Speaking at CloudBurst in September

I’ve never been to Sweden, so I’m really looking forward to September, when I’ll be speaking at CloudBurst. Organised by the Swedish Azure User Group (SWAG – love it!), this conference is also streamed and recorded and the sessions will be available on Channel 9. The list of speakers and topics promise some high-quality and interesting sessions and I urge you to attend if you can, and tune in to the live stream if you can’t.

I’ll be spending an hour telling you about Azure Resource Templates: What they are, why you should use them, and I’ll show the work I’ve been doing as an example of a complex deployment.

TechEd 2009: Finding technical content

Whilst TechEd this year has been rich with interesting content, most notably on SharePoint 2010, I’ve found it sadly thin on the ground when it comes to deep technical sessions. What exceptions to this rule there have been, however, were excellent and worthy of mention.

Mark Minasi delivered an explanation of Kerberos and its usage in Windows which was both extremely informative and wildly funny. His engaging delivery and use of cartoons, animations and humour made what could have been a dry subject all the more informative and memorable. If you can get hold of the recording, I would strongly urge you to watch.

John Craddock went one better. His extremely deep coverage of DirectAccess and the IPv6 technologies which underpin it took two sessions, and has spawned a third, Q&A tomorrow morning which I shall be sure to attend. He gave a solid explanation of all the component technologies used by DirectAccess with an excellent demo rig to illustrate every step. After nigh-on three hours in his company I have come away with a much better understanding of the area, and an idea of how I can implement the technology in spite of the more readily available DA documentation implying that I can’t.

One or two of the Sharepoint sessions have been equally as useful – Joel Oleson and Todd Klindt on what you should look on your SQL server and how it’s configured to make your SharePoint perform better, and Todd again, along with his colleague Shane on upgrading from 2007 to 2010. Many others, however, were more marketing (and I learned a new word – markitechture – or should that be marchitecture?) than meat, which is a real shame.

Overall, TechEd is still a great conference for content which covers a broad range of Microsoft technologies. I have to say that I enjoyed it – I just won an Xbox in the feedback ‘contest’! I think on balance I really have enjoyed it. Mark and John’s sessions alone make it worth the ticket price; I also look forward to Sanjay’s presentation on Microsoft BUI tomorrow. Part of me does wonder though – do I need to go to a ‘vertical’ conference like SharePoint 2009 for the deep content?

TechEd Europe has real Coke

For those of you who are confused by the title, Robert, our MD complained bitterly that the SharePoint Conference 2009 in Las Vegas only had Pepsi. I don’t know any geeks who like Pepsi, and a quick poll on twitter seemed to suggest that Robert and I aren’t alone. I just want to report that Berlin has restored my faith and has large fridges full of bottles of Coke. No Cherry Coke, however, so they don’t quite make a gold star.

This conference is HUGE. The conference centre is enormous. We arrived on Sunday by U-Bahn, which is to the north of the centre. It was a ten or fifteen minute walk to get from there to the north, where the entrance is. Fortunately, the S-Bahn station is at the north end. This morning was a bit like a football match – hundreds and hundreds of attendees streamed off two trains in the station and swarmed into the centre entrance. People were taking pictures in awe – incredible.

Big it may be, but I must admit to being a little disappointed. There are few sessions that grab me. After last year, where Andy and I struggled to cover all the new and exciting stuff between us, this year has much less for me. The developer and IT events have been combined this year, and everything seems to lean more towards dev. I get the feeling also that the individual product conferences such as SharePoint and Project are taking over as the place to get great content as they can be more focused. Overall, I think that’s a shame. It’s hard to send guys to lots of conferences, and expensive. Being able to get deep technical content across a broad range of products was the great benefit of TechEd last year, with our IT guys out one week and the devs out the next.

Compared to Barcelona, I have a few key points:

  • It’s a lot colder.
  • The venue is much more organised (although it’s massive and sprawling)
  • The venue catering seems better (food, drinks and fruit is readily available, which it wasn’t last year), although it would be better if it were closer to the session rooms. I have to make a good ten or fifteen minute round trip if I want to forage.
  • The conference pack was better last year. it’s little things, like the session abstracts and pullout cards of session plans that fit easily in your badge holder. This year is not as good – the booklet I have, whilst it fits in my badge holder, requires me to constantly flick through. Most stuff is on the web, which is great if you have an internet connection, plenty of time, and something bigger than a netbook that can run full outlook. I have none of those, so I can’t use it at all. The system is horribly unusable on a netbook. Guess what nearly all the people I’ve met so far are carrying?!
  • Did I mention that it was cold? Last night there were lines of Brass Monkeys all searching for their balls (and that’s not rude, it’s an english naval reference – go look it up!)
  • The jury is still out on a city-versus-city comparison. Berlin is quite varied in many ways; Barcelona seemed more alive.

Content so far is ok. I can’t be more excited as I’ve only been to two sessions. I can tell you, however, that Richard Riley is an excellent presenter and succinctly covered key points for IT Pros in SharePoint 2010. I’m going to a session by Joel Oleson next, and I’m looking forward to that – I have a great deal of respect for Joel’s expertise. Hopefully I will be able to post more later.

@media Day 2 – Afternoon

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but Andy Budd has a very similar presentation style to my own. He’s incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about what he’s speaking about, and he wanders around waving his arms in an extremely animated way. Snap!

The topic of usability testing is an important one. I always try to impress upon our clients the need to see how the systems we build for them are used and tweak and fix accordingly. Andy’s approach to low-budget, formative testing to identify and solve usability issues during development as part of an agile approach struck a chord with me. I think that it’s important to have a dialog with ‘average’ users (i.e. not involved directly with development and therefore too close to a project to notice the problems) and to feed back into the development process what you find and the pain points you identify. Far better to find and fix during development than to force your product to fail testing or, even worse, to hit issues during rollout that hinder adoption.

I really like Andy Budd – every time I come to @media he recognises me and says hi. He’s a guy who knows his stuff, but he takes time out for those around him, and he deserves your attention.

The last session before the Hot Topics panel was Robin Christopherson from AbilityNet. Every time I attend a session with Robin I learn as much from watching and listening to him present (in terms of how he does it) as I do from the content of his session. Robin is blind, and when things don’t go quite as expected on screen, he doesn’t always know. That gives a helpful insight for an able person as to the problems that impaired users might have. I now need to go to Opera Labs to investigate FingerTouch, which looks like a great improvement for my mobile browser of choice. It was also great to see examples of ARIA being used which was pretty inspiring.

@media Day 2 – Morning

It’s a muggy day today. With thunderstorms expected, the morning air was thick as we walked over to the South Bank Centre.

I found Douglas Crockford’s opening session thoughtful. It wasn’t what I was expecting – I had anticipated a focus more on methodologies and approaches to improving quality. instead, it was an interesting and sometimes humorous examination as to why quality in software is such a difficult area, with an informative walk through the history of software thrown in.

Many of the things Douglas covered were topics we take very seriously at Black Marble: The problems described were ones we face and do our best to avoid through our practices every day.

Whilst I got a great deal out of the talk, I was a little disappointed that it didn’t really address the question of how we ensure quality in web development when projects include coders and designers, markup and code, and the very different ways of thinking inherent in the creative processes for each.

After the coffee break came Chris Wilson and a talk that wandered around the web as a platform and some of the issues in play. One statistic I found very interesting was taken from the deployment data for IE6 to IE7 upgrade versus Firefox upgrades. It took around 18 months to convert half of the IE6 userbase to IE7. By contrast, Firefox takes around two months to convert half it’s userbase to a new versino. That’s a powerful illustration of the differing kinds of user that make up the predominant force for each browser, and the kind of organisational inertia which affects the development and progression of Internet Explorer much more than competitive browsers.

Chris also gave some interesting insight into the legal quagmire surrounding font embedding on the web, following on in topical fashion from Mark Boulton’s empassioned delivery yesterday.

Last up before lunch was the indomitable Molly Holzschlag. Ultimately, she was also joined on stage by ‘HTML5’ in a cowboy suit (don’t ask). It was interesting because I admit to not having had time to pay attention to HTML5 at all, and it sounds like a bit of a bun fight, to be honest. Yet more technologies to look at and learn… As usual, Molly’s enthusiastic delivery was infectious. I’m sure she must do a great job as an evangelist for Opera.

@media 2009 Day 1 – Afternoon

Not providing lunch at the conference was perhaps a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, Wagamamas is just so close (mmm… chicken katsu curry); on the other hand, lots of people were nodding off in the warmth of the first session.

Which is a great shame, because Dan Rubin is a really good speaker (and singer, as it happens). His session was all about reflecting the real world in our user interfaces in order to make them much more usable. It was also about taking real items and using them in designs (such as real textures from scanned objects) because of the much better emotive affect that has with our users. It was pretty inspiring, even though at the end of the day everything he talked about should be common sense.

And then… Mark Boulton. Wow! There’s a man who’s passionate about his specialism, and his specialism is typography. Even though it wasn’t a technical session I learned bucket loads of stuff during his session which talked around the area of, whilst not dipping into the how-to of embedding type with web pages in those browsers which support it. A very key point he raised had not occurred to me: to work successfully in the web environment, fonts must have more glyphs in them to cover multi-language issues, and must have lots of hinting information in them to work at varying sizes on the screen. The upshot of those needs is a big font, and that raises issues of download time, potentially rendering content in a default typeface then re-rendering when the embedded one loads and lots of other questions which I personally think underline the technology as being very young. I’m very interested to see how that all develops and I’m certain that Mark will be a big voice in the forthcoming discussions.

Now we’re outside, enjoying the sun and, ironically, cooling off a little – it was quite warm in the Purcell Rooms. It’s hot out here too, but there’s a lovely cool breeze.

One of the things about blogging is that you can’t see the lovely cut scene. Imagine a fade to black. Our hero attends the final session. Fade back for the finale.

Jason Santa Maria does some really compelling work. He delivered a very eloquent session about approaching design, using grids, finding inspiration in lots of things, sketching through ideas and finally typography. It was a really good session for me.

Which is interesting, because I seem to have said that about all the sessions. I think there’s a great deal of mileage in the idea of a small conference with carefully picked presenters who deliver content which is all about areas of thought in an industry or subject area., Huge conferences mean you are pulled between different sessions in multiple tracks. I really like the simplicity of the small, one track conference where thought has been put in to the content and how it flows. that’s @media and that’s why I like it.

Tech Ed EMEA IT: Day 4 – Guru Central

So, we’re on the penultimate day of TechEd EMEA and I have to say that exhaustion is starting to creep in. However, the day had a great start with sessions by Steve Riley and then Mark Russinovich.

Steve was talking about security implications of virtulisation and his views were stimulating. He was talking in depth about what to consider when virtualising machines and why Microsoft took the architectural approach that they did for the Hyper-V stack when security was considered. I could post more, but I would urge you to go and find the video of the session when it’s available as Steve himself gave a much better delivery of the material than I ever could.

Next up was Mark Russinovich, of sysinternals fame. I’ve been using tools produced by sysinternals for a long time, but almost always from the standpoint of figuring out how to make apps run with the least possible security. That means filemon and regmon, now replaced by Process Explorer. What Mark was showing was how to use ProcExp with some of his other tools to analyze why applications crash and how to drill right down into crash dump files to identify the offending code. It was a very cool presentation and his delivery was both engaging and amusing. If you get the chance to see him speak I would highly recommend it.

Tech Ed EMEA IT: Day 3 – Steve Riley

The last session of the day was just incredible. A surfer-dude with boundless energy wandering around the audience in shorts, cracking jokes and telling stories and every single one related in some way to his point. Steve Riley is a fantastic presenter, and his session – Do these ten things now or else get 0wned was a great session on security. Sadly, I don’t think it’s repeated or I would urge you all to attend the next viewing. If you have the chance to see Steve speak, grab it with both hands – especially if you are involved in any way with security or IT management.

Tech Ed EMEA IT: Day 3 – Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualisation (MED-V)

OK, MED-V is cool! Sadly, cool though it is, it’s not something we’ll use3 at BM, but in my previous lives doing large organisation IT, MED-V would have been a killer.

In a nutshell, it is this: create a Virtual PC image with your legacy OS and legacy App. Deploy that VPC to your users desktop so they can run your legacy app but let them run the app without needing to start the VPC and use two desktops.

That’s right – MED-V apps appear in the host OS Start Menu and fire up windows which, although using the appearance of the guest OS, are hosted straight on the desktop. Not only that, but they get task bar entries, and even tray icons!

It’s really well thought out – admins create the VPCs, publish them into a server infrastructure and publish the images and apps to users. The system takes care of versioning for the images and pushes them out to users which reduces the amount of data transferred.

You can allow roaming users to work remotely as well, but do clever things like setting a time limit, after which the virtual apps won’t work because the user needs to connect to the main system to get updates to the guest OS.

It’s great. It’s also not out yet. Beta 1 is expected Q1 2009, although they are looking for early access users. Release is projected for H1 2009. If you’re a big organisation and migration to Vista is a pain, MED-V may be for you, although it’s only available to SA customers, as far as I can tell.

The snags (there are always some, right?): Host OS is Vista Sp1 or XP SP2/3 32-bit only. Guest OS is Windows XP or Windows 2000 only.

It was a great session, and you definitely want to find out more about this.

Tech Ed EMEA IT: Day 3 – Server 2008 R2

We were in early today, looking forward to a session on SharePoint with Bill Engolish. Sadly, that was cancelled so Andy and I sat in on the Server 2008 R2 overview session presented by Iain McDonald. That was very interesing, and we learned a bit more about BranchCache. It doesn’t look like it will replace WAN accelerators like Riverbved, because it doesn’t appear to function at their low level. However, it does a similar thing at the file level. The client requests a file from the remote server, which instead replies with hashes. The client PC the requests those hashes from the local cache, improving performance. The cache itself is built on request so does not need to be pre-populated (which is good). I think WAN accelerators have nothing to fear from this, but for smaller organisations or ones which aren’t able to put the accelerators in (perhaps their servers are hosted, for example) BranchCache looks like a very promising technology.

Something I saw and got excited about is DHCP failover. We don’t suffer much with DHCP outage, but because the only way to sync up two DHCP servers is to export and import it’s very hard to do resilient services. DHCP failover should solve that, and it looks good.

Also, more on the >net on server core front. The key ‘takeaway’ is that it is a subset of .Net 2, .Net 3 (WCF and WF, not WPF) and .Net3.5 (WF additions and Linq). That makes sense – why include elements related to the GUI. However, subset obviously means compatibility pitfalls and I am still very interested to see where this goes.

We spoke to a few guys on the IIS stand yesterday about SharePoint on IIS7. I need to talk to the SharePoint guys about the same thing. The IIS chaps were optimistic that what I wanted to do would work, but there had been no effort put into testing of the scenario as yet. As far as I am concerned, at the very least I want to be able to run my WFE servers as server core for security reasons. I’d really like to be able to deploy the app server roles to core as well, which falls in line with a single-purpose server, virtualised strategy.

I’m writing this as I wait for the MED-V session to start. The brief intro to this given during the Windows 7 session made it sound exciting and I really hope to come away from this feeling energised. Whilst it’s been a solid conference so far, there’s not been much to give me a buzz – perhaps this is it. I’ll take notes and try to post my thoughts later.