Azure Setup, Surface Queues And Active Directory

Our competition-winning blogger Adam Webster set himself two missions for the first day: learning about Active Directory and buying a discounted Surface RT. He didn't expect he'd also get to do some painting and set up his first Azure service, but TechEd 2013 is full of surprises.

So what a crazy day! After 18+ hours of flying myself and the others from the Lifehacker team finally arrived in NOLA late yesterday afternoon. After a quick check in at the hotel we then headed out for dinner and it wasn’t long before we were heading out and admiring the wonders that is Bourbon Street. What an interesting (ahem) place Bourbon Street is! Thankfully we didn’t get too sidetracked and it wasn’t long before we managed to find a quaint little restaurant where we tasted some local cuisine and beverages.

Today started off early, made worse by the fact that I was still suffering some jet lag and managed to get only get about three and a half hours sleep. We arrived at the NOLA Convention center at 7am for TechEd registration, check in and breakfast. The key part of this morning’s activities was the key session. kicked off by Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Windows Server and System Center Program Management, Brad Anderson. Brad made it clear from the start that Microsoft’s Cloud offering, Windows Azure was going to be getting a lot of focus over the coming days, in addition to mobility and BYOD.

From Brad’s perspective, Windows Azure is the Cumulonimbus of clouds: it’s big and puffy and stands over the rest. If you look back only 2-3 years ‘cloud’ was a buzz word without much action yet it doesn’t seem to be something that is going away, especially when you consider that Microsoft is expanding its data centre operations into Australia and is now offering authentication services (Windows Azure Active Directory) and other incentives/discounts for MSDN partners.

After the keynote I decided to join the cast of 1000’s and line up for the Windows Surface RT, which is being sold at a ridiculous discount for attendees. After three hours (yes! three hours!) in the queue I was equipped and ready to attend my first breakout session which was covering Windows Azure Active directory. Although the session was cut short bevcause of presenter issues, Windows Azure AD was something I found interesting. Authentication for cloud solutions is often one of the first discussion points organisations ask themselves (or are forced to ask themselves) when considering cloud solutions: how will our users authenticate and what credentials will they use? No one wants to have to create and manage separate accounts out in the cloud.

Ultimately it will come down to requirements but for some Windows Azure AD might tick a lot of the boxes. With Federation or Dirsync organizations can easily extend existing on-premise directories and allow users to authenticate with existing corporate credentials.

The day was quickly progressing and one of the other things I was starting to realize was just how many things are on offer at TechEd. A good example of this is the work Microsoft do to help the community. This year they were looking for techEd attendees to assist with painting murals that would go out into the community. What better way to highlight my artistic skills!

This afternoon I attended another session on Windows Azure, this time focusing more on Enterprise Integration (Application, Data and Infrastructure Services). It was at this point that I decided to experience Azure for myself and realised just how simple it is. Microsoft have a free 30 day trial for users to get a hands on feel for Azure. I created an account and was taken through to the Windows Azure management portal. I quickly decided I would provision some storage (a storage account), which is basically like creating a folder on a hard drive. Once provisioned it was simply a matter of generating some access keys that applications and/or virtual machines can use to access the storage. I tested this process against the Cloudberry Explorer application. After installing the application on my computer it just a matter of entering the storage URL and access key and bingo! You have your own cloud storage. The entire process took less than 10 minutes and I was impressed.

Here are a few points I took from the Azure in the Enterprise session:

Security and compliance: – These 2 words should always be a concern for organizations considering storing data in the cloud. Be clear on what this would mean for you and what the impact would be should your data go into someone else’s hands. Microsoft does offer 2FA options such as PhoneFactor but there is never a foolproof solution.

On-premise versus cloud: Microsoft is not expecting all its customers to move everything into the cloud and the company appreciates it’s not going to meet everyone’s requirements. That being said it is certainly worthwhile considering areas like DEVUAT where operating costs may be lower, especially as Microsoft also announced new cost savings.

It’s been a very busy and enjoyable day; it’s now time to go and mingle with other attendees over food and drinks and see where we will end up. The only thing that I fell has let me down today is the keyboard on the Surface RT but that’s another story!

Visit Lifehacker's World of Servers Newsroom for all the latest news from TechEd North America 2013. And don't forget: TechEd is coming to Australia in September. Click here for more information.


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