Windows Server 2008, Virtualisation, XBox 360 & Halo 3

… were just some of the subjects covered at Microsoft’s Technet Event at The Digital World Centre in the beautiful Lowry Plaza in Manchester on Thursday.

The venue was absolutely packed with IT Professionals by the 0930 start time, so a few of us spilled outside to catch some fresh air whilst we waited for events to kick off. We were greeted by a rather worried looking James O’Neill, who was co-presenting the day, who explained that the event was so well attended that the venue had run out of chairs to seat us all! A truck load more were on the way!

The decision was made at 0945 to get underway, so additional chairs were snagged wherever possible – including the lovely Executive Leather Chairs that Andy, Andy and I smugly sat upon whilst many of our fellow IT Professionals stood around.

Eileen Brown gave an introduction and overview of the day, although it was difficult to concentrate on her at times as new chairs were constantly being ferried into the room for the stragglers to sit upon.

Then it was time for Stephen Lamb and James O’Neill to talk about Windows Server 2008, and specifically it’s Deployment Technologies using WIM, WIF and ImageX. As a long-time Ghost user, these advancements in deployment features are very welcome – and can also be used to deploy XP and 2003 as well as 2008 and Vista, so there’s no reason not to start looking at them immediately.

I understand Windows Server 2008 will move out of Beta and into Release Candidate 0 shortly – so I’ll be doing my best to get hold of a copy and install it on Virtual Server 2005 to see how that goes.

After the break, the chair situation had been sorted out completely – although Stephen and James (or "The Odd Couple" as I christened them later that day) problems were only just beginning!

Some of the feedback that the UK Technet team have received from previous events is that the attendees want to see less smoke in mirrors, polished end-product demos – and more deployment and "real world" scenarios being displayed. Taking that advice on board, Stephen and James started demo’ing Windows Deployment using Virtualisation and a crude but functional iSCSI setup.

Whilst everyone could see what was being demonstrated and it’s benefits, things didn’t go well as different features repeatedly fell over, and James became more and more frustrated whilst he and Stephen amusingly (and unintentionally) did their Odd Couple act live! To be fair, although the demo didn’t work as anticipated – this was the first day of the UK Technet tour and thus the first time the pair had tried this demo live in front of hundreds of people, and James did keep his cool remarkably well – I’d certainly have withered under the pressure by that stage!

After lunch, all was well again on stage and discussion turned to the new Windows System Centre family range – including mention of a new Workgroup edition. On a sidenote, I’m a big fan of Microsoft Operation Manager Workgroup Edition, which although now dated, was an absolute bargain at £499 back in the day, and allowed some of my Medium Sized Business clients to taste pro-active server monitoring for the first time. It’s therefore great to see this Edition continues on in the System Centre range, MOM’s successor.

Discussion continued with more Virtualisation features, including Physical to Virtual conversions, and more about managing your Windows Server environments using the System Centre range.

James also talked about Windows PowerShell and described it’s very powerful features as they applied to both day-to-day management, and virtualisation. PowerShell is something I’ve been meaning to look at for a while, and James enthusiastic description of it’s features will see me make some time to investigate this tool further.

Finally, a Q and A brought some very detailed questions from the floor, and some very detailed answers from Stephen and James!

Kudo’s to Stephen and James for presenting such a complicated topic so well, despite their demo issues (which didn’t detract from the day at all in my opinion). Thanks to Sally, George and the other Microsoft ladies who did so well to make us geeks comfortable despite the issues with the venue too.

I’m admittedly very new to the world of Virtualisation, but from what I can see it’s definitely going to be the "Next Big Thing" in IT. Imagine replacing lots and lots of large rack-mounted servers with a few thin but powerful servers, and then running a few Virtual Machines on each. Plus for Developers, having a Virtual Machine that you can use for testing, roll back and reboot quickly must be a huge advantage.

From my newbie perspective, it seems to me that Microsoft is perhaps 18 months behind their competitor, VMWare, when it comes to Virtualisation features – but knowing the Redmond Machine, that gap will close rapidly.

The day wasn’t over yet though, as we stuck around for the "Vista After Hours" session, running from 1830 until 2115.

This event was aimed more at promoting Microsoft’s Consumer products, such as Windows Home Server, Vista Home Premium, and Microsoft XBox 360.

I’ll admit I’m still not using Vista at either Home or Office yet, despite being aware of many of the benefits, but perhaps also being equally aware of many of the potential pitfalls. After this session though, I’ll be sorely tempted not to at least move my recreational PC to the Vista platform!

Matt McSpirit and James Senior delivered an entertaining couple of hours, demonstrating the capabilities of Windows Media Player, Vista’s Photo and Video applications (the feature to convert a number of photos into a single Panoramic photo was especially impressive!), my first look at Windows Home Server (no, it doesn’t work as a Domain – so my fears that SBS 2003 would be replaced in the Micro-Client environment are unfounded) plus the Zune MP3 Player ("It’s Touch Screen, in that I can touch it’s screen…" – James Senior) and Microsoft XBox 360 Elite – including it’s impressive Media and Instant Messaging capabilities.

During a Q’n’A session, one member of the audience gave an impassioned plea for more support from Microsoft to promote their Consumer Line in the face of the competition (Apple, Sony, etc.) You could tell it was something both James and Matt agreed with, with them discussing how they’d raised the subject with Bill Gates directly at the last Microsoft employee Q’n’A session in Seattle.

The evening wound down with Matt challenging a member of the audience to best him at Guitar Hero 3 – and then being thoroughly destroyed by said member of the audience!

We were then played out with a Movie like Trailer for the impending release of Halo 3 which Andy Parkes seemed very excited about. I asked Andy if it were being released to my favourite gaming platform, the Atari 130XE, but sadly he didn’t think it was…

Thus concluded a very long, but informative and entertaining day. Say what you will about Microsoft, but I know of no other vendor who deliver this sort of quality technical day to their partners. I certainly appreciate it, and judging by how over-subscribed this Technet event was, so do many other IT Professionals and Partners.

Well done the Technet UK Team, and good luck for the remaining dates of your tour.


5 Responses to “Windows Server 2008, Virtualisation, XBox 360 & Halo 3”

  1. 1 Andy September 21, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    Greate write up!
    It was guitar hero 2 they were playing btw…..     😉

  2. 2 Richard September 21, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Andy – it\’s fortunate I even remembered the name of the game, let alone which version it was – so thanks for correcting me. My gaming knowledge is somewhat out of date. I still play Age of Mythology as though it was a new release! 😉

  3. 3 Matt September 22, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Richard!  Great write up – I just wanted to clarify that it was James that got the royal hammering at Guitar Hero, not me!  I would have loved it to be Guitar Hero III – Wireless guitars!!! 🙂  I\’ll also claim the Zune comment!
    Cheers mate,

  4. 4 Richard September 23, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Thanks Matt! I\’d never make a Journalist would I? Slightly inaccurate facts, wrong details, incorrect quotes… Ok, I might make a Journalist for the Daily Mail… 😉 

  5. 5 steve September 28, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Richard – thanks for the detailed write up. I\’m delighted to hear that you enjoyed the day.

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