Tech Ed Developer edition is soooo last week.

This week, Microsoft has moved on to focus on IT.  With all the talk at Bob Muglia’s keynote (and at every Microsoft event I’ve attended in the past couple of years) about “Dynamic IT” and “bridging the gap between developers and IT professionals,” it strikes me as a bit contradictory that Microsoft is splitting Tech Ed over two weeks. But, as Bob Kelly (Microsoft vice president, Infrastructure Server Marketing) told me, “IT pros and developers don’t have to be in the same room to \[get on the same wavelength\]. It’s really much more about a coherent approach to model-based setup and design.” (For a bit of a different perspective on that view, see Sheila Molnar’s blog entry, “TechEd 2008 Devs and Admins: Better Together or Better Apart?”)

But despite the emphasis on the vision of Dynamic IT, Kelly said, “TechEd is a unique event where it really is all about IT professionals, developers, and partners understanding how to use the technology. It’s less about vision. It’s more about how do I use it.” (If, like many Microsoft customers I talk to, you haven’t really paid much attention to Microsoft’s vision for Dynamic IT, here are some articles that might give you some insight: http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/94969/system-center-puts-dsi-into-practice.html, http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/49503/radically-simplify-it.html.)

Several announcements came out of Bob Muglia’s keynote: a new server validation program, Microsoft Application Virtualization 4.5 RC1, Forefront Client Security support for Hyper-V, availability of Stirling (which is the code name for the Forefront end-to-end suite for edge, server, client) in the first half of 2009, new developer certifications (for Hyper-V, MDOP, SCVMM, Windows Server 2008 applications infrastructure—i.e., how to run apps in a virtualized environment), reaffirmation of Microsoft’s commitment to ship Hyper-V within 180 days post Server 2008 RTM, imminent release of SQL Server 2008 RC1, and Identity Lifecycle Manager 2.0 Beta 3. You can find details on these announcements from Paul Thurrott’s WinInfo coverage and also Jeff James' Tech Ed 2008 blog post here.

As these announcements show, without a doubt, virtualization is at the center of this Tech Ed and the Dynamic IT strategy. Microsoft’s play in the virtualization market relies on the view that IT’s future relevance to business hinges on the agility that virtualization allows. As Kelly told me, “Virtualization is a way of making logical a bunch of physical stuff. The more that IT becomes logical, the much more quickly they’ll be able to respond to business needs. Logicalization is not just about compute or storage. It’s also in fact about applications—not just like Softricty style, but even SOA. Service orientation is really an isolation. Web services is just a virtualized service. It’s isolated. The more IT gets on this road to making their infrastructure, their applications, and their environment logical, the faster they’ll be able to consume this innovation and the more quickly they’ll be able to respond to business needs. There’s nothing like being able to stand up a new server environment with the press of a button because you have increased demand. That’s what logicalization of IT means. That’s really at the core of Dynamic IT.”

(As an aside, let me just note that all this talk of “logical” versus “physical” gives me a case of déjà vu, taking me back to the late 1980s and IBM midrange computers. Anyone else feeling that way?)

Is IT Relevant?
One theme from last week’s developer Tech Ed that I kept hearing was the idea that with the advent of Software as a Service (SaaS), Software-plus-Services (S+S), and cloud computing, the role of IT would be seriously challenged in the near future. The term that keeps coming up in this discussion is “commoditization of IT.” What that means (in extremely dummified terms) is that as applications move to the Web and next-generation users become increasingly comfortable with technology, the skills and specialization currently required for IT will become less necessary.

As Microsoft is moving in the S+S and cloud computing direction (recently, Live Mesh is a notable foray in this direction; see also "SaaS: It’s Closer Than You Think," for a look at another SaaS product, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online), I had to ask Bob Kelly what he thought of the idea of commoditization. Kelly replied, “I think the commoditization of IT is a bunch of bunk. The reality is that all it really means is that certain elements of the software stack will be consumed in a different way. That’s neither here nor there in commoditization. Some vendors would have you believe that if they just deliver compute at a really low price, it will commoditize compute. That’s really not true. The reality is that having one app as a service, while it may be lower price than existing on-premises software, once you start to do multiple apps or multiple pieces of the infrastructure, you have a whole new set of challenges that arise around identity federation, around how does that platform coherently federate around the cloud. That’s not commoditization. That’s deep integration work that’s required.

“That means for IT professionals and developers, they’re safe in their jobs. I’ll tell you that. It’s one of the classic cases. What are the Googles and Amazons trying to do? They’re trying to position this stuff as commodity because it disrupts us. That’s a purely Microsoft view of the conversation. The reality is when you actually get into the way customers consume this stuff, it has so much more complexity that you have to understand when you’re talking about a world that’s federated across on-premises and in the cloud. Whether it’s SaaS for one app or S+S for an app that spans the boundary, the reality is that’s not commodity. There’s very rich stuff that needs to happen, and IT and development will be very much at the core of this conversation for a long time to come.”

I actually agree. What do you think?