Veteran Lifehacker IT Pro blogger David Klemke figured he might not learn much new at TechEd North America 2013, having already dosed up on Windows Server 2012 knowledge last year. Instead, he's found his fantasies for the hybrid cloud taking increasingly concrete form.
I had a pretty clear goal in mind when I was setting up my TechEd sessions: find real, implementable solutions that would allow me to build the hybrid cloud dream that I've been pursuing for far too long. Whilst I can't yet say that I've achieved that goal yet the beginnings of a solution are already starting to take shape and many of the improvements that Microsoft has announced show a clear dedication to the hybrid cloud goal. I expect that over the coming days I'll be able to formulate some concrete strategies for realizing my long term ambition to create a truly hybrid cloud, one that doesn't suffer from the current cloud wall.
It's become clear that the consistent platform message that Microsoft pushed at us last year at TechEd Australia wasn't a one-shot deal with the innovations announced here showing that the company is keen on making this a reality. When Microsoft first talked about it I was quite skeptical that it was little more than marketing buzz speak because the sessions that followed showed that whilst some parts of the platform were consistent (like the underlying operating system) there was much, much more that wasn't. The worst part about it was that there was no indication that this was going to change, meaning that there were giant feature gaps between services offered on Azure and those you could install yourself on Windows Server 2012.
With the Windows 8.1 and associated Windows Server 2012 R2 refresh however I'm much more convinced that Microsoft is committed to actually achieving the lofty goal it set for itself. The Windows Azure Pack will be an installable feature for Windows Server 2012 R2 and will bring some of the features that are currently Azure-only to the server platform. Details are scant as to what is included/excluded but there are some key features like the Azure Management interface, Azure Service Bus and Azure Web Sites. There's been no official word that this is a trend that will continue across other product lines, but it would be foolish of Microsoft to only dip its toes in like this and not continue down this path to its ultimate conclusion.
It also seems that I may have been a bit premature last year when I said last year that Hyper-V was finally at feature parity with VMware, as there were a couple features Microsoft announced today that have been part of VMware's hypervisor for quite some time. At a base hypervisor level they were relatively minor, with Gen 2 Hyper-V VMs now able to make use of all the Remote Desktop Services through the Hyper-V console, but it still showed that Microsoft is playing catch up in many areas. They are accelerating however as the introduction of Hyper-V Recovery Manager shows, something which their virtualisation suite of products has been sorely missing. The choice of which hypervisor to go to is now extremely easy for those who haven't yet invested in VMware and for those that already have the lines of differentiation are getting ever more blurry.
However all of this pales in comparison (at least for me) to the Azure announcements. The barrier to developing solutions on Azure has been pretty low in the past, nearly everyone who wants to try out the platform either has MSDN or simply signed up for the free subscription. However with Microsoft now allowing you to deploy your MSDN licenses onto Azure, developers now have a much wider range of technologies available to them in order to develop against whilst using the Azure platform.
This comes hand in hand with an overall reduction in the cost of all Azure services, per minute (rather than per hour) billing and additional credit to spend however you want on any Azure services. As someone who has been butting heads with the limits of his MSDN subscription for the past month these changes could not have come at a better time and I'm sure every BizSpark startup shares my excitement over this announcement.
I fully expected to come here and retread a lot of ground and so I set myself a goal of trying to find out how to make the most of the technology that I first saw demonstrated last year. However my expectations have been completely flipped on their head and it's looking more and more likely that the hybrid cloud nirvana I've been chasing will some day be achievable. Of course it's going to be a game of ever-increasing expectations as the more Microsoft tells me is possible the more I'm going to dream of greater things. I had almost given up on it ever happening but with today's announcements my hope has been fully renewed and I can't wait to dive back into some more sessions to see what else is possible.