Microsoft Revamps MSDN and TechNet

Microsoft late last week launched a revamped iteration of its highly trafficked resource sites for developers and IT professionals.

Microsoft late last week launched a revamped iteration of its highly trafficked resource sites for developers and IT professionals. Word that the company was in the process of overhauling its MSDN site was first reported last month when officials from Redmond visited user groups to gather feedback from the developer community.

Behind the scenes however, Microsoft's development team had been well into much of the architectural changes that led to this week's launch. In a blog post on May 22, S. Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft's developer division, revealed the new appearance for both MSDN, the company's developer-focused site, and TechNet, the IT professionals content site.

"With the new site redesign, the MSDN and TechNet Web sites will make it easier to discover and participate in these online communities and showcase the insights of the community experts as well as active technical professionals throughout the world," Somasegar wrote.

Among the key criticisms of MSDN and TechNet was the fact that much of the content was not aggregated making it difficult to find, a complaint company officials have acknowledged. With the new design, Microsoft is emphasizing the contributions of technical experts and placing a larger focus on forums, Somasegar noted. The initial redesign covered 18 technical and developer resources in seven languages.

The timing of the re-launch was intended to build up into next week's Tech-Ed North America 2008 conference, which this year will be a two-week event that kicks off with the developer track on Tuesday, followed by an IT track the following week.

But the revamp will be ongoing throughout this year, said Larry Jordan Jr., the product unit manager for the MSDN and TechNet infrastructure and services team overseeing the re-development of sites. "We're in the middle of completely redesigning the entire library UX and everything else," Jordan said.

Looking to move away from the static look, the redesign effort has focused on easing visitor authentication (using Microsoft's LiveID) and providing more cohesiveness between the various forms of content, forums and libraries, according to Jordan. "We've really bought a lot of disparate kinds of vertical sites together," he said. "We've managed to bring the community sites and the library and the dev centers and the tech centers and began to start to stitch them together."

The new forums are now live. "We've taken a much more holistic way of looking at the productivity of the developers and started to pull that together across the UX," Jordan added. But he also pointed out that the work was not just cosmetic—the sites have been re-architected with new hardware and software.

The foundations of the new MSDN and related sites is Microsoft's SQL Server 2008, due out by year's end, and a virtualized server infrastructure using the company's new Windows Server 2008 and HyperV hypervisor, Jordan said. Using HyperV, the site was able to consolidate 14 large servers down to two blades.

"Over the course of the last two and a half years we have moved what was really an antiquated system that ran all the files off the hard drive, into a big SQL Server system that is running everything today," he said.

The SQL Server repository houses 11 million documents. MSDN generates traffic of 15 million visitors per month, Jordan said, and TechNet about 11.5 million. Over the past several years, the traffic has grown at a clip of 20 percent, he added. Jordan estimated that 60 percent of the work is now complete; the remaining improvements will roll out over the next six months.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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