You know you're at a real nerdfest when the conference catering consists of large pretzels and candybars. This tweet by some unknown delegate just about captures my own impression of TEC 2011. Measured in terms of techies per square feet, this simply has to be the geekiest conference in the galaxy.

For me as an Identity guy, it was also a kind of homecoming, a reassurance that, yes, there are lots and lots of people out there that share our vision of a world where digital identities will better protect and enable us both in our business and our private lives.

There has been some loose talk lately about the "death of identity", or at least of the identity industry as some companies appear to shift their focus and others fall victim to the accelerating trend towards consolidation.

Maybe that was why it was so good to see Steve Dickson of Quest stand in front of 600 delegates and proclaim that his company intends to massively increase their investment in Identity & Acess Management over the next few years; not out of loyalty to any cause but because they think there's gold in them thar hills. Maybe the heady days of the Identity Goldrush really are over, but remember: The real profits weren't made by the panhandlers of the early days, but by professional companies who moved in later with modern mining equipment and professional management.

TEC is an oddity among conferences because there are two sponsors who, at least at times, compete with each other. Gil Kirkpatrick, a nerd's nerd if there ever was one, takes time off from his day job at Quest to organize and host the event, but some top Quest people not only seem to think that this is not a Quest event, but will even tell you so. And Microsoft, who sent a battalion of some 60 employees to Las Vegas, are not traditionally in the business of putting on conferences, no matter how geeky they are.

TEC has existed in this limbo for ten years now, and the word is that it just about breaks even, but it is apparent to anyone who has ever put on a conference of their own like KuppingerCole with EIC that there is lots of room for improvement and great opportunities being missed to turn this into a real profitmaker.

What makes TEC so interesting is its breadth. Active Directory and the IAM processes surrounding it still takes center stage, but this year the buzz was all about AD's place in the Cloud. Other tracks were concerned with more mundane things like migration strategies and tools (especially away from Novell and Lotus Notes; would the last one please turn out the lights?), as well as the care and handling of Exchange and Sharepoint environments.

But the main focus remains on Digital Identity. I especially enjoyed Dave Jones' talk about "Real Life: Federated Identity in the Cloud", and I could kick myself for having to miss my esteemed colleague Eve Maler of Forrester who talked about "OpenID and OAuth Through the Looking Glass" (Lewis Carrol, anyone?).

But the most important session was the opener by Uday Hedge and Mark Wahl about the future of Microsoft's Directory and Identity technologies. Redmond is being closely watched indeed for signs of identity fatigue, as strategic concerns shift to Azure and Cloud Computing. And with Microsoft's resident Identity Guru Kim Cameron set to retire, many are curious who, if anyone, will take up the torch.

Maybe Stuart Kwan? Microsoft's Group Program Manager for Cloud Computing was very busy pulling strings behind the scenes at TEC and explaining to dumb analysts like me why Active Directory is so central. "For the Cloud to fly you need to give the user a seamless experience", he told me: Users should neither know nor care if they are currently using a resource that is hosted on-premise or in the Cloud.

At TEC, Microsoft officially announced their Cloud-based productivity suite, Offfice 365, along with Azure Access Control Service, which uses the new AD Federation Service to remove the need to duplicate identity provisioning for every Cloud application. So identity at Microsoft sure isn't going away - it's literally just taking off and heading for the Cloud.

Perhaps the most important takeway of all was Microsoft's realization that Cloud Computing and traditional on-prem computing will in all probability continue to co-exist for a long, long time. "People will adopt the Cloud at their own pace", Stuart said, and he thinks it will be Microsoft's job to make it easier for enterprizes to live in what he terms a "hybrid world". And he ain't talking Priuses here, either.

Seems we all will be moving back and forth through Eve Maler's looking glass for the foreseeable future.

Sated with pretzels and Mars Bars, I make my way home from TEC 2011 with a head full of new insights, not the least about the true nature of techies. Feed 'em right, it seems, and they can be great guys to hang out with. See you guys next year!