable host for WF and WCF applications and will be used to support the OSLO modelling technologies.

Visual Studio 10 - There are some nice cool features in VS10 including impact analysis, historical debugging and better test management. Impact analysis looks at the code that has been changed and identifies the unit tests that are affected by the changes , allowing them to be run easily. Historical debugging allows debugging to be carried out after a fault has occurred and rewind backwards and see the state of the system rather than stepping forward through the system. Some issues are difficult to reproduce or step through without affecting the system. Having the ability to replay the sequence after the fault has occurred and interrogate the data will help the developers to fix problems more efficiently. Historical debugging can be tied into better test management by allowing the testers to run through their test scenarios and when a fault occurs, mark the test as a failure and then send the whole test information including a video (if selected) and the historical debug information through to the developer to fix. This will also help to eliminate the faults that can not be reproduced in the development environment.

Windows 7 - Another version of the windows operating system that should use less memory and be faster than Vista. In addition there will be multi desktop support in Remote desktop and on the fly virtual hard drive support which can then become bootable if required and better home networking.

TechEd EMEA IT: Day 1

It's 7:25 AM. Andy and I are hoping to make a whistle-stop trip to the Cathedral before making it to the conference early enough to get good seats for the keynote.

I thought I'd take a picture of the conference pack, especially since I've heard grumblings about the PDC bag. The TechEd pack looks pretty much identical to the pack the devs brought home last year, to me.

TechEd EMEA Conference swag

However, when I opened the curtains I was greeted by a fantastic sunrise:

Sunrise over Barcelona

Here's hoping it's going to be a fun-packed day!

TechEd EMEA IT: Day 0 - Greetings from Barcelona

Ola! Andy and I are now in sunny Espana. Only it's not sunny. Oh well... However, true to form we started our trip, having registered at the conference centre, by eating hot dogs in a german fast food joint in a Spanish shopping centre! If you're passing, Kurz & Gut does pretty good food.

I'm also extremely impressed with the Metro system here in Barcelona. It's my first time in the city, and the transport is pretty efficient, with a wonderful simple trip-based charging mechanism.

The only downside is that despite not travelling particularly far, we seem to have lost an entire day to travel. Up and out by 8:30am UK time, and we finally landed in the hotel here in Spain around 18:30 (17:30 UK time) - then we had to get across town to the conference centre.

Apparently, take-up on the shuttle service from the airport was low last year, so this year Microsoft didn't bother. I can understand that, but at the same time it would have made our lives much easier, even if we would have needed to get from the conference centre to the hotel after registering. Perhaps that's as much because we're TechEd noobs - next year we'll know where to go and how to get there, I guess.

So now we're relaxing in the hotel bar, checking the conference schedules and noting the irony of how the prize-of-the-moment for all conference competitions is the Dell Mini 9 (I'm typing this on mine, and Andy stole Richard's for the week!).

As I mentioned before, don't be shy - if you're in Barcelona at the moment and feel like being sociable, get in touch and we can try to meet up. Oh, and I hadn't forgotten about Robert, but he's effectively working!

CodeRush and Refactor XPress for C#

Developer Express and Microsoft now are shipping a limited free copy version of CodeRush and Refactor! Pro. The free edition is available for C# developers using Visual Studio 2008.

A list of features :

  • Find any File or Symbol...
  • Tab to Next Reference
  • Expand/Shrink Selection
  • Intelligent Declaration Based on Usage
  • Professional Grade Refactoring
  • Editor Features
  • Navigation Features

Get it Here

If you want to know more about the greatness of the free tools come along to one of our evening events where the near legendary Oliver Sturm will be presenting on Developer Productivity


Happenstance is a wonderful thing…

Rik and I arrived this afternoon in Barcelona for the TechEd IT conference that is going on this week. Our flight was pretty good, and our bags even arrived at baggage reclaim fairly quickly. After some confusion, we managed to negotiate the train/underground to get to our hotel (and I must say here that I was very impressed indeed with the Barcelona underground system; I even managed to get a good mobile signal all of the time I was on the underground). Rik and I decided at that point that a) getting registered at the conference would be a good idea and b) some food would also be a good idea. Registering was very quick and we visited the shopping centre across the road as Rik had been recommended a place inside.  After a bit of a wander around, we eventually settled on a place called Kurz & Gut (first night in Barcelona and we end up in a German themed place eating bratwurst!) – however I was very pleased that we had done. I enjoyed what has to be the very best hotdog/bratwurst I have ever eaten!