What is a Red Hat Linux booth doing at Microsoft TechEd North America 2012? It is actually one example of Microsoft’s new strategy of being flexible and open.

TechEd 2012 will welcome 10,000+ attendees June 11 – 14 as it celebrates 20 years with the current event at the enormous Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The theme of this year’s conference seems to continue the current industry theme of the cloud.

Living in the cloud

A few years ago, Microsoft unveiled its cloud offering Windows Azure. Some of Azure’s kinks have been worked out, and it continues to evolve with new features like virtual machines and websites. According to Microsoft, Azure is now an all-encompassing solution. This was the underlying theme of the day one keynote session where the “cloud OS” term was introduced.

While the old approach to computing (your own servers, desktops, etc.) will still be supported, the next version of products like Windows Server 2012, SQL Server 2012, Windows 8, and so forth are designed so organizations can move as much as they can or want to the cloud. Microsoft will offer customers three basic options: (1) everything in the cloud, (2) a mix of some stuff in the cloud and some on premise, and (3) the old approach with everything onsite. Managing cloud-based PCs and mobile devices will be a snap with the latest version of Microsoft Intune.

I know many IT professionals are not thrilled with moving everything offsite to Microsoft Azure or another cloud offering, so Microsoft not totally pulling the rug out from under their feet is good. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of the cloud over the next few years – I wonder if there will be a time when most companies don’t have their own data centers.

The latest and greatest

One negative aspect of technical conferences in my opinion is the focus on new products, many of which have yet to be released. I find it hard to focus in sessions where new product features are discussed in great detail. The problem is relevance, as the technical details discussed cannot be transferred to my daily work. Furthermore, the upgrade cycle of most organizations lags far behind current releases, so it could be a while before I actually dive into a specific product release. A good example is SQL Server 2012 — a lot of people and organizations I know are just now going full speed with SQL Server 2008. The cloud approach can solve the upgrade cycle conundrum because cloud servers will always be up-to-date. After all, there is no option to spin up a Windows 2000 Server on Azure.

With that said, there is a lot of content at TechEd 2012 on the latest versions of Windows Server, Systems Center, SQL Server, Windows, Visual Studio, and so on. A common theme with these systems is PowerShell, and its presence was strong in quite a few sessions. Windows Server 2012 Core will not have a graphical interface by default (think PowerShell). A couple of presenters used the term Windows ssh to describe PowerShell (via remoting); it was described as a replacement for remote desktop sessions, and a new way to manage computers. The similarity with UNIX scripting languages is amazing (it supports ls and man commands), but once again Microsoft is acting like it invented something new.

Playing well with others

An interesting change in the TechEd conference over the years is the support for open source projects and technologies. The previously mentioned Red Hat Linux booth on the exhibition floor is one example. Red Hat and Azure now play well together; Linux is an operating system choice when creating an Azure VM. In addition, Microsoft’s big data strategy rests on Hadoop; the company will work with the Hadoop community and tightly integrate it with Microsoft offerings like Azure.

From a developer perspective, Microsoft has come full circle with being a strong supporter of standards like HTML5 and CSS3; these standards are mostly supported in Internet Explorer 10.0 and are a big part of Metro development. JavaScript has also had a big presence at the conference, with sessions focused solely on it as well as using frameworks such as Knockout.js and Node.js.

One odd twist on these sessions was the disparaging remarks some presenters made about Internet Explorer. The cracks were about IE’s less than stellar performance, developer tools lagging behind competitors and the browser’s overall performance. The folks making the comments were not Microsoft employees.

Keeping in touch

The continuous change and evolution of technology makes learning a constant chore for IT workers. While conferences like TechEd 2012 tend to be heavy on new and often not released technology, IT pros still need to be aware of what is on the horizon because management and clients are sure to bring it up.

The overall experience of rubbing elbows with Microsoft MVPs, vendors, and fellow IT professionals makes the TechEd conference a great experience for me. What about you: Do you find IT conferences useful? Share your experiences with the community.

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