The two-hour keynote at Microsoft’s largest annual event TechEd North America, this year in New Orleans, covered wide-ranging topics designed to convince attendees that Microsoft is the best partner for all things cloud. Many product roadmap announcements were made, including the next releases of Windows “Blue” client operating system (OS), Windows 8.1 and server OS, Windows Server 2012 R2. New releases for System Center, Visual Studio, and SQL Server were also announced. New features and lower prices for Windows Azure were welcome news as well.

Before the keynote, the crowd was put in a good mood by a New Orleans jazz band (pictured above). The keynote started with a James Bond-themed short film starring Microsoft VP Brad Anderson in a road car chase to capture stolen Microsoft code. Inspired by Queen Elizabeth’s “entrance” to the London 2012 Olympics, a real car driven by Brad emerged from the fog onstage as if coming from the film (Figure A).

Figure A

Scenes from the beginning of TechEd North America 2013 Keynote

Windows is core for devices

Ian McDonald, Partner Director of Program Management Windows Core, took the stage to cover the first of five “pillars” in the keynote. Ian showed Windows 8 success stories from Toyota Racing, Sheraton and others. Ian announced that Windows 8.1, a free upgrade from Windows 8, will be released by the end of the year, with preview bits available on June 26, 2013.

Ian showed some Windows 8.1 features that are most aligned with business rather than consumer focus, for example, standardizing the desktop for multiple employees. He used the Export-startlayout cmdlet to save a start screen layout policy and then distribute the XML file with the setting using Group Policy to standardize the start screen for a department. He also spoke about a new software feature of Windows 8.1 that allows developers to include a VPN in the application rather than depend on one existing in the OS.

Microsoft hardware partners and Microsoft itself (with its Surface tablet) deliver many platforms for the Windows client. Ian demonstrated “Trustworthy Hardware” from several manufacturers of Windows 8 devices.

Empower people-centric IT

Brad Anderson returned to the stage and reaffirmed that the best tablets for the enterprise are Windows 8, and then he transitioned from Windows devices to what users are doing on their devices. “People-centric IT” means: A personalized experience on any device, anywhere, which is secure and protected. Brad shared that the “20-something’s view” of Bring Your Own (BYO) is a right; Microsoft strategy is to give the end user what he or she wants and “magic happens!”

“We have built a set of capabilities inside Azure called Windows InTune that is connected to System Center Configuration Manager”, Brad said. Then he shared that there are over 35,000 unique organizations using Windows InTune and that it’s “growing like a weed”. Brad shared how Aston Martin enabled BYO for over 800 devices using cloud-based InTune, connected to an on-premise instance of System Center Configuration Manager.

Brad announced the next edition of Windows Server (“Blue”} will be Windows Server 2012 R2 and there will be a corresponding release of System Center 2012 R2, as well as new features in Window InTune.
Molly Brown, Principal Development Lead next provided a demo of InTune. Molly logged into her Windows 8.1 computer, and enabled a new Windows 8.1 + Windows Server 2012 R2 feature: Workplace Join, a “modern version of Domain join”. Molly did a live demo (Figure C) of two-factor authentication to complete Workplace join. This action allowed the user to access a SharePoint Team site secured with domain credentials.

Figure C

Two-factor authentication to enable Workplace Join, a new feature in Windows 8.1

A nice feature of Workplace Join is that when you when you de-provision the device as a corporate device, such as when you give your work PC to your teenage kid, you don’t lose the settings in your domain profiles as you would have in the past. Now a selective wipe that deletes corporate apps but leaves private data is accomplished by unselecting ‘remote management’ and ‘Workplace Join’.

Enable modern business applications

Brad Anderson introduced the concept that Microsoft is a cloud partner that you can trust. The vast reach of Microsoft’s global Azure data center network is unmatched, for example, Microsoft is now the first multi-national organization that will be adding public cloud capacity in mainland China. Combining the physical scope of Azure with the Microsoft support organization, ecosystem, and local partner presence makes the case that Microsoft is the “best cloud partner for the enterprise”.

Guest speaker Bert Craven, Enterprise Architect with EasyJet, next explained how they moved from open seating to reserved seating because passengers didn’t like the “full contact sport” of open seating. They decided that Windows Azure was the right place to run the seat reservation system. Bert showed how the top portion of EasyJet’s reservation site (involving seat selection) is all delivered with Azure. Bert then showed a live view of EasyJet’s Azure console and how he is able to “dial up” capacity when they have peaks in ticketing demand.

Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President for Windows Azure came on stage to talk about what a great environment Windows Azure is for the developer. Scott made the following exciting announcements about Windows Azure:

  • No charge for stopped VMs inside Windows Azure. Previously there was a small charge even for stopped VMs.
  • Moving to per-minute billing model. Previously you were billed in time increments rounded up to the nearest hour. Now you are billed pro-rata just for the minutes consumed.
  • MSDN Server Licenses can be installed at no additional charge in Windows Azure for development purposes.
  • New MSDN Credits: Depending on the level of your MSDN subscription you get free Azure credits: Professional $50 per month, Premium $100 and Ultimate $150 per month. Up to 100 web sites with SQL Azure database are included. Scott showed a “burn-down curve” inside the Windows Azure portal to help you see how much of your free credits you have consumed.

Scott one-upped Brad by offering to give away an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Coupe (approximate retail value of $118,600, see Figure D). To be eligible, sign up for the new MSDN Azure benefits before the end of September 2013 at this web site:

Figure D

Win this Aston Martin V8 Vantage Coupe by participating in a contest that ends September 30, 2013.

Brian Harry, Technical Fellow, continued the developer story around Visual Studio 2012 successes. Brian announced new products Visual Studio 2013 and Team Foundation Server 2013. Preview releases will be available at the BUILD conference, June 26 in San Francisco.

Unlock insights from any data

Quentin Clark, Corporate Vice President, SQL Server talked about how Big Data is fundamentally changing everything. Quentin introduced Microsoft SQL Server 2014. Transaction processing in memory is a key to making the new releases of SQL ever faster. Eron Kelly, General Manager, SQL Server, followed up with a fascinating data visualization demo. In front of an 80-inch touch panel, Eron used the GeoFlow feature of Windows Excel to deliver a visual drill-down that showed how Big Data can be distilled into precise and valuable information.
Eron started with a global view of all TechEd 2013 attendees (Figure E) and eventually narrowed down to the job description of a particular person in Miami. Then he used session data dashboards (“so easy a VP can use it”) to visualize the industry and geographic distribution of attendees in particular TechEd sessions.

Figure E

Using Excel’s GeoFlow feature to make sense of Big Data (here demographics on TechEd attendees).

Transform the data center

Brad Anderson started the final keynote segment with “Let’s talk now about the cloud that is powering what we’ve been talking about.” This Microsoft cloud “furnishes dynamic application delivery from data centers without boundaries-cloud innovation everywhere”.

Trek mountain bikes were featured as a Windows Azure success story. Azure represents the next generation of how Trek is going to support their operation and sales organization. Quotes from Trek staff included “Azure VMs are really easy to run” and “[Azure will] take our applications to the next level, with no worries about the infrastructure”.

The Microsoft “rich portal technology” formerly known as Windows Azure Services for Windows Server (WASWS), and codename Katal before that, finally has a new and decent name: Windows Azure Pack! Clare Henry, Director Product Marketing, showed off Windows Azure Pack to self-provision a private cloud service in the same manner as you would using the real Windows Azure portal.
Jeff Woolsey, Principal Program Manager, did a final demo of Storage Spaces in Windows Server 2012 that has a new feature in the R2 release, which is Tiered Storage. With Tiered Storage, Windows Server 2012 R2 can take SSD (Sold State Drives) and combine them with spinning disks in a unified storage space. Using “heat map” type methodology, Tiered Storage automatically moves hot disk data from spinning disks to SSD. Jeff showed in a live demo how IOPS were increased from 7,400 to 124,000 which is a 17-fold performance increase.