I came to TechEd North America expecting to walk away with a few noteworthy points, maybe even a couple of cool strategies I could possibly on-sell, but what I left with was much, much more than that.
It's all too easy to get caught up in the higher order concepts, in the way things should be (especially when you're writing about them), but what I learnt at TechEd North America grounded me back in the reality of the situation that all us Microsoft admins and enthusiasts live every day. Now my views are firmly fixed on those little steps we can take towards making the hybrid cloud nirvana real, things that are actually possible to implement today.
The Windows Azure Pack is a big part of this idea as it truly is the first step Microsoft has taken to tearing down the barriers that separate the public and private cloud. I believe that Azure Websites is the foot in the door that will see the pack make its way into make enterprise and service provider environments. From there it's inevitable that end users will ask for the additional capabilities that the pack offers and, since the opportunity cost for providing them is essentially zero, we will easily be able to provide it. The next steps from Microsoft has to be further extending the capabilities built into the Windows Azure Pack as, whilst it's a strong start, the cloud wall still exists. I have every confidence it will happen, though.
This 'Windows Blue' release shows an incredible change in the way Microsoft is doing business, as evidenced by all the little changes that are coming through. Sure it's easy to ridicule Microsoft for some of the things (like the return of the Start button and boot to desktop) but it shows the company is listening and responding to the wants of its customers. It's not just limited to big ticket items like that either. For instance, the default ExecutionPolicy in PowerShell v4 has been switched to RemoteSigned, a little difference that has huge implications for admins everywhere. Dig into any of the products that saw updates in this release and I'm sure you'll find a large amount of changes that came directly from the community, something which companies of comparable size rarely do.
Indeed if you step back and take a big picture view of Microsoft's strategy it's incredible just how much unification everything has undergone in such a short time. All the admin tools are converging on PowerShell at an ever growing rate, the use of standard protocols is becoming the norm rather than the exception and the core product suite is bringing in technology that used to be confined to the world of third-party vendors. This all fits in perfectly with Microsoft's 'Three Screens and a Cloud' vision, something which was laid out over four years ago and which Microsoft is now well on their way to achieving.
How this is going to translate for us admins and enthusiasts is still a little unclear as whilst the technology is there, ready and waiting to be used, we all know that getting it into production isn't something that can be done so quickly. You can definitely count on PowerShell being a big part of your future, of that I'm certain, but how cloudy your day-to-day activities might be is something I can't predict. I know for myself it's unlikely I'll see much work in the public cloud space, thanks to Australian government regulations, but there's potential for Microsoft to start cracking into the space that has traditionally been dominated by VMware. I'm also pretty sure that most IT departments' current roll-out schedules don't support the current aggressive upgrade cycle that Microsoft is planning to stick to, but that's something I'm sure we all want to change.
Fundamentally the biggest thing I took away from TechEd was a sense of just how much was possible today and what that can do for organisations of all sizes. Whilst I'm sure that it will be a long time before I deploy any of it in anger I will most assuredly be taking advantage of many of the features available in Server 2012 R2 for my personal projects. This isn't much, to be sure, but it's those little steps, those little demonstrations I can give to people, that will have them yearning for those capabilities for themselves. From there it's a slippery slop to them wanting even more and, step by step, we can move towards the realisation of the ideal hybrid cloud.