Xero at TechEd 2010

Every year Microsoft hosts TechEd events around the globe, showcasing what’s hot in IT and providing an opportunity for thousands of passionate technologists to hear internationally renowned speakers and network with their peers.

TechEd is New Zealand’s largest event for IT professionals, where over three days, 2500 delegates can choose from 170 sessions ranging from the highly topical “Security in the Cloud – Where’s my Stuff?” (don’t worry the bottom line is it’s safer than anywhere else) to the informative, “MYOB – From the Desktop to the Clouds: Smart Clients on Today’s Technologies”, to the truly weird “Triskaidekaphobia Don’t Fear 6 + 7”.

This year we were honoured to have three team members invited to present at TechEd.

Kirk Jackson, Xero Security Officer and a veteran speaker at TechEd, presented “Hack-Ed: The Hacking Never Stops” and “Hack-Ed II: Stop the Hacking” alongside Andy Prow from Aura Software Security. In a world where applications are increasingly being delivered over the wire, security is very important. In his own unique style, Kirk had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Owen Evans, Senior Developer and regular community speaker made his TechEd debut. Owen stepped up to the plate and delivered both his sessions, “Visual Studio 2010 – Tips and Tricks” and “A Whirlwind Tour of the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0”, to an audience that flowed into the corridors. In fact, his sessions were so popular they were relayed on screens around the event centre.

Then there was me, Xero’s Product Development Manager. This, my fifth speaking spot at TechEd, involved being part of a panel discussing “The Future of Web Applications” – a great chance to crystal gaze into the future. Will we all be standing next to Avatar-like 3D projections or will we be still be clumsily pawing our mobile devices? Interestingly enough the session was hijacked by Richard Campbell, star of the popular .NET Rock podcasts series, and will be broadcast to thousands of geeks around the world in a few week’s time.

While the event is truly a geek fest, there were plenty of topics and trends that will affect all of us over the coming years – whether you’re a diehard MYOB fan, a cloud loving dreamer or an open source hippie – the times are a changing.

The “Cloud” is still centre stage in most predictions of where computers and software is heading and it seemed that every second session mentioned this in some way. At Xero we take it for granted that the web is a perfect medium to access your business data and transact with others online. But the Cloud is more than accessing cool applications in your favourite browser – we’ve had that for years. Take a look at your own business – how much time and money do you spend running and troubleshooting your network, buying new servers to store more data, managing your mail server, backing up/restoring data, securing data, patching/upgrading/installing desktop software? All these things and more can be handled by moving the hardware and software you use into the Cloud. Look forward to more consumer focused Cloud offerings over the next few years.

The MYOB session about moving from the desktop to the Cloud highlighted quite a different approach to that of Xero and other players in this market. MYOB have a large investment in desktop products and rather than abandon this entirely its working towards a solution that allows you to keep using the applications you’re familiar with, but the data is saved, and mastered in the Cloud, rather than locally on your machine. This allows you and your accountant to more easily share data, but it still requires you to have something installed on all the computers you work on. You can understand how it would look good in powerpoint to the Private Equity guys, but it’s an ambitious project, not without its challenges. These include: data locking, data sync and maintaining concurrent multi-user access throughout. We will watch progress with interest, but certainly it made me feel grateful to be product manager for a true single instance and native online service!

A real highlight of the conference was Microsoft’s new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7. After the much maligned Windows Mobile, Microsoft has gone back to the drawing board and come up with something that is truly unique and fresh. A few lucky people had some pre-release phones in their pockets with strict instructions to not allow others to even touch them – Xero caught one of them in a weak moment and we had a quick play. It was beautiful and had an intuitive and fluid interface. While it won’t convince dedicated iFans (what would?) it’s great to see Microsoft step up to the plate and innovate in this space. Devices are likely to hit the US/Canada shelves in October this year and we may see something Down Under before Xmas – fingers crossed.

Thanks Microsoft for another great event – see you next year.

4 Comments

Dennis Howlett
September 9, 2010 at 10:30 pm

So – objectively speaking: MYOB is fake cloud – right?

Ben Kepes
September 9, 2010 at 5:42 am

Dennis – I’m surprised that you’re using such black and white descriptors as true cloud, fake cloud. I thought it was all about customer needs and experience?

FWIW Andrew did an awesome job on his panel, I was well impressed, but I’m pretty sure that he’d concur hat it’s very difficult for him to be objective about MYOB’s moves in the space….

Andrew Tokeley
September 9, 2010 at 8:58 am

@Dennis – being as objective as possible… I’m not sure I’d call it fake cloud. Although depending on who you talk to the “cloud” can mean different things. When I think of the cloud I think of more than just data and services (we’ve had these in the cloud for ages) but more the potential to move your entire business there including an infrastructure that can be scaled according to demand and security/redundancy/backups included as part of the cloud service. MYOB clients will still have a local installation of the software and data (which get’s synchronised with the cloud data) and this goes against the notion many have of being free to float around on a cloud of freedom…

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