TechReady Day 4 & 5 – Virtualization,, and Mars Rover

The last two days kind of blend together so I'll cover in one post. I went to several sessions on virtualization that were outstanding. The first dealt with Microsoft's recently closed acquisition of Softricity. This technology is very interesting in that it deals with application virtualization. With typical products like Microsoft Virtual Server or VMWare, the entire OS is virtualized. In the case of Softricity, each application's run time environment is virtualized. Think virtual registry, virtual DLLs, etc. The idea being that by running the app in a virtual environment, you can have multiple apps the might normally conflict with eachother run side by side on the same machine with no issues. Now the most interesting part is their application streaming technology. It turns out that even a large complex app like Microsoft Office only required 10-20 MB of files to start and run. As you then use the app and access more features more files are required. With Softricity, you can deploy an icon to a users desktop and when the user clicks the icon, the application is streamed to the users desktop and runs in the virtual environment. As an example if you deploy the Word icon, when you click it the first time the initial 10-20 MB are streamed and the app launches while in the background it continues to download the rest. The app is never actually installed on the system, it runs in a virtual container. The download is cached so the next time you run there is no delay. The part that makes this scenario very cool is that the app is never installed but unlike when using terminal server, the app actually runs on the local machines physical hardware. At this time they are still exploring how this technology will be integrated with existing Microsoft solutions but even before the acquisition Softricity was tightly integrated with SMS.

Another session I went to was about the architecture and operations of the website including Microsoft Update. The scale is unbelievable. is the third largest website in the world in terms of usage. It's comprised of over 2000 servers and runs at 120Gb/s outbound. There are several case studies on the website in the IT Showcase with some very interesting ones on how the move to 64bit had a dramatic positive impact. For anyone with doubts on whether Microsoft infrastructures can be scalable, available, and secure this site obviously runs exclusively on Microsoft technologies: W2003, IIS, SQL. It is also tied as the most highly available web site of all major web properties with AOL.

Finally, this morning there was a great presentation to the full TechReady audience by Dr. Steve Squyers of Cornell University who is the lead manager of the Mars Rover program. Spirit and Opportunity are still plugging away on Mars years beyond their design specification. Dr. Squyers was a very entertaining presenter and had some amazing images from the rovers. He talked about how the project was managed, how the team worked together, and some of the lessons learned and how the apply to large technical projects.

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