I had the opportunity this past week to attend the first Microsoft Strategic Architect Forum.  The conference was held just outside of Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters and was hosted by Barry Briggs, former CTO of Microsoft IT and current Director of Architecture within Microsoft.  While the two days were packed with useful information and opportunities to connect with other architects and technical leaders, there were five things that stood out as most insightful.

  1. CloudLayerInfrastructure-as-a-Service is not a significant source of cost savings.  During the breakout session led by Barry Briggs and Eduardo Kassner, attendees were treated to a rare look into the processes and lessons learned during Microsoft’s internal transformation to cloud based services.  As part of this process they identified which layer of cloud services the application should be mapped to.  The higher up the abstraction chain, the better the return on investment.  Infrastructure as a service, while providing some advantages in provisioning automation and self-service, did not yield a significant cost reduction.
  2. Business value drives adoption, not technology.  In the same session as above we learned that while we as technology enthusiasts might believe in the technological advantages offered by cloud services, the cost, effort, and disruption required for an organization to adopt a cloud model for IT requires a focus on the business value being offered.  In some cases that business value is best derived from re-architecting the application or completely eliminating the system entirely and replacing with a SaaS application.
  3. IoYTIoT is giving way to The Internet of  YOUR Things.  More and more devices are becoming part of the Internet with ability to communicate how we interact with everything from government institutions to light bulbs.  But where that connectivity becomes truly valuable is when context is applied to the information gathered.  As an example, Ulrich Homann cited how Cortana is able to combine knowledge of your life (your daughter’s birthday party), your work (where you are now), and the world (traffic between work and home) to provide you with a notification that based on current traffic you need to leave soon to be home in time for your daughter’s party.  As more and more data is gathered and more contexts are applied software can do more to help us in our daily lives.
  4. Pattern Recognition will unleash the power of Big Data.  Mark Anderson is a very smart guy.  CEO of Strategic News Service and industry leader known for his vision and accurate predictions for economic and technology futures, he offered a day 2 keynote that was rife with insights on the near future of the industry.  One of the most important of these was the need for Pattern Recognition Processors to be able to quickly make sense of the massive amount of data currently being stored.  Specifically he mentioned the breakthrough represented by IBM TrueNorth chip which was inspired by the architecture of the human brain.
  5. Proper caching will solve most problems.  In the final session of the conference Microsoft Fellow and Windows Azure CTO Mark Russinovich took the stage to present real life problems faced by customers looking to scale their applications in the cloud and the solutions they created with the help from Microsoft’s Customer Advisory Team.  Most of the problems faced were caused by applying old model architectures to the cloud model scalability.  In particular the concept that simply having lots of instances would provide enough performance to meet high levels of demand was thoroughly debunked.  The solution in many of those cases came down to using caching to provide fast data access across instances, although that was seldom the only part of the solution.

While attending this conference felt a bit like drinking from a fire hose of cloud knowledge, attendees couldn’t help but leave excited about the possibilities for the future and their part in creating that future.