TechEd EMEA IT: Day 2 – Windows 7 Feature Preview

So, the first session of the day was an extremely well-attended overview of Windows 7 features. When they talk about evolution rather than revolution with regard to Windows 7, I think that’s accurate. It was very much about developing and extending the foundations of Vista.

A few things stuck out, however. An almost throwaway comment about DirectConnect requiring IPSEC and IPv6 means that I must dig deeper, and that the technology, whilst cool, is almost totally useless to me, stuck behind two layers of NAT in a managed building. BranchCache was again mentioned with, again, no indication of how it works – more digging required.

Most pertinent to me, however, was the development of Bitlocker. I am typing this as I sit in the room waiting for the deep dive session on Bitlocker enhancements to start. The key new feature in Windows 7 is the ability to encrypt removable drives using Bitlocker. Interestingly, admins can also use policies to enforce encryption, at which point unencrypted drives become read only. Backwards compatibility ensures that ‘Windows XP and Vista’ can ‘read’ data from the drives. I’m guessing they can’t write, and I’m also guessing (as it wasn’t mentioned) that non-windows systems need not apply.

That lack of cross platform (and now I’m talking about OSX and Linux) support may anger some, but for our company needs  it’s irrelevant. We already ensure no customer or sensitive data is copied on removable storage, but being able to encrypt, and force the encryption of all removable media attached to systems I own will help be be able to guarantee that any data copied from our systems is stored securely.

NOTE: Having now been to the deeper dive on Bitlocker, the current build of Windows 7 has no downlevel support. I’m really hoping this will change prior to launch (the presenter was carefully non-comittal, and probably rightly so at this stage). If it doesn’t the technology is a dead duck for us, as I can’t guarantee being able to get all our machines up to Windows 7 in a reasonable timeframe.

Also of interest to me were the developments in deployment technologies. I will try to attend the appropriate sessions on these too – the ability to add new drivers to wim and vhd files offline (and post-sysprep) could be a big benefit to use in extending the life of our system images, particularly as we look towards more automated provisioning of virtual machines from vhd and wim files onto varied hardware (especially when I get my hands on hyper-v in Windows 7!).

Overall it was a very interesting session, albeit shallow. Windows 7 is exciting – not because it is new and cool, but almost precisely because it isn’t. It is to Vista what Windows 2000 was to NT4 and XP beyond – evolved, more stable, more trustworthy.

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

Catching Up

I’ve been far too busy lately and whilst there have been lots of things I wanted to post about, time has not been on my side. Before I start to forget some of the points I thought a quick post was in order.

  • @media 2008 was great. Slides and audio are just filtering onto the blog now. A highlight for me was Indi Young‘s talk on Mental Models. I now have her book on my desk (waiting for having the time to read it) and I’m excited about how the technique might interface nicely with the User Stories we use for feeding requirements into our Scrum development process.
  • Also at @media, I managed to catch up with Nick, who was as insightful as ever. He’s on the lookout for a Cold Fusion developer, if anyone is interested.
  • On the food front, if you’re down on the South Bank try Giraffe. Also not bad was the food at Auberge, not far from the IMAX.
  • One interesting point is that there was a lot of talk about ‘agile methods’ from the presenters, but I wasn’t getting the impression that there was actually a great deal of understanding as to what they really entail. We use Scrum at Black Marble, albeit with some pragmatism as there are some things you just can’t do when you’re not working on time and materials. I find that the increased level of dialogue between team members that Scrum gives improves the execution of the project no end. If you want to know more about Scrum, Ken Schwaber‘s books are a good, quick read.
  • On the smartphone front, the iPhone 3G looks nice, but given my company infrastructure, the Touch Diamond looks more so. Also, the Diamond is nice and small which is something I’ve been searching for in a smartphone for a while. Big nod of respect to Opera – I have a beta of 9.5 on my TYTN right now and it’s a very nice mobile browser. I’m looking forward to seeing what the polished product is like on the Diamond.
  • I have yet to get chance to install it, but the beta Power Pack for Windows Home Server is available which addresses the data corruption bug. I have a single disk in mine right now and to be honest it’s not doing much other than backups, but I’d recommend one just for that – simple and straightforward image-based backups of all the PCs in the house. Great!

EMEA Project Conference: Keynote Thoughts

Well, the keynote just ended and I needed to check email so I thought I’d do a quick post. A good chunk of the keynote had already been covered by yesterday’s partner-only sessions. However, Mike Angiulo publicly announced that the Office 2007 family Service Pack 1 will be available on December 11th, 2007. I guess that means we can tell the world! I’m surprised, actually, that I haven’t noticed this on any of the SharePoint blogs I frequent.

Anyhoo… We were given a short demo of Project 14. It has some useful new features that should make it easier to build a new project when you don’t have all the details – much more so than Project 2007. Much to Paul’s horror, however, Project 14 has a shiny ribbon bar! I guess that’s going to be a real love/hate thing. Personally, I quite like the ribbon bar, but I can understand why some folk think of it as burying functionality because not all the millions of toolbar icons are visible at once.

Also interesting is that Project Portfolio Server is being merged into Project Server with version 14. As someone who is new to the area of EPM this is a product which I am not familiar with, but merging functionality into a single system would seem to me to have serious benefits, not least in terms of having one less system to manage.

I’m not going to blog every session I attend, but if I see something interesting I will post later. Right now, it’s time for the first ‘real’ session of the day – a sysadmin chalk and talk.

Project Partner Day

Well, it’s the end of day zero, the partner-only day here at the Madrid Project Conference. It’s been an interesting day. I’m not sure what I am allowed to say, but service pack 1 for Office 2007, which covers the desktop products, sharepoint, project server et al is very close to being available now. That was an interesting announcement, as we are looking at installing Project Server in Black Marble. I’d like to wait for SP1 – it makes sense – but because SharePoint will be patched at the same time I need to do some testing of our customisations first.

Meanwhile, outside the conference, we managed to leave the hotel for a few hours this morning before the partner event. The part of Madrid we are in has an incredible amount of building work underway; all all the roads are dual carriageways with big cloverleaf junctions. A fifteen minute taxi ride to the local Shopping Centre would probably have been a ten minute walk, had we realised where the shopping centre was in relation to the hotel. Ah well!

Tomorrow, the conference starts in earnest and I am planning to follow the system administration track, leaving the project management stuff to Paul and Jim. There are some interesting sessions ahead…

EMEA Project Conference – Madrid

Finally, after all the excitement that Richard and Robert had in Seattle and Barcelona, I find myself in the Auditorium Hotel, Madrid for the EMEA Project Conference.

According to the multilingual sales blurb in my room, the hotel is the largest in Europe, and I must say it’s very nice. We flew in yesterday and today is an MS Partner-only day before the conference itself kicks off tomorrow.

Project Server is something we’re very interested in using ourselves, and it’s integration with SharePoint (MOSS/WSS) makes it an attractive solution to anybody who has already deployed MOSS for their corporate intranet, as we have.

Also on the agenda today is VSTS integration with Project Server, which I’m keen to see more on. Closing the loop between developer activity and project planning and monitoring can make a big difference to whether a project comes in on time and budget.

I’m here for the SysAdmin track, whilst Paul and Jim cover the managerial and best practice side of things. I’ll do my best to blog on what I see, although it’s a pretty packed few days, ending in a good sprint from the end of the last session at 3:15 on Wednesday to make it to the airport in time for our 5:25 flight back to Blighty.

Mix:UK 07 Round-up

We’re back up north after Mix:UK 07 and I thought I’d follow up my earlier post with a few thoughts on the event and it’s content.

Before I do that, however, I need to give a cheer for our guys: Jonny performed incredibly in the Guiter Hero competition to  be triumphant in front of his screaming supporters, and Sam, Mat, Tom and Jonny cleaned up the the goody-bagging stakes of the Swaggily Fortunes quiz!

Anyway, back to the plot. Day two of the event had some good sessions. Kicking off the day with good humour was a pretty inspiring talk by Beau Amber of Metaliq.He apologised for not being awake, having not slept. He then showed the fruits of his sleepless night by demoing an iPhone built in Silverlight! It was a great session on what kinds of things you can do with Silverlight 1.0 and I look forward to his continued development of the Silverphone.

Next up was Todd Landstad, who was infectiously enthusiastic about mobile devices. He was showing interesting stuff using tablet PC, Sideshow and a suit of UMPC devices. As an avid Engadget reader none of the devices came as a surprise, but it was a great demo on how a little lateral thinking can result in useful software for people on the move, and the things to consider when targeting mobile devices.

Now it gets tricky. The next session was all about accessibility. It wasn’t bad, I have to say, and the guy running the session showed a couple of things I didn’t know about how to kick ASP.NET into generating some of the elements that are needed when doing accessible tables. The trouble is, that it was like watching a presentation from about five years ago. The points covered were all WCAG 1 level A, with little mention of level AA. More worryingly, the speaker referenced WCAG 1 but called it WCAG 2. He didn’t seem versed in current thoughts and best practices regarding semantic structure, skip links and access keys. He even admitted to using tables for layouts!

I appreciate that he only had an hour, but I’m not convinced that anybody left the room really understanding what their obligations were or where to go to find out more.

So, if you were in the room and want to find out about accessbility here are a couple of links to get you started:

  • AbilityNet – a UK organisation who give support and advice on accessibility.
  • JuicyStudio – the site of Gez Lemon, who’s involved in WCAG 2 and knows his accessibility onions.
  • Joe Clark – extremely passionate about accessibility across a broad spectrum of areas.
  • Accessify – a community site founded by Ian Lloyd and a hub for accessibility discussion.
  • Further Ahead – run by Derek Featherstone, who’s a really cool guy and knows his stuff.

Overall I was at times impressed, inspired, disappointed and frustrated at Mix:UK, but I have to say that at all times the guys running the conference were helpful and organised and all the Black Marble posse had a great time.