Azure BizSpark Camp

Microsoft (through the BizSpark program) at zero cost to attendees, organised exclusive “choice” Windows Azure training from Chris Auld, geek out resources for for a whole weekend of Windows Azure education, collaborated with some inspiring people, and left with a slightly inflated ego.

Last month I was invited to attend the Azure BizSpark Camp in Sydney. Given minimal detail about the event, 7 small Australian startups pitched business concepts to Microsoft, and were selected to compete for the prize of 5G’s of cold hard cash, a sturdy glass trophy that could do some serious damage in a fight, and potential exposure to some real concrete venture capital investors (“VC’s” for short if you’re the hip businessy type) – i.e. people willing to throw cash at your business concept with the intent of making more money in return.

The teams started to arrive at Microsoft’s Australian headquarters at North Ryde Sydney around 8:30AM on Saturday morning. I knew I was at the right place when I saw a 20 strong group of pasty looking nerds all armed (laptops) for a big weekend ahead.

Soon after registering, Chris Auld (an enthusiastic yellow croc wearing kiwi) from Intergen smashed the ice, by delivering a condensed presentation on Microsoft Azure, and the general principles behind scalable cloud architectures. Chris even tossed out a few gems throughout his presentation, some of which included; frequent use of the word “choice”, XNA text books, an excel based Azure cost forecasting calculator, a colorful debate on the evils of GPL, some YSLOW techniques to reduce HTTP pressure such as CSS sprites, the shift in thinking that the cloud promotes such as, the movement away from traditional transactional relational storage to “NoSQL” highly replicated non-transactional storage models, the renewed importance that good multi-threaded code (e.g. Parallel.For) has now with the likes of Azure worker roles and so on, a thought stimulating project called lokad-cloud which is pitches itself as a .NET O/C (object to cloud) mapper for Windows Azure, and much more!

After a solid and inspiring 3 hour effort from Chris, he wrapped up his presentation, and Catherine Eibner from Microsoft ran us through the broad agenda for what the remainder of the weekend would entail. The way I translated Catherine’s instructions were roughly as follows: “now you guys are Azure experts, go and build something Azure’y and awesome. By the way, you have a hard deadline of 4:00PM tomorrow evening, by which time you will then be given 5 minutes to deliver a business pitch to a panel of 5 judges. Now get the hell out of here bitches!. It quickly loomed over me I wouldn’t be seeing much of my girlfriend this weekend.

My friend and I quickly found a vacant meeting room, a white board, and setup up shop.

Hacking time

24 hours (2 worker roles, 1 web role and some Azure Blob and Table storage) later…

We’d built out the first working prototype of a concept known as eyeknowit running on a local Azure development fabric. Think of photo streams combined with information. From this overarching idea stems a number of downstream ideas, like being able to acquire imagery tagged with particular things (e.g. the need for a particular type of photo for a newspaper), or being able to specialise the photo stream to a particular expertise (e.g. I have a interest in flowers).

Pitching the concept

I guess the judges thought the idea could gain some traction. We won.

In summary, at zero cost (other than time, sleep and daylight) to attendees, got some “choice” training from Chris Auld, geeked out on Azure for a whole weekend, met some good people, and took some cash and a slightly inflated ego away.