Build 2013 Recap by Michael Collier

Editor’s note: The following post was written by Windows Azure MVP Michael Collier This week I was fortunate to attend Microsoft’s BUILD event in San Francisco, CA.  BUILD is a semi-regular conference where Microsoft shares a few details on the future versions of Windows.  BUILD has essentially replaced PDC.

This was the first BUILD (or PDC) event I could attend in person.  I had a great time!  It was exciting to be around so many other passionate technologists all eager to see the future of Windows!

BUILD this year seemed to focus on Windows 8 and Windows Azure.  The keynote on day 1 was pretty much all Windows 8, and the day 2 keynote was pretty much all Windows Azure.  There was no keynote on day 3 – just lots of sessions to learn more about developing or designing apps for Windows 8 and Windows Azure.  There was very little related to Windows Phone 8 – that was kind of surprising to me.  Perhaps Microsoft has other events to focus more on their mobile strategy with Windows Phone 8.

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Day 1

Wednesday, June 26th was the first day of BUILD.  It started off with a keynote headlined by Steve Ballmer and complemented by several other Microsoft executives.  This keynote session was all about sharing the refinements Microsoft is making to the upcoming Windows 8.1 release.  Microsoft certainly seems to be trying to address most of the major complaints people had with Windows 8 (yes, the Start button is making a comeback).  In my opinion, there was nothing exceptionally new or exciting coming in Windows 8.1.  Most of the features shown during the BUILD keynote were already previously announced.  There were a few things, like native 3D printing support, that were pretty cool though.  Windows 8.1 certainly looks like a welcome update to Windows 8.  I’m going to be sure to install the Preview and give it a spin!

BUILD/PDC has been known for the attendee goodies.  This year did not disappoint.  Attendees were first treated to an Acer Iconia W3 – a 8″ tablet running a full version of Windows 8.  Later during the keynote, Microsoft’s Julie Larson-Green returned to the stage to announce all attendees would also receive a Surface Pro with a Type Cover!  I have a Surface RT already, but am certainly looking forward to playing with the Pro.


Day 2

Day 2 kicked off with a keynote that focused on the new capabilities in Windows Azure.  As a Windows Azure geek, this was what I was really interested in!  Satya Nadella opened the keynote by sharing some of the details on the growth of the Windows Azure platform.  As someone that has been working with Windows Azure since PDC 2008, it’s exciting to see how fast the platform has changed and grown!

I think there were five big announcements on the Windows Azure front:

  1. General Availability of Windows Azure Web Sites and Windows Azure Mobile Services: Web Sites and Mobile Services are probably two of my favorite Windows Azure services.  It’s great to see the work the team has done!
  2. Auto-scaling for Cloud Services, Virtual Machines, and Web Sites: this is a feature people have been asking for since day 1.  Now, Windows Azure finally can “check the box” on auto-scaling.  Right now auto-scaling is limited to scaling based on CPU and storage account queue depth.  I’m hoping that more metrics will be supported in the future.
  3. Service alerting for compute services (Cloud Services, VMs, Web Sites, and Mobile Services):   service administrators can now configure alerts for some of the various metrics collected for their Windows Azure services.  If a service exceeds a threshold (as specified in the rules the administrator creates), an email will be sent to the administrators.
  4. No credit card needed to activate Windows Azure benefits included with MSDN subscriptions: finally!  I can’t count how many times people complained to me about the need to use a credit card to active Windows Azure benefits already available to them as an MSDN subscriber.  Now that is no longer the case – making it much easier for people to take advantage of those benefits.
  5. Windows Azure Active Directory enhancements: there are some pretty nice tooling updates in Visual Studio 2013 Preview that will make working with Windows Azure AD even easier.  Scott Guthrie showed some pretty slick upcoming features related to very easy SaaS integration with Windows Azure AD – for integrating very easily with services like Box.  Very cool – looking forward to playing with this more soon!

For more information on these, and a few other tasty announcements, be sure to visit Scott Guthrie’s blog and the official Windows Azure team blog.

I spent a few hours hanging out at the Windows Azure booth.  There was A LOT of interest in Windows Azure!  I was there to help people get started with the platform, answer questions, and discuss ideas on how to solve a few problems.  Great conversations!!

Microsoft also threw a pretty nice attendee party at Pier 48.  It was a great way to see some more of San Francisco and hang out with the other BUILD attendees.  There was plenty of drinks to go around, and some unique (as in good) food from local food trucks.

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Day 3

The final day. There were no major announcements this day.  It was all about attending sessions to learn more.  My favorite session was “Building Big: Lessons Learned from Windows Azure Customers” by Mark Simms and Christian Martinez.  They were very honest about how to best handle scenarios where you’re targeting massive scale – think Halo4 or Skype sized scale.  They shared some great stories and tips!

Going Home

Overall I think BUILD 2013 was a great experience.  Being there in person, instead of watching recordings online, was certainly valuable.  The chance to interact with other BUILD attendees was fantastic as well.  While I had a great time, learned a lot, and had a great time, I’m very much looking forward to going home (as I write this waiting at SFO for my red-eye flight home).