LOS ANGELES — Nov. 16, 2009 — For Damir Tomicic, the opportunity to visit Los Angeles this week isn’t just about catching the hottest stand-up gig in town, even though an evening at Sunset Boulevard’s Laugh Factory is certainly on the itinerary. This trip is primarily about understanding how recent and forthcoming innovations on Microsoft’s server and tools landscape can impact his line of work.
Tomicic is CEO of Germany-based Axinom Group, a technology integrator specializing in enterprise Web platform and enterprise content management solutions. He is one among thousands of developers and technology professionals from around the world who are descending on the Los Angeles Convention Center November 17-19 for Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC).
At this annual event, Microsoft showcases new products in its pipeline, gives developers insight into future direction, and hosts workshops that help attendees better understand industry-leading technologies. In recent years, PDC has also been the epicenter of nearly every major platform announcement from Microsoft, including Microsoft .NET, Windows XP and Windows 7. In 2008 Microsoft unveiled its Windows Azure platform, Microsoft’s cloud computing initiative.
Tomicic says that the recent economic downturn makes choosing the right IT strategy for his business more crucial now than ever before. And PDC offers valuable direction to shape that strategy. “There is no better place than PDC to learn about upcoming products and technologies that will help address today’s economic challenges and streamline my business operations in the future,” he says. “This is also the best venue to interact with key players in Microsoft’s product groups and management. No other conference offers a comparable slew of opportunities to talk with peers and brainstorm about new technologies.”
This year at PDC, attendees can select from more than 100 breakout sessions with topics that range from “Data Programming and Modeling for the Microsoft .NET Developer” to “Bridging the Gap from On-Premises to the Cloud.” Participants can also expect to hear about Microsoft’s technology roadmaps in keynote addresses by top-level executives. The breakout sessions and keynote speeches are designed to offer insights that help developers navigate new technologies and emerging industry trends.
But for all the keynotes and workshops, many PDC participants echo Tomicic’s view that networking with their peers and other Microsoft developers is perhaps the most valuable aspect of attending PDC. Danny Kim, CTO of Boston-based FullArmor Corp., hasn’t missed a single PDC in the last eight years. This year, networking tops his to-do list for the conference.
“Since FullArmor has been an early adopter of Windows Azure and the maker of one of the first commercial applications released on the Azure platform, I am eager to network with ISVs and developers working on Windows Azure,” says Kim. “At the same time, I am interested in gaining in-depth knowledge of other Azure services and related technologies through workshops and sessions at PDC.”
For Greg Willis, an architect evangelist from Microsoft Australia, PDC presents a unique opportunity to connect directly with the developers behind the company’s current and future products and platforms. Willis, who is attending PDC with customers and partners from Australia, says he is looking forward to talking to developers about Microsoft’s vision for building solutions on top of the Windows Azure platform. “What can be more valuable than actually sitting down with the product developers and exchanging ideas on how the products really get used?” he says.
This year’s PDC promises announcements about new possibilities for developers to create Windows applications that maximize the potential of the Web. As it did at previous PDCs, Microsoft will also invite developers to test beta versions of the latest solutions and applications.
For most developers at PDC this year, Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform of Windows Azure and SQL Azure is the event’s main attraction. At last year’s conference, while introducing the new operating environment, Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie mentioned that the version being released as a “community technology preview” was just a fraction of what it would eventually become, with a series of new features in the pipeline. Ozzie predicted that Windows Azure, the cloud-based operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform, would grow into Microsoft's most scalable system yet.
A year later, PDC attendees are waiting to hear what’s coming next in the maturity and feature capability of the Windows Azure platform. Many of them are also anticipating announcements surrounding the future of Microsoft’s application platform “in the cloud” that provides developers on-demand compute and storage to host and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft’s datacenters. Developers can use Microsoft's familiar .NET tools to build applications on Windows Azure.
Even a year after the launch of Windows Azure, defining the cloud frequently leaves people in a technological bog. But Wade Wegner, senior architect evangelist at Microsoft, says that the cloud has largely been a metaphor for the Internet. As he puts it: “Cloud computing is based on the idea that you can leverage resources through the Internet without having to manage physical computers, hardware or networks.” What this means is that Windows Azure runs on a large number of machines, all located in Microsoft datacenters and accessible via the Internet.
Wegner adds that the key differentiator between Microsoft and other cloud computing providers is that Microsoft has been building platforms for decades, and consequently has the richest end-to-end story in which customers can choose to run applications in their own datacenters or in the Windows Azure platform.
As a presenter at PDC, Wegner will share learnings and best practices gleaned from organizations that have migrated real-world applications to the Windows Azure platform. Wegner’s session on Day 1 of PDC, titled “Lessons Learned: Migrating Applications to the Windows Azure Platform” is aimed at attendees keen to understand how they can use the Windows Azure platform in ways that help their customers.
Michael Baker, technology general manager of Incite Inc., a development company specializing in construction collaboration applications, singles out Windows Azure as the technology that he would like to understand in greatest depth at PDC. Baker is heading to L.A. along with his development team all the way from Sydney, Australia. He says Windows Azure is particularly relevant to his company. “Our signature product offering, Incite Keystone—an online platform of project collaboration tools—was built from top to bottom using Microsoft technologies and is currently hosted in the cloud,” he says. “By spending time on the trade floor and interacting with other developers, I hope to dive into Azure in greater detail, while also gaining insight into forthcoming features for .NET 4.0 and SQL Server.”
Like Baker, Brian Hilst, chief software architect of Bainbridge Island, Wash.-based Avalara Inc, says the evolving capabilities of Windows Azure are likely to fuel the future success of his business and he is keen to learn what lies ahead for this platform. He has also signed up for sessions about Visual Studio 2010 and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF).
“We are expecting to hear rollout details and future directions for the Azure platform at PDC,” says Hilst. “While Avalara’s sales tax automation solutions are currently based on Windows Server 2008, ASP.NET and SQL Server 2008, we are actively developing for the Azure platform.”
Elsewhere at PDC 2009, developers are gearing up to hear about recent developments and forthcoming innovations in key applications and technologies like Microsoft Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.
Much of this information can likely be found in the keynote addresses that are scheduled to kick off the day’s events on both November 17 and 18, at 8:30 a.m. PST. This year’s powerful lineup of speakers comprises Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie; Server and Tools President Bob Muglia; Kurt DelBene, senior VP of Microsoft’s Office Business Productivity Group; and Corporate Vice President of the .NET Developer Platform Scott Guthrie. Judging from PDC keynotes from past years, attendees can expect to hear these industry veterans outline Microsoft’s vision for the future of software application development, see amazing demos from Microsoft and partners, trace the evolution of existing technologies and perhaps even unveil new products.
Several attendees are also eager to soak up the atmosphere beyond the exhibit halls of the L.A. Convention Center and explore one of the world’s most famous cities, synonymous with the glamour of Hollywood, perennial sunshine and a number of successful major league sports teams.
Stefan Middledorf, a consultant with Germany-based T&A SYSTEME GmbH, says he tucked a street map of Los Angeles into his luggage, carefully highlighted with places he would like to visit. Also on the itinerary is a first-hand experience of the charged ambience of an L.A. Lakers game.
But for some attendees, the PDC experience offers enough excitement to dismiss the prospect of any downtime. Unlike Tomicic and Middledorf, Microsoft Australia’s Willis shrugs off plans to take in either a comedy show or a basketball game. “Who needs spare time?” he says. “This is geek heaven.”