We’re currently in a hot and humid New Orleans with 11,000 IT pros and developers, at Microsoft’s TechEd North America event. It’s one of those events that helps you drill down into the deep and dark places that underpin Microsoft’s growing technology stack with the folk behind the tools and the services. It’s about what’s here today, and what IT professionals will be using in the next few months at their workplaces and in their and their cloud providers’ data centres.
It’s not an event where Microsoft launches big new tools and features (though it’s happy enough to show some things it’s working on). Which is why it’s odd that people are comparing it to Apple’s WWDC, and expressing dismay that all Microsoft launched was a service pack for server and desktops with VDI enhancements for Windows, an enterprise service bus for on-premises and in-cloud applications, and upgrades to its cloud platform. (Actually, I’d have thought that was plenty enough for the show’s IT pro audience, already working on desktop upgrades, virtualisation consolidations, and massive application roll outs.)
Enterprise IT is a very different kettle of fish from Apple’s refashioning as a consumer electronics company. Microsoft’s TechEd customers are spending millions of pounds and millions of dollars on building and running data centres and on keeping business critical applications supporting the businesses they power. They’re people who think long term, who plan carefully, and test everything several times before deploying. Setting up a stateless application running on top of a set of federated cross-business service oriented components is a long way away from a shiny metal iPhone – especially when the application is being built on top of the AppFabric platform and can run on-premises or on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.
In the world of enterprise architects and IT professionals, what’s most interesting about the iPhone 4 is that it handles more security policies and can connect to more than one Exchange account. It’s what people do with the device that matters, not what the device is. So when Microsoft unveiled synchronised SharePoint integration with Windows Phone 7 it got a round of applause – as it’s something that’ll make mobile working a lot easier.
Yes, TechEd exists in a bubble of Microsoft technologies and businesses that run on top of the Microsoft stack. But it’s one where just one small part of that stack is a billion dollar business that makes billions of dollars every year for an ever growing ecosystem. It’s a bubble that needs to talk, and to learn.
TechEd will never be a WWDC. That’s the role for events like the PDC, which unveil new technologies well in advance of release. TechEd is where people come to learn how to do more with what they have, and to get a glimpse of how others are using the technologies that they’re using every day. You can think of it as a temporary university, full of students all concentrating on the task at hand. You’ll hear it in the conversations on the hotel shuttles, and in the endless conference corridors, where people from competing companies discuss just how they solved problems, sharing and learning from each other.
That’s the real TechEd. The Ed, not just the Tech.