PASS 2006: Still giving power to Microsoft people

Well, no-one can accuse Microsoft of giving out mixed messages. The framework for Steve Ballmer’s keynote this morning was exactly the same as the one used by Ray Ozzie et al. at Tech Ed 2006 in Boston. You’ll be relieved to here that Microsoft are still very much “people ready” and are still trying their darndest to deliver on their four key promises, namely:

  • Advancing business with IT solutions
  • Providing software that amplifies the power of people
  • Managing Complexity
  • Protecting information

However, Steve being Steve, this version of the message was delivered with considerably more energy and a little more depth that they managed at Tech Ed. No toenail-munching was in evidence this time, at least that I could see.

The keynote started with a bit of nice, self-congratulatory back slapping (35% YOY growth for SQL Server, 60% .NET adoption, 500M .NET framework installs etc), couched as a thank you to all of us for making that happen. No problem, Steve.

The whole focus of the talk this time was on that strange “amplifying people power” promise. According to Steve, taking unhappy customers, who have a problem, and turning them into happy customers was a very powerful scenario for any company. (A cynic might suggest that MS sure has a lot of opportunity to create happiness. But not me).

Steve handed over to Francois Ajenstat, product manager for SQL Server, to go into some of the details of what MS had been up to facilitate this people amplification. We saw glimpses of some data mining add-ins for Excel, the new “automatic help system” for Vista, the ultra-thin Excel Services client for sharing spreadsheets (via Sharepoint), the new integration between SharePoint and reporting services.

A lot of this looked very impressive. The RS-SP integration will be coming with SP2 of SQL Server 2005 in Q1 2007.

Steve came back onstage and whisked through the other promises so fast that if you blinked you missed them. I blinked – sorry.

Before I knew it we were on to questions and some of these were pretty interesting. Steve was asked to explain the recent deal with Novell whereby Microsoft will support Novell’s SUSE operating system and will not assert patent rights over any of their technology that might appear in SUSE. A show of hands suggested that about 100% of people had Windows systems in their data center and about 30% also had Linux systems. As far as I could follow it, Steve’s argument was that SUSE Linux had essentially paid for any MS intellectual property as part of the deal. He described it as a “customer facing” decision that would provide maximum interoperability for people using both SUSE and Windows servers.

About 3 years ago, I was at an Oracle conference that was dominated by talk of their scale-out solution, RAC (Real Application Clusters). It works rather like a power grid. Instead of one huge station to serve everyone you instead have lots of smaller, cheaper stations in a grid, which can be switched in and out seamlessly to cover demand, or failure at another point in the grid.

I found myself wondering about what Microsoft was going to do in this regard, so it was interesting to me to hear this question finally raised. Answers however weren’t really forthcoming, although a swipe at the RAC technology was(“30 year old technology”, “Not a true scale-out solution”, “huge contention points” etc). Suggesting that Microsoft wouldn’t touch the RAC-style technology with the proverbial bargepole, Paul Felssner vaguely mentioned something in the pipeline based on a true “share-nothing” architecture, but could say no more. Well, watch this space I guess, but don’t hold your breath.

Asked finally when he was going to do a “database dance”, Steve roared “go DBAs”, and was gone.

Greetings from Seattle