It’s not a revival of my career as a traveling talking head, but it sure feels a bit like old days. I’m on United 875 from Seattle to Tokyo/Narita right now, somewhere above the North Pacific. A few hours more to go and then I’ll be connecting to Singapore and I’m guessing that I’ll be at my hotel sometime between 1am and 2am on Monday morning.

I’ll spend two days in Singapore as part of a Windows Azure ISV workshop series that has been organized by our field colleagues in the APAC region; the first day I’ll be presenting the all-up Windows Azure Platform –Compute, Storage, Management and Diagnostics, Database, Service Bus, Access Control, and the additional capabilities we’ll be adding over the next several months. On day two, I’ll be meeting for 1:1s with a range of customers about their plans to move applications to the cloud. That pattern will repeat over the next two weeks in Kuala Lumpur/Malaysia (this Thu/Fri), in Manila/Philippines (next Mon/Tue), and in Seoul/South Korea (next Wed/Thu). From Seoul onwards, some of my colleagues will take over and go to Sydney and Auckland, while I’m flying further westwards to Europe to speak at the NT Konferenca in Slovenia before returning to Seattle after a short stopover in Germany to see the folks.

Once I’m back in Seattle I’ve got 5 days at the office to debrief and prep for TechEd North America and then it’s off to New Orleans for the week and then, after a weekend stopover in Seattle, I’m off to the NDC 2010 conference in Oslo/Norway. It’s definitely the most flying I’ve done since I work for Microsoft.

The 1:1 meeting opportunities at the workshops in Asia, at NT Konferenca, at TechEd, and at the NDC2010 is what this tour is all about for me. It’s about reaching out and feeling the pulse of the customer landscape. That is very, very different from back when I was a traveling talking head explaining the platform. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a lot of value in teaching back then. Conference and workshop attendees learned a lot and Microsoft got the word out.

Back in the day it was all about outbound communication; and you can probably tell by my blog having been practically dead over the last 2-3 years that that hasn’t been my focus anymore. But what about the other way? You’d think that Microsoft is overwhelmed with incoming data and swims in requirements and scenarios and customer input. That’s right, we are. As a company. The problem for us in the product teams is that we’re getting much of that data in a very indirect and filtered form, which is simply because we are a very big and global company. Another problem (or danger) is to be tricked into believing that the entire truth can be found online and via feedback mechanisms like forums or even Facebook and Twitter. None of that replaces an hour of high-bandwidth, eye-to-eye conversation with someone whose business is not primarily (or not at all) about software, but for whom software is a mere necessity to get their products and services to their customers. It’s my firm belief that you have to get into a plane sometimes and go where the customers are. Luckily, my boss agrees. So here I am.

Some of the customers I’ll be talking to in 1:1s already have firm plans and want to talk architecture, some don’t know whether it’s a good decision for them and want to dig into details, some have made a decision for the cloud but went with another competing platform, and some don’t want or can’t move anything to our cloud yet, because that platform isn’t doing what they need. The latter two types of customers are the ones I’m most looking forward to meet.

The events in Asia are run in relatively small venue and my understanding is that my 1:1 days are booked out. I don’t think that’s true for the events in Slovenia, New Orleans, and in Oslo. If you plan on going and you are interested in spending an hour talking about what you’d like to see in Windows Azure and specifically in Windows Azure AppFabric then shoot me an email to clemensv at microsoft dot com in the next few days. And if you’re not going tell your friends who do ;-)

(Oh, and: United, did you buy your business class seats third-hand from TWA after they picked them up from PanAm?)