Microsoft Senior Vice President Bob Muglia kicked off the company's IT-oriented Tech Ed conference last week in Orlando with a keynote address that hit on many recent advances that should be of interest to IT pros. Here are a few highlights.

 

Hyper-V in the real world
Microsoft's Windows Server 2008-based virtualization solution, Hyper-V, may seem to be in perpetual beta, but the company shipped a near-final version of the product recently and is now running its TechNet and MSDN Web properties entirely under Hyper-V. Soon, all of Microsoft.com will be running on Hyper-V as well. Muglia said that Microsoft planned to ship Hyper-V by the end of this summer, but I expect it to release to manufacturing (RTM) much more quickly than that.

 

Fruits of Kidaro
With its acquisition of virtualization pioneer Kidaro complete, Microsoft showed off its upcoming Enterprise Desktop Virtualization product. Enterprise Desktop Virtualization will allow IT administrators to manage and deploy Virtual PC-based environments out to their end users' desktops. What sets Enterprise Desktop Virtualization apart from a pure Virtual PC solution is that Kidaro abstracts the virtual machine (VM) into the background: To end users, they're simply running an application, although what's really happening behind the scenes is that the application is running inside a VM, perhaps under a completely different version of Windows. Put more simply, the product will provide all the benefits of Virtual PC with none of the confusion that accompanies a second virtualized Windows desktop.

In a demo during the Tech Ed keynote, Microsoft product manager Jameel Khalfan showed off the current Kidaro management console, which is sure to change into a more familiar-looking Microsoft-type tool in the months ahead. However, even now, the functionality is excellent: You can use policies to restrict VM-to-physical PC interaction, if required, and even redirect certain Web sites so that they automatically run in an older Virtual PC-based browser. It's application compatibility in a box.

 

From what I can tell, Enterprise Desktop Virtualization, which will become part of a future version of the Software Assurance (SA)-only Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), comes with only one major caveat: Because you must run one or more VMs side-by-side with the host OS, it may require some pretty hefty hardware. As anyone who runs Virtual PC today can tell you, this tool is certainly useful, but it's resource intensive.

 

Microsoft Online Services
As part of its move toward cloud computing, Microsoft offers a set of hosted enterprise applications called Microsoft Online Services. Today, these applications include Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Live Meeting, and Microsoft has hinted strongly that it intends to expand these offerings in the future.

Microsoft's approach with Microsoft Online Services is pragmatic: The company acknowledges that many enterprises will want to continue hosting their IT services in-house but that many others will increasingly move to cloud-based solutions like Microsoft Online Services. And as Microsoft demonstrated during the Tech Ed keynote, you can even mix and match between the two types of hosting. For example, you might host employees at a main office on your own Exchange servers, but provide Microsoft Online Services-based Exchange Online to those in branch offices. Connecting these two environments is something Microsoft calls "e-local existence," which synchronizes your Active Directory (AD) with your Microsoft Online Services-based online environment. Microsoft also provides migration services so that you can move users between the two environments. As far as users are concerned, nothing changes and their Outlook client experience is identical.

Microsoft Online Services is interesting because it tackles the "does IT matter?" question head-on and provides what I think is a very sensible middle ground between the extremes that are the two sides of this argument.

 

SQL Server 2008
Microsoft shipped a near-final version of SQL Server 2008 at the show and, in keeping with the IT-oriented nature of Tech Ed, showed off some administrative console improvements during the keynote. Key among these is a new feature called data compression that compressed SQL 2008-based data at the database or table levels. Compressed databases are smaller, of course, and thus require less storage, but compressed data can also be queried more quickly. It's one of those features that provides instant value simply by upgrading.

Microsoft is also updating the management interfaces for SQL 2008. There's an updated Management Studio, but also a PowerShell-based interface, similar to that provided in Exchange Server 2007, which comes with a wide range of administrative commandlets (essentially PowerShell-based commands).

If you didn't make it to the show--as I did not, this year, alas--there are plenty of Tech Ed resources available online. Check out Microsoft's TechEd Online Web site for starters
(http://www.microsoft.com/techedonline/). Windows IT Pro has a number of excellent resources as well: Check out our IT TV site (http://www.ittv.net) for some great videos.