The top time-savers in WinServ, SQL and VS 2008

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) created an imaginary competitor to Tim Horton’s on Wednesday as a way of demonstrating the kind of Canadian organization that might use its latest versions of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio.

A fictitious firm called Fourth Coffee was used to showcase the performance, features and applications of Microsoft’s flagship enterprise software products. Executives from Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada plotted out scenarios in which Fourth Coffee had to manage multiple compute loads, for instance, using Windows Server 2008, or use SQL Server 2008 to identify a shortage of coffee cups. Visual Studio 2008, meanwhile, was used to create an animated Fourth Coffee Web site.

The world’s largest software company sent its chief operating officer and a former CIO of Wal-mart, Kevin Turner, to oversee the Canadian launch. Turner, who moved on from a strictly IT role to become CEO of Sam’s Club shortly before joining Microsoft two and a half years ago, told hundreds of developers and customers he still gets involved in the technology side at Redmond.

“We have one official CIO, and quite a few unofficial CIOs,” he said, adding in a private interview with ComputerWorld Canada that he didn’t find it difficult to move from technology into more senior management positions. “As a CIO you get the vantage point of how the company operates in almost every department. It means you have to scale up (your management expertise) so that you can understand where things are and what’s going on.”

Microsoft used the theme “Heros happen here,” to celebrate the role IT executives play and how they can transform businesses. Along the way, they also discussed specific features customers could use to accelerate that transformation. Here’s a handful:

Presentation Virtualization (Windows Server 2008): Attendees at the Canadian launch included BMO Capital Markets, which recently opened four offices in China as part of its expansion into the Asia Pacific region.

According to Sorin Manta, BMO Capital Markets’ manager of Windows Server infrastructure, Chinese government regulations mean that once approval for setting up shop there has been granted, you only have a short time frame to establish an office.

“They’ll come and audit, and if you’re not operational and running smoothly, the authorization can be put on hold or revoked,” Manta said.

In this case, BMO had only few months to get the offices going. Setting up a lot of physical machines wasn’t possible, so Manta’s group started with Windows 2003 and eventually used improvements to Terminal Services in the 2008 version to set up remote publishing of trading applications running of server farms in Canada. This is Presentation Virtualization, and Manta estimates it saved BMO Capital Markets about $150,000 in capital equipment expenses for each of the four offices.

Resource Governor (SQL Server 2008): Rick Claus, an IT pro advisor with Microsoft Canada, demonstrated a tool that allows users to manage competing workloads operating on the same server. He used the example of e-mail, showing some major performance problems because everyone in a company was allowed the same amount of resources.

With a few clicks, those CPUs and other resources were given different priority settings. Resource Governor is designed to allow users to more thoughtful plan out their infrastructure utilization but act on problems a lot sooner, execs said.

“Does this mean Bill’s and Steve’s and my e-mail is going to run slower?” Turner quipped.

“Sorry about that,” Claus said.

Split View (Visual Studio 2008): One of the ironies of developing a great-looking Web site is having to wear your eyes out staring at all the ugly HTML underneath. Christian Beauclair, Microsoft Canada’s senior developer advisor, demonstrated a feature that creates two panes: one on top showing the code, and another that gives a visual representation of what’s being created.

“What’s great is you can look at the content of the code in-line without switching to another application,” he said, showing how it was possible to click on a word in the code view and immediately see a drop-down menu with options on what to do with it.

Hyper-V (Windows Server 2008): Although it won’t be available for the next three months, Turner said the ability to virtualize servers at the OS kernel layer will give users a jump on consolidating their IT infrastructure. He said he wished he’d had this kind of functionality when he had been CIO of Wal-Mart several years ago.

“Things have really moved along quickly,” he said. “It’s incredible to think you would have had eight to 10 servers, and now you can take those eight to 10 servers and turn them into one. It would have taken years for us build that kind of structure before.” Microsoft will be using Windows Server 2008’s virtualization features in “almost 100 per cent” of the data centres it is building around the world, Turner added.

Declarative Management Framework (SQL Server 2008): Claus showed how users could create policies, such as how information is shown in a database or whether certain use of a system is restricted, and distribute that policy across multiple instances of SQL Server 2008. This could be done in minutes, rather than enforcing policies on a per-server basis.

“We’ve automated a lot of the administration here,” he said.

Performance HotPaths (Visual Studio 2008): “When you run a test (of an application), you end up with a lot of data,” said Etienne Tremblay, lead technologist at EDS. Normally developers that wanted to see where the application was spending the bulk of its time would do so by poring over the “calltree view” in a performance report. Hotpath, Tremblay explained, allows for more efficient hunting.

“There’s this little flame that pops up (in the call view tree),” he said. “You click on the flame and that brings you to where the bottleneck is.” This really makes for faster analysis, he added.

Microsoft didn’t release detailed pricing about its enterprise software products, but Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 are available now, as is a February community technology preview of SQL Server. General availability is expected in the third quarter, Microsoft said.

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