2013 in Review – Resources for IT Pros

First published on CloudBlogs on Jan, 07 2014

By any measurement, 2013 has been a HUGE year for launches here at Microsoft – but, ultimately, the value of these new products will be judged by how much they help organizations increase their competitiveness and how much they help IT Pros and end-users do their jobs better than ever before.

Every single day, we gather data about the needs of IT Pros and Enterprise IT, and we role this information back into what we are building. Our goal of enabling the IT Pro to be a strategic asset to their organization is one of our highest priorities and it is at the core of our business .

In 2013, we released Windows Server 2012 R2 , System Center 2012 R2 , Windows Azure Pack , Windows 8.1 , multiple release of Windows Intune , the Microsoft Remote Desktop App , as well as many other products and services specifically built to empower your business with the most modern/scalable/reliable infrastructure possible – and with a simple way to stretch out and use the public cloud.

But this post isn’t about what we’ve built – this is a celebration and a giant “Thank You!” to the army of IT Professionals around the world who architect, deploy, and maintain the infrastructure and solutions that helps their business thrive.

With this gratitude in mind, I want to highlight a few of the resources that we have made available to all IT Pros.

One of the things I think we all struggle with is the perpetual influx of new products, new services, new features, etc. – and it is a constant battle to stay up to date with what is happening in the industry and to stay current with the new capabilities available to help our organizations. The resources noted below are both new resources rolled out in 2013, or things we’ve significantly upgraded in an effort to help IT Pros find the right tools, knowledge, or the information they need to advance their businesses.

These free resources include TechNet Evaluation Center , TechNet Virtual Labs , Microsoft Virtual Academy , Microsoft Technical Communities , and the Tech Companion App .

Here’s a quick overview of these resources and how you can use them right now .

TechNet Evaluation Center

The TechNet Evaluation Center’s primary goal has always been to provide access to full versions of the latest Microsoft software so that you can evaluate Microsoft solutions for the needs of your business. The launch of the Cloud OS was a big moment for the Evaluation Center, but there are more than 50 other products available there, too – and all of them are full-featured, limited-time evaluations.

We’ve also spent a lot of time and effort improving the evaluation experience. For example, the download progress bar itself is now embedded into the resource page, which gives you an opportunity to start learning while your software is downloading. We’ve also redesigned the resource page and supporting e-mails to raise visibility on the most helpful resources. For those working on migration scenarios and application compatibility testing, we’ve now made many previous versions of Microsoft software available.

Each of these new features is designed to help you find the software and resources you need in the quickly and easily. That means more time learning and evaluating and less time registering and searching.

TechNet Virtual Labs

TechNet virtual labs has a similar mission to the TechNet Evaluation Center (put the latest software in the hands of the IT Pros who need it!), but the Virtual Labs are specifically geared towards IT Pros who need to evaluate specific scenarios but have limited time and hardware available.

With the Virtual Labs, in just a matter of minutes, you can stand up a fully functioning environment and explore the scenarios you’re most interested in – all from your desktop and all with no cost to you!

I think that this is a really cool way to get hands-on experience with the latest solutions available. We are all starved for time, and in any other setting it would take hours – or even days – to install and configure everything necessary to get this kind of firsthand experience. With these virtual labs you can be test driving the latest greatest new offerings in minutes .

In December, we published our 500th virtual lab , and every day we are adding more. New offerings include things like Get ting to Know Windows Server 2012 R2 and Managing your Datacenter Devices with Windows Server and System Center 2012 R2 – and many more.

We’ve also improved the user experience with a new home page that lets your sort the labs you need based on job role, product, and experience type.

Microsoft Virtual Academy

The Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) provides free online training on Microsoft technologies, delivered by experts, to help you gain new skills and advance in your role. MVA is a relatively new resource (starting in Latin America just a few years ago), but it has already grown to offer over 300 courses in 11 languages for 1.5 million users.

In 2013 there was a record 11,000 students in 120 countries attending our live Jump Start event on Server Virtualization with Windows Server Hyper-V & System Center . Over the course of just four days, the event delivered nearly 7.5 years of free technical training.

The MVA site has also gotten some recent upgrades in response to user feedback requesting targeted content and a simpler user experience. We’ve also added useful new features like My Learning Plan , which helps users track the courses that they want to take by providing a roadmap for their online learning. To learn more, check out the MVA 2013 Year in Review blog post.

Microsoft Technical Communities

In 2013, we also added new features and benefits to Microsoft Technical Communities (MSTC), a resource for community leaders and speakers. Members of MSTC enjoy benefits like free advertising, special offers on eBooks and services, and technical content. If you’re a community leader or speaker (or if you feel like you should be ), read this post from Rick Claus to learn how you can get involved.

For IT Pros, local technical communities are a great way to expand your network and grow your career. If you’re not already a member of a local community, use this community map to find like-minded IT Pros in your area. These communities are also a great opportunity to get more out of the technical learning activities that you’re already doing (like attending a Jump Start or forming a certification study group).

Tech Companion App

For those situations where there’s simply no time to consume an entire MVA course or download evaluation software, we created the Tech Companion App – a cross-platform mobile application that puts the entire ecosystem of Microsoft technical information at your fingertips.

This app will help you troubleshoot those urgent business needs that require immediate responses by allowing you to access technical information on the TechNet library or research the latest product news and specifications. You can also create custom content feeds and bookmarks, or find events for IT Pros in your area.

I am really proud of what our industry has accomplished this past year, and for all the great partnership we’ve built upon with IT Pros all over the world. Looking ahead, I am excited to see this partnership grow in 2014, and I can promise that we will continue to make the best IT products on the market – giving you the tools and resources necessary to grow your business and advance your career.