My Windows Azure Data Services Session at WPC 2013

This afternoon, I have the privilege of joining Scott Klein and Joanne Marone on stage at the 2013 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. If you are wanting to learn more about key Windows Azure scenarios that we see with our customers and how Windows Azure Data Services help you drive more opportunities in these key scenarios, you will not want to miss this interactive session. You will have the chance to get involved, ask questions and get involved in this interactive session. The when, where and what for this session is below.

Drive Opportunities with Windows Azure Data Services

When: Monday, July 8th @ 4:30 PM
Session Code: SC27i
Room: GRBCC: 372 A

Create new business opportunities with Windows Azure, which enables partners to mix-and-match cloud-based data management services to reimagine application design and IT solutions. In this session, you will be exposed to a variety of real-world scenarios that can be used to solve today’s real-world challenges and, based on Microsoft experience, you’ll see where the hidden revenue potential lies.

I Lost My iPhone 5 in Chicago! Thank you Apple iCloud!

If you were to gather a random group of consumers in a room, provided they don’t work in tech, and asked each of them to define the Cloud in 30 seconds or less, I’d bet money that you’d get a very diverse range of responses. You’d hear things like email is the Cloud, the internet is the Cloud, I store files in the Cloud, I make phone calls using the Cloud, I stream music from the Cloud, and on and on. Actually, now that I think about it, I’d also bet the same would be true if you gathered a random group of technology professionals. The Cloud is a little confusing, and tech companies don’t simplify it with their vague and misleading marketing trying to capitalize on hype and buzz.

Apple does an incredible job consumerizing technology. They simplify technology and provide great experiences that consumers can consume. Consider what they did for the smartphone with the introduction of the iPhone. And then the tablet with the iPad. They didn’t create a brand new technology, they just made it consumable for the masses. I remember seeing TV commercials when I was a kid that ended with the tagline, “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better”. For me, Apple is the DuPont of the technology world. Apple doesn’t blaze the trail innovating bleeding-edge technologies, they just make them better and very usable for the masses. The Cloud is another great example of this. I would bet that random group of consumers that I mentioned earlier would provide a range of diverse responses defining what the Cloud is, but I’d also bet they have a common thread, and that would be the mention of Apple iCloud.

Where’s Microsoft?

Now you may be wondering why I’m talking about Apple, the iPhone and iCloud here. You might be thinking something like, aren’t you a Microsoft guy and a Microsoft MVP? Shouldn’t you be talking about Windows Phone and Microsoft’s Cloud? Shouldn’t you be talking about services like SkyDrive, Office 365 and Windows Azure? And those are great questions and thoughts.

While I’m a big fan of Microsoft products and services, and lovingly use them daily, including Windows Azure, SkyDrive, Office 365, Windows 8 and many more. I don’t use the Windows Phone daily. Now in full disclosure, I have a Nokia Lumia Windows Phone. The Lumia used to be my daily phone. Before that I had a Samsung Focus. The Focus used to be my daily phone. I was one of those guys who had a spot in the front of the line on launch day, and at the top of the pre-order list to ensure I had one as soon as they were available. And I have to admit that I am a huge fan of the Windows Phone, I think Microsoft did a great job creating a phone that I love to use, but there are practical reasons why I use an iPhone every day and not a Windows Phone. I’ll save that controversy for another day and another post. But if it rights and wrongs, I am writing this post in-flight on my way to Microsoft’s Global MVP Summit in Bellevue, WA using Word 2013, in Windows 8 on my Microsoft Surface RT. I even had a great conversation with one of the flight attendants about Windows 8 and Surface. The Surface is a great device to use on flights with the constraints of tiny tray tables, especially considering my other machine is a massive Lenovo W520, but my W520 is a work horse.

The Incident, Disaster or Whatever You Want To Call It

So having said all of that, this past Thursday, I lost my iPhone in Chicago. I didn’t loose it in the sense that I didn’t know where I left it, I just unfortunately left it on a Chicago Metra train. So the location of where I left it, was sort of a moving target, similar to the goal line of most technology projects. I realized about 10 minutes after I got off the train in downtown Chicago, that I didn’t have my phone, and quickly realized I left it on the seat of the Metra train. I hurriedly went back to the tracks of the Ogilvie train station where they informed me that the train I just got off of has already left, loaded with new passengers on a new journey. They reassured me that it would be back in a few hours, as if that made me feel any better. You have likely misplaced and lost something, and no matter what it is, or what the value of the item is, you know that feeling you get when you lose something. I don’t think it’s so much the act of losing something that creates that feeling, but more likely the thought of someone else taking and keeping whatever it is that you lost, the violation of it and the hassle of replacing it.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Chicago and specifically to the Ogilvie and Union train stations, you know that Chicago transit is not a small thing. In fact it’s a massive operation, with lots of folks managing and coordinating the movement of many, many trains. In Ogilvie alone, there are 15 tracks, with trains going in all directions. So at this point, I’m not panicing, but I’m a little worried and here’s why. I wasn’t really concerned with losing the phone, but I was a little concerned with data on my phone getting into the wrong hands. Yeah, it still sucks to lose a $650 device, but at the end of the day, it’s replaceable. The data and access that could be obtained from any of my mobile devices, would be a nightmare to deal with.

I have enabled the PIN lock and secured my phones for a few years now. I started enabling security on my mobile devices after someone stole my backpack full of multiple laptops, mobile devices and gadgets, from the backseat of my car, by busting out a window in the parking garage at Chicago’s Soldier Field. But you know how it is when years pass and you get over an incident like that. You start to get comfortable, complacent and ignore the lessons learned. Well that’s how I had gotten with my phone. The convenience of not having a PIN lock was nice, and since purchasing an iPhone 5 in October, I have left it unlocked and unsecured.

So my first mission was to determine what, if anything, I could do to secure my iPhone. Once I got to the location of my 8am meeting, I immediately pulled out my Surface, connected to Wi-Fi, and went to I logged in and found some really comforting features.

First, I was able to put my phone into Lost Mode, which allowed me to setup a PIN for my phone and lock it remotely, which I did immediately. At this point, I was much less concerned with my phone just being wide open and accessible to whomever picked it up.

Second, I was able to create a custom message to display on the lock screen of my phone, which started friendly and polite. But as I was creating it, I could already envision this message getting less friendly and polite as time passed, and with my phone not being on the train car where I left it. With the message, you get to provide a phone number for the person who finds your phone to call. And from the lock screen, the only thing they can do is click a Call button that will call the number provided.

So with my phone now locked, and a custom message and callback number on the lock screen, I started to track the movement of my phone. As the morning became the afternoon, I had watched my phone travel all over the Chicago area, but it still seemed to be on the train, since all of the movements were on the train tracks. Right before 1pm, I noticed the train had arrived back at the downtown Chicago Metra station and my phone was sitting still on the tracks. The precision of the location was so great, even underground in the train station, I could even tell which track the train was on. Now on my ride into the city, I had used my phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot with no regard to battery life, knowing that as soon as I got to my destination, I would be able to plug in and recharge. So when I got to the city, about half of my battery had already been consumed. As you can imagine, I didn’t expect to leave it on the train. Another really nice feature of iCloud Lost Mode is that you can see the remaining battery life on your device. The Lost Mode feature that continuously reports status and location seems to rapidly consume the battery, and at this point my remaining battery life was at 1%. I knew that if I was going to have a chance of recovering my phone, this was the moment, Carpe Diem. So I called the Metra lost and found folks at Ogilvie, explained the situation, and asked if they could go check the train to see if my phone was still there. And in a matter of minutes, I saw my phone was moving and stopped at the Ogilvie ticketing window. And shortly thereafter, the callback number received a call from my iPhone, and it was safe and sound.

Now those of you who are software developers, and especially those of you building mobile apps and complex messaging services realize that what is occurring under the covers isn’t really rocket science. But Apple delivered a very useful and delightful experience with the Cloud. They made is possible for me to communicate with my mobile device miles away, enable and configure security, and provide some instructions for the person who found it. They also enabled me to put my device into a state that reported its current location and kept track of the history. And my phone also made me aware of its remaining battery life, which in this scenario was very useful input that guided my decisions and the actions that I took to recover it. And all of this was enabled by the Cloud, via messaging technologies and location-based services.

Three Takeaways

Now I tell you this story of my mistakes and errors to help be most effective without having to go through the challenges and pain that would cause you to learn these lessons the hard way. And with that, I want to leave you with the following three takeaways.

One, as you create applications, find ways to delight your customers with amazing user experiences using readily available technologies. This will go a long way to boost customer satisfaction, loyalty and will create raving fans that blog about their awesome experiences and influence those they know towards your product or service.

Two, consider how the Cloud can enable new user experiences that haven’t been readily available to companies of all shapes and sizes. Things like messaging, continuous experiences across devices and platforms, file storage, collaboration, single-sign on, scalability for application performance and geographic reach, and even offloading intensive compute operations.

Three, SECURE YOUR MOBILE DEVICES. Don’t wait to learn the hard way like I’ve done.

Rock, Paper, Azure at Chicago .NET UG was a BLAST!

I want to start by thanking everyone who came out last night and attended the Chicago Cloud User Group and the Chicago .NET Users Group. The attendance was great and the room was packed! I also want to thank Microsoft for providing the space and the local Microsoft DPE guys (Dave Bost) that stayed late to give us access to the facility. Lastly, I want to thank last night’s sponsor, Avanade. The great companies who sponsor events like this make it possible for us to enjoy great food and drinks, and last night’s pizza was great!

Adam Hoffman ( and I really enjoyed presenting Rock, Paper, Azure last night. This is an exciting topic because it’s a lot of fun, while making use of really cool, emerging technology, like the Microsoft Cloud, Windows Azure. Like I mentioned last night, as a Windows Azure MVP and as someone who runs a consultancy (responsiveX) that works with really cool customers building web, mobile and traditional client applications on Windows Azure, I’m a big fan of Windows Azure.

The Rock, Paper, Azure, Re-launch Your Coding Strategy contest is going on until January 25th. This means you have two more opportunities to be one of the lucky $50 BestBuy gift card winners and you have two weeks to get into the Top 10 to win a Surface, XBOX 360 or $150 BestBuy gift card. Get a bot into the contest by tomorrow, Friday, January 18th at 1pm CT and you will have a chance to be one of the five (5) randomly selected winners to receive a $50 BestBuy gift card. It doesn’t have to be a great, winning bot either, you just need to have a bot in the contest. You will get another shot at another $50 BestBuy gift card on Friday, January 25th at 1pm CT. Make a competitive, intelligent bot that gets into the Top 10, and you will have a shot at the Surface, XBOX 360 and a $150 BestBuy gift card.

To get started with Rock, Paper, Azure, you will need to do the following:

  1. Setup a Windows Azure Subscription. You can get a FREE 90 Day Trial at
  2. Download the Windows Azure SDK and Tools at
  3. Download the Rock, Paper, Azure code at
  4. Upload BotLab to your Windows Azure service, browse to it, and set your password
  5. Create a profile on the Rock, Paper, Azure site at
  6. Code your Bot
  7. Upload your Bot to your BotLab
  8. Submit your Bot to the contest

Along with the chance to win some great prizes, this contest is a lot of fun. It’s fun to try to create logic that anticipates your opponent’s next move and then beats him or her to the punch. That is the strategy of building a winning bot. If you have a few minutes to watch a couple of videos from YouTube, these are a couple of great examples of this strategy.

Once you get your bot into the competition, the next step is to tweak your logic to get into the Top 10 or maybe to the top, if you view second place as the first loser. In 1999, Darse Billings organized The First International RoShamBo Programming Competition. In this competition, Dan Egnor created a bot that crushed the competition based on the strategy of anticipating your opponents’ next move and staying a step ahead. He called his algorithm and strategy IoCaine Powder, based on the scene above from “The Princess Bride”. You can learn more about his strategy and download source code for IoCaine Powder to help you get started at IoCaine Power is a great way to learn about and consider more complex strategies.


One of the things that I failed to suggest last night was to use source control. I discovered the hard way, early on in the contest, that source control is extremely valuable. Imagine having a bot that is performing OK in the contest, and in an attempt to make it better, you make some changes that cause your bot’s ranking to fall like a rock. And then you can’t remember exactly what you changed to get back to your previous bot. This is where source control comes in really handy. If you don’t have a good source control solution available to you, you can check out Team Foundation Service at and signup for a free account.

If you would like the presentation from last night, you can get it here.

If you are really good, you might be able to build a bot that can’t be beaten like this one.

Good luck with the contest and I hope you WIN BIG!

NORAD Tracks Santa with Windows Azure, Bing Maps and Windows 8

It’s Christmas Eve and children around the world are anxiously waiting for Santa Claus to slide down their chimney’s with presents from the North Pole. Since a Sears advertisement misprint in 1955, children have tracked Santa’s current location and progress around the world by contacting NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). For more information and the history of NORAD Tracks Santa, check out the NORAD Tracks Santa Wikipedia article.

This year, NORAD is powering their Santa tracking operation with Microsoft’s Cloud Platform, Windows Azure. As a Windows Azure MVP and running a consultancy (responsiveX) that helps customers build applications with Windows Azure, it is fun when the technology makes it into our non-tech, home lives like this. The massively scalable Windows Azure cloud makes it possible for millions of children around the world to track Santa on Christmas Eve using the web site and the many mobile applications. As you can imagine, the NORAD Santa Tracker has lots of usage on Christmas Eve when millions of children are tracking Santa’s location, but very little usage the other 364 days in the year. Before the Cloud and Windows Azure, handling this kind of spike and load was very costly and difficult to manage. Now with Windows Azure, NORAD and Microsoft can scale this up on-demand, pay only pennies per hour for each server they use, and then scale it back down once Santa is back in the North Pole on Christmas Day. Along with the use of Windows Azure, the NORAD Santa tracker uses Bing Maps, and you can download native Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps from the Windows Store’s. If you are using an iPhone or Android, you can download iOS and Android apps too. Windows Azure not only scales up and down to handle massive numbers of simultaneous users, but it is also a Cloud platform that makes it easy to scale across many platforms and devices, like Windows, iOS and Android.

Check out the NORAD Tracks Santa web site at

Join me tomorrow on Channel 9 at Windows Azure Conf

Tomorrow, November 14, 2012, Microsoft will be hosting Windows Azure Conf, a free event for the Windows Azure community. This event will feature a keynote presentation by Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Scott Guthrie, along with numerous sessions from Windows Azure experts.

Windows AzureConf will be streamed live on Channel 9. This event will allow you to see how other developers are using Windows Azure to develop applications in the Cloud. Community members and industry experts from all over the world will join Scott in the Channel 9 studios to present their own inventions and experiences developing apps on Windows Azure.

At Windows Azure Conf, I will presenting the following two sessions:

Building Cross-Platform Media Apps using Windows Azure Media Services
Applications with rich video and audio are increasing popular, but preparing and delivering this media to consumers has historically required lots of costly infrastructure and setup. Windows Azure Media Services enables you to outsource your media management to the cloud to let you focus on developing your applications instead of this costly infrastructure. In this session, Eric will walk through building a cross-platform HTML5 media application for the web, Windows 8 and other devices you may use day-to-day.

Solving Security and Compliance Challenges with Hybrid Clouds
When considering public clouds, many industries and companies have concerns about security, intellectual property and regulatory compliance challenges. The good news is a hybrid cloud can often solve these challenges. In this session, Eric D. Boyd will teach you how to use Windows Azure and still protect sensitive information and achieve regulatory and compliance mandates, like PCI compliance, by combining on-premise data centers and private clouds with the Windows Azure public cloud. There are a number of ways to achieve this using messaging and networking technologies and during this presentation Eric will walk through the options and provide you with guidance on when to choose each.

Whether you’re just learning Windows Azure or you’ve already achieved success on the platform, you won’t want to miss this special event.

Register and Join Windows Azure Conf
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
10:30am-7:00pm CST