Charles Young

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Saturday, June 23, 2012 #

The term ‘cloud’ can sometimes obscure the obvious.  Today’s Microsoft Cloud Day conference in London provided a good example.  Scott Guthrie was halfway through what was an excellent keynote when he lost network connectivity.  This proved very disruptive to his presentation which centred on a series of demonstrations of the Azure platform in action.  Great efforts were made to find a solution, but no quick fix presented itself.  The venue’s IT facilities were dreadful – no WiFi, poor 3G reception (forget 4G…this is the UK) and, unbelievably, no-one on hand from the venue staff to help with infrastructure issues.  Eventually, after an unscheduled break, a solution was found and Scott managed to complete his demonstrations.  Further connectivity issues occurred during the day.

I can say that the cause was prosaic.  A member of the venue staff had interfered with a patch board and inadvertently disconnected Scott Guthrie’s machine from the network by pulling out a cable.

I need to state the obvious here.  If your PC is disconnected from the network it can’t communicate with other systems.  This could include a machine under someone’s desk, a mail server located down the hall, a server in the local data centre, an Internet search engine or even, heaven forbid, a role running on Azure.

Inadvertently disconnecting a PC from the network does not imply a fundamental problem with the cloud or any specific cloud platform.  Some of the tweeted comments I’ve seen today are analogous to suggesting that, if you accidently unplug your microwave from the mains, this suggests some fundamental flaw with the electricity supply to your house.   This is poor reasoning, to say the least.

As far as the conference was concerned, the connectivity issue in the keynote, coupled with some later problems in a couple of presentations, served to exaggerate the perception of poor organisation.   Software problems encountered before the conference prevented the correct set-up of a smartphone app intended to convey agenda information to attendees.  Although some information was available via this app, the organisers decided to print out an agenda at the last moment.  Unfortunately, the agenda sheet did not convey enough information, and attendees were forced to approach conference staff through the day to clarify locations of the various presentations.

Despite these problems, the overwhelming feedback from conference attendees was very positive.  There was a real sense of excitement in the morning keynote.  For many, this was their first sight of new Azure features delivered in the ‘spring’ release.  The most common reaction I heard was amazement and appreciation that Azure’s new IaaS features deliver built-in template support for several flavours of Linux from day one.  This coupled with open source SDKs and several presentations on Azure’s support for Java, node.js, PHP, MongoDB and Hadoop served to communicate that the Azure platform is maturing quickly.  The new virtual network capabilities also surprised many attendees, and the much improved portal experience went down very well.

So, despite some very irritating and disruptive problems, the event served its purpose well, communicating the breadth and depth of the newly upgraded Azure platform.  I enjoyed the day very much.