Real Data for IT Pros and Developers

New Visual Studio 2010 testing tools improve applications and business productivity

As IT organizations look at ways to support their businesses with fewer resources—a trend that will likely continue even as the economy improves—one corner that could benefit from a bright light is the interaction between the developers who are building applications and the administrators who commandeer the production environment. With the release of Visual Studio 2010, which won the Best Microsoft Product award in our Best of TechEd program, Microsoft introduces tools that help sync the IT department and the developers in a way that helps businesses run more efficiently.

During our series of video interviews from the TechEd show floor in New Orleans, I spoke with Richard Campbell, a consultant who co-produces .NET Rocks, a Web-based audio talk show for .NET developers, and Run As Radio, a show for IT professionals. Campbell—who often straddles the developer and IT worlds in his consulting business—pointed out some little-known features of the Visual Studio 2010 release that further break down the barriers between the IT and dev worlds. “I work as a consultant with a lot of teams where you do have a good relationship between IT and dev, where the way the app runs in the production environment is as important to the developers as it is to the IT folks,” Campbell said. “They have a good discipline, and a good feedback mechanism. But the next phase past this discipline is tooling, and with Visual Studio 2010, we’re starting to get good tooling. Some of the new tools in Visual Studio 2010 really speak heavily to how developers can communicate more effectively with IT pros so that they have that common language.”

Campbell called IntelliTrace, available in Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, one of the most important new debugging tools because it provides developers and IT departments hard data rather than speculation about an application’s use and points of failure. The tool reduces time spent in trying to reproduce errors. “IntelliTrace gives you the ability to capture the machine at the moment of failure,” Campbell said. “The operators of the app—the production guys—can get a clean record of how the app fails so developers can see it. On the test side of things, it’s much easier to communicate back and forth and see those kinds of failures.”

Getting this level of detail about the application is a big business win because IT and developer teams can identify and solve problems much more quickly. Campbell stressed the importance of being able to see where real performance issues lie and which applications’ features are being used. Developers sometimes struggle to determine which features they should address. Application data can help developers connect with the IT department’s view of an app’s performance. “The production environment is where the rubber meets the road, so that’s a process of getting the truth back,” Campbell said.

Another tool that helps IT departments and developers get better application data is Runtime Intelligence, a profiling tool produced by PreEmptive Solutions that’s available in every version of Visual Studio 2010. “Runtime Intelligence provides the ability to instrument the assemblies at a fairly low level and then feed that data back into a web service,” Campbell said. “And you can do that without actually recompiling the app. So from an IT perspective, this is detailed instrumentation of how the app is running, where the errors occurred in production, and also what parts are being used. So this gives the ability for a deeper view into the app—not just a focus group but a day-in, day-out view of how the staff is using the application.”

Typically, this level of detailed application data was available only in a test lab, but Runtime Intelligence can run in the production department full time, providing steady feedback that helps IT departments and developers make decisions about resource allocation based on quantitative data rather than conjecture. Campbell encourages every IT pro to become familiar with all the built-in testing features that Visual Studio 2010 provides to understand how applications could perform better in the production environment. Campbell said that by offering these testing tools, “Microsoft has poured a lot of energy into making every failure reproducible, so we capture the image of the machine so we know exactly the state it was in.”

My TechEd talk with Campbell was one of many conversations we captured on film from our booth. If you couldn’t make it to New Orleans, you can relive the best of the tech talk (if not the humidity, the jazz, and the beignets) at our Taste of TechEd virtual trade show on August 25 ( We’ll kick off the show with a technology overview from Michael Otey and Paul Thurrott and follow with more interviews with IT and developer experts, official TechEd session footage, and demo booths where you can put new solutions through their paces.

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