The Pursuit of Happyness


Yesterday I watched in Comcast, the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness“. Will Smith has superbly portrayed the character of a struggling salesman who takes custody of his son as he’s poised to begin a life-changing professional endeavour. The story is inspired by a true story of an investment tycoon (of the same name portrayed) Chris Gardener. An emotional story told very well, the boy (done by Will Smith’s real son Jaden Smith) has acted great especially in the scenes – where they are moving from place to place after a long day when they don’t have a place to sleep.

Don’t miss seeing this award winning movie.


Notes on Microsoft PDC 2008 – Azure under the hood

In this PDC2008 talk, Chuck Lenzmeier – the Architect in Azure team explains how the Virtual Images of OS works in the Azure cloud data centers. His Bio in PDC2008 says that Chuck has been with Microsoft since 1989, and worked on all versions of Windows from NT 3.1 to Vista. The below video really helps to understand how the Virtual Images are being managed to achieve Windows Azure manage while retaining absolute compatibility with existing OS, Software and Applications.

Click on this picture for the video of Azure Under the Hood

His co-speaker Frederick Smith from Microsoft explained the other aspects of Windows Azure.

Azure Under the Hood (2) Azure Under the Hood (3)

  • Windows Azure provisions and monitors hardware elements (Compute nodes, L2 Switches, LBs, Routers), hardware lifecycle management (burn in tests, diagnostics and repair, failed hardware are replaced) and capacity planning
  • Azure Fabric is highly available: Network has redundancy built in, services deployed across fault domains, load balancers route traffic to active nodes only, Fabric Controller state check-pointed periodically, FC state is stored on multiple replicas
  • PDC 2008 CTP release of Azure has Automated Service deployment, Three Service templates, change number of instances, simple service upgrade/degrade, Automated service failure discovery and recovery, external VIP Address/DNS name per service, Service network isolation enforcement & automated hardware management
  • For 2009 release will have ability to model more complex application, richer life-cycle management & richer network management

Notes on PDC2008 Sessions – HP Magcloud on Windows Azure

I was in the talk by Andrew Fitzhugh from HP’s The site is HP’s attempt to do on demand publishing of magazines and allow anyone to publish, sell and distribute magazines. An interesting statistics that was shown that in USA about 3.6Billion magazines were delivered to US News stands last year and out of which 2.3Billion was never read.

He talked about how Magcloud moved their front-end systems and portions of storage to Windows Azure. on-premises architecture utilizing Windows Azure on-premises architecture utilizing Windows Azure

Seeing the title I had good expectations, but the session turned out to be disappointing. The speakers completed the talk in 30 minutes and didn’t have anything more to talk or go into architecture or code details. The project seemed to me to a half-hearted attempt to test drive Windows Azure and was a simple project to showcase anything interesting. 


Notes on Microsoft PDC 2008 – Day 3 Keynote

Today was the keynote by Rick Rashid, Sr. VP from Microsoft Research. Notes on the session:

  • Why is fundamental research important to a company like Microsoft or country like USA. It is to survive tough times, about agility through your earlier investments and having smart people
  • Talked about Terminator, liveness property. Basically if you create a lock in say “C” will the code release it and so on
  • Talked about Dryad – Dryad is an infrastructure which allows a programmer to use the resources of a computer cluster or a data center for running data-parallel programs, without knowing anything about concurrent programming
  • The study on computer “programs” help us to understand more on human “cells”, similarly study on “cells” is helping us to understand “programs”
  • Microsoft has been working with Washington university for Collaborative technologies – ConferenceXP
  • Microsoft released today a new version of Microsoft Worldwide telescope Autumnal Equinox Beta

Feng Zhao (Principal Researcher) talked on the energy usage, how to sense and how we can reduce. He showed a small device made by Microsoft Research that uses a 16-bit CPU, 10K RAM, 40K ROM to collect humidity, temperature and  other parameters. It then transmits it using a low-power Radio as they are powered by batteries which need to last long.


He showed the below demo on how this data can be visualized:

These visualizations used in Data Center has helped them to map and plan on how cooling happens, where to place heavy computing loads, etc. He talked about Senseweb – a Wikipedia of Sensors  which is used by over 11 universities worldwide. This is used primarily in Swiss alps to collate data from different instruments on alps and study them for impact of humans on climate change.

David Heckerman in a video talked about how they are helping to find how HIV mutates in a person using technology from SPAM identification and statistical analysis.

Matthew Maclaurin talked about Project Boku – Lightweight programming for kids. Boku is a character/robot, he needs programming to succeed. Why for Kids – because it is a life skill, demystify and engage & make it easy for learning. All programming is done with XBOX Game Console, no keyboard use. See the demo below:

Finally they showed “SecondLight” an innovation based on Microsoft Surface. In SecondLight you can show over the regular display, which gets shown only when you move an ordinary paper above the display. There is an infrared sensor that follows you on the second display. This is exciting stuff, so don’t miss seeing this video from Tech Flash showing this.


Notes on PDC2008 Sessions – Inside the NBC Olympics Player

This session was done very well by Eric Schmidt (Director, Microsoft).

Some top-level highlights were:

  1. 34 top level events sorted by icons
  2. At the peak, 17 live separate events were happening
  3. 2000 hours of live content and 2200 Highlight content that was created

The result was staggering: 1.3 Billion Pageviews, 50 Million Unique Visitors, 70 million videos watched, 5000 Unique clips viewed per day during the final week, 600 million minutes of video delivery, 27 minutes of viewing per session, 35 million mobile views (external), 130,000 peak streams, 3.4 petabytes of video delivered, were built for 2.5 times of what was delivered.

Four main types of contents:

  1. Live Content were delivered with Windows Media Server, with commentary was coming from commentators typing in a CMS which got moved as XML to production
  2. Rewind – Video on Demand play of live content
  3. Highlight NBC pulled out 50 Interns from college put them in 30 ROCK and make them create these 3-5min highlights of individual events.
  4. Encores – Broadcast replays

Other points mentioned:

  • Planning of capacity was most important. When, Where and Size (each sport is of different length) was to be planned to determine the CPU, storage and ingress/egress needs.
  • NBC was helped by Intel Penguin processor, NBC waited for it and the servers got shipped around in May and took 6 weeks to go to Beijing
  • Bandwidth out of Beijing was limited to a 40 meg (DS3). 40 encoders were running live, so about 1MB per encoder (Digital Rapid). All this went into two windows media services box in Beijing, this got patched to window media services in 30 Rock, New York so that they can control if they had to. Which was then mapped to Limelight & Level 3 CDN’s massive WMS boxes. More details of encoding process in the blog post here
  • No full screen due to IOC Advertising requirements on the percentage of advertisements to video
  • Many partners were involved: Deltatre (Italy) had the CMS the best in the world to do live score on web
  • HTTPWatch Professional (and Fiddler) was useful to see what’s going on

Lessons Learned:

  • Scrum and Scrumming builds better teams as the teams were distributed worldwide
  • Meeting Face to Face was very important, especially to bring this up cost in RFP stage
  • Everyone should know all roles and all architectural touch points
  • Reduce complexity via common schema
  • Long-tail delivery hides issues, when you are watching current items you needed to focus on the older contents that were being watched by the long-tail
  • The industry needs better telemetry and monitoring solutions
  • “Chunked” workflow (smaller sized thousand of files created) presented new challenges – Now IIS 7.0 Smooth Streaming in Media Pack announced yesterday does this better
  • Over 250 people between Microsoft, NBC and all other partners