Microsoft cloud day: great topic; shame about the event

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

Azure logoToday I headed up to London for what I hoped was going to be an incredible day: a keynote by Scott Guthrie and then a choice of four tracks all crammed with talks on the latest version of Windows Azure. To shameless misquote a cliché, it definitely was a day of two halves. Azure itself looks great and the range of topics available was incredible. The event itself though was a disorganised embarrassment from start to finish.

Windows Azure recently received a huge makeover, so much so that the “Windows” prefix makes little sense now. Azure offers cloud-based Windows and Linux VMs, data storage, websites that can run node.js and PHP to name just a few of it’s new features. The Microsoft Cloud Day conference sought to teach us all about it. During the day, I was treated to details of:

  • Git being used to deploy a node.js server to Azure.
  • WordPress with MySQL being an installable option directly from the Azure control panel, no special tricks or plugins needed.
  • An SDK that makes getting an iOS app talking to an Azure-based server incredibly easy.
  • Azure’s support for freely hosted websites.
  • C# code being used to build the server backend and Windows Phone, Android and iOS frontend apps
  • … and much much more.

Azure looks an incredible service that definitely justifies me spending the day away from work learning about it and the conference provided lots of information on the topic.

That was the good side to the event. However the conference itself was dreadful and would serve as a great case study in how not to run a conference for anyone thinking of doing so. The conference itself was in a cinema. Nice idea in theory as it offers large rooms with huge screens. In practice though, the venue therefore consisted of lots of narrow, poorly lit corridors and a small foyer. So there was no community atmosphere to the event as people had no central point to gather. This was failure number one.

There were four tracks, plus a special 1/2 day fifth track. At the start of the day, we were briefly told of the tracks and the theatres they were in. If you didn’t note this information down, you were left in the dark thereafter, for there were no signs at all throughout the venue detailing what was on, when and in which rooms. I only found three of the tracks and have no idea where the others were hidden. Failure number two.

Azure is cloud-based. That means access to the internet is an absolute necessity for demonstrating it. The venue apparently had a wireless network, but with hundreds of people with hundreds of wireless devices trying to connect to it, it crashed at the start of the day and never came back. The speakers had wired network access, but that too died in a spectacular fashion for Scott Guthrie and was painfully slow for all other presentations. Being in a cinema (which hardly wants people using mobile phones,) the reception was poor and so even falling back to 3G connections wasn’t a practical solution most of the time. Failures, three, four and five.

Despite the organisational disasters, the speakers did a brilliant job with their talks. It was a good conference and I’m pleased I went. Azure easily outweighs those five failures!