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Microsoft on a Cloud at TechEd 2013

Microsoft has been on a roll since the announcement of System Center 2012. Since then, product after product Microsoft has proven that it is really on a roll. At TechEd this week, I am very pleased with the innovation, the thought leadership and the announcements that Microsoft showed. With that, let's talk a bit about Windows 8.1 and Windows Azure, as they are the highlights of day 1. These are not the only cool announcements today, but for this column I am going to limit it. I'll cover more announcements in the weeks to come.

Let's start with Windows 8.1, which will be previewed in June and generally available later this year. The new features? I think you will like them. There's nothing mind-blowing or game-changing but small changes will hopefully make users a little less standoffish towards the new Windows 8 interface.

The button is back, except it isn't your traditional Start button that opens a start menu in the traditional way. It's merely a start button that can take you to the Metro-style start screen. It's not a huge change but some people might find it handy to have a start button.

Boot to desktop is a new feature that will allow you to boot up directly to the desktop as opposed to booting to the Start screen metro. This is available today, of course, but through a bunch of tweaks.

Desktop applications open in desktop mode, which means when you click a file such as a Word or PowerPoint from the desktop and it will open the application in desktop mode as opposed to opening in Metro mode.

Admins will also be able to customize the start screen, limit the number and type of applications, and so on. This is a welcome features that empowers IT admins to control the user experience for locked down and managed workstations.

That was the Windows 8.1 highlights, let's move to some of the Azure updates and, boy, are there a lot of announcements for Azure. Azure is front and center of the entire Microsoft vision and that is a refreshing and welcoming step.

Windows Azure Active Directory allows you to quickly extend your internal Active Directory to the Azure cloud, which would allow you to very quickly implement single sign-on and also integrate with several other services like Windows Intune to manage devices, Office 365 and other services. This will also be a catalyst for third party providers to leverage Azure extended AD for their own services. If you have a different MDM solution from AirWatch, XenMobile or MobileIron, maybe they will be able to integrate easily and quickly.

Another cool integration point with Azure is Intune integration with System Center Configuration Manager, which will allow you to manage your corporate PC devices and mobile devices with Intune, whether they're corporate-owned or BYO.

One of my favorite demos was the "Workplace join device." While I am not a believer that users with mobile devices, especially in a BYO model, will want to enroll their devices, the ability to self-join your device to the domain is really cool. The idea behind this technology is that if you are connecting from an unmanaged mobile device and you want to get access to corporate resources, it is not enough to have an Active Directory user account -- you must enroll your device and to do that, you can configure the device to join a workplace by providing your e-mail address. But wait, there's more! In order to make this more secure and enable two-factor authentication, Microsoft is leveraging the power of Azure to actually call you and authenticate you over the phone. Basically, after you have entered your e-mail address, the system will prompt you for a phone where they can call you and ask you a security question or take action in order to completely authenticate the device.

Once the device is authenticated and based on your AD credentials, you will have access to your corporate resources. Now, in the event that you want to unsubscribe your device, you can follow the same steps. Once unsubscribed, you lose access to all corporate resources while all personal resources are preserved. Pretty cool, but I think BYO will lean more in the Mobile Application Management then it will the Mobile Device Management.

Another really cool announcement was Windows Azure Pack. It gives you the ability to layer Azure-like portals and offers self-service experiences atop your System Center infrastructure, thereby unifying the user experience between Azure service consumption and on-premise service consumption. It's a huge benefit, as I love the Azure interface and I dread the self-service interface from App Controller and Service Manager. Windows Azure Packs will basically bring Azure technology to System Center private cloud deployments to unify the experience but to also enable admins to build Azure-like environments locally.

Staying with the Azure announcements, Microsoft announced some new billing changes that includes per-minute billing as opposed to per-hour billing. This is beneficial because prior to this if you had used 40 minutes, it would round it up to an hour. Now, if you use 30 minutes, you get billed for only 30. This is huge, especially for test/dev.

Another billing change is that you will no longer be billed for VMs that are paused or turned off. Prior to this the only way to stop the billing was to delete the VM. This feature is a very welcome step.

Developers will definitely appreciate the ability to use MSDN server licenses on Windows Azure at no charge, (prior to today's announcement, it was not allowed).

Now if Microsoft does anything right, they know how to rally developers. I don't know about you guys but if I knew that by developing an application on Azure I could potentially win an Aston martin, I would be all over it. That is exactly what Microsoft is offering developers who build applications on Azure and submit them by September.

Finally and to boost Hyper-V's credibility and capability, Microsoft announced that Windows Azure runs completely and solely on Hyper-V.

With plenty of announcements and more to come, I do want to stop here and take your pulse, see what you liked, what caught your interest the most and have a conversation in the comments section.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 06/03/2013 at 1:28 PM


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