By Paul Ferrill, Contributor
Microsoft's annual TechEd North America conference this week in humid New Orleans is the company's first big event following a flurry of product releases in 2010. Sessions on the latest versions of Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Visual Studio have been abundant. Cloud computing and all of the technologies surrounding Windows Azure are a big focus as well.
From the opening keynote to the Windows Azure boot camp, it was obvious that Microsoft is directing much of its corporate energy on "the cloud."
Windows Azure AppFabric
There are a plethora of ways to connect cloud-based services together. Windows Azure AppFabric is Microsoft's answer to the question, "How do I securely connect my application to some service outside of my corporate firewall?" The answer is actually made up of two parts -- connectivity and authentication. Microsoft labels these two functions Service Bus and Access Control Service.
Service Bus provides three functions: service remoting, eventing and protocol tunneling. Service remoting is essentially service-oriented architecture (SOA) through the cloud. In traditional desktop applications, events are used to trigger some specific programmatic action when a user does something like click a button. Windows Azure AppFabric provides basically the same capability, but instead uses the cloud to deliver the notification. It provides the plumbing necessary to use standard protocols already in use for existing applications in a secure way over the Internet.
The Access Control Service provides a mechanism to deliver federated, claims-based authorization for REST Web Services. On the authentication front, Windows Azure AppFabric currently only supports Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS), although Microsoft has announced upcoming support for other services to include OAuth, OpenID and more.
Another cloud-based initiative from Microsoft for remotely managing desktop systems is Windows Intune (currently in beta). This product takes the existing capabilities of Microsoft System Center products and turns them into a cloud-based managed service. Now you can manage remote machines just as if they were connected to your local network. Windows Intune includes the ability to manage updates, monitor malware, track hardware and software inventories, set security policies and provide remote assistance.
The technology is part of Microsoft Online Services, which also includes:
- Exchange Online
- SharePoint Online
- Office Communication Server Online
- Office Live Meeting 2007
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online
- the Azure platform
What this means to end users is the ability to take advantage of Microsoft's data centers around the world to provide the infrastructure for remote management anywhere.
SP1 for Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7
Moving away from the cloud, Microsoft also announced that a beta release of service pack 1 for both Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 would be available in July. This service pack includes the typical list of bug fixes along with a number of new and improved features. For remote users, improvements have been made to Microsoft's DirectAccess feature that will enable the use of the company's Network Load Balancing (NLB) technology. This was not possible in the previous release, causing bottlenecks for high numbers of remote users.
One of the biggest new features in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 is the addition of a dynamic memory management feature for Hyper-V. Reducing the memory footprint of a running virtual machine is one of the toughest problems in the world of virtualized desktops and servers. It's not a huge deal to add memory to a running machine, but to actually take memory away from a running operating system is no small feat. Microsoft obviously has a leg up on the competition when it comes to their operating systems since they own the code. SP1 is the result of collaboration between multiple teams at Microsoft to make it happen.
Another new feature with SP1 for both server and desktop is something called RemoteFX. This is a new technology for the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) world, providing significant gains in graphics capabilities for remote or virtual desktops. Remote FX uses a number of different approaches, including hardware acceleration, to make the graphics experience of a remote session look the same as if you were running locally on a fairly recent workstation. Windows 7 SP1 contains a new Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) client with support for RemoteFX.
Other news and features of interest
It's clear that Microsoft is serious about the products they have developed for the cloud, which extends to the company's management and development tools as well. The latest release of Visual Studio 2010 contains an extensive list of tools for developing applications for all the Microsoft platforms.
IntelliTrace is a new debugging tool integrated with Visual Studio 2010 to provide what [Microsoft president of Microsoft's Server and Tools division] Bob Muglia called a "TiVo or DVR capability" for tracing program execution. It even lets you step back in time to previously executed code.
On the server side, Microsoft is rolling out multiple new features and updates to deliver the back-end for supporting all the other services. New visual tools for managing virtual machines such as System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2011 Service Designer will help IT administrators fine-tune their operations even further.
Now all that's left is figuring out how to make these technologies work in your environment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Ferrill has a BS and MS in electrical engineering and has been writing about computers for over twenty years. He's had articles published in PC Magazine, PC Computing, InfoWorld, Computer World, Network World, Network Computing, Federal Computer Week, Information Week, and multiple Web sites.