The second day at the revamped, relaunched, recherished Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) commenced with quick wrap-up of day 1 from Michael Atalla (a man who books a theme park and then fills it to 5% capacity must be respected) followed by a Geek Talk with Perry Clarke, hosted by Ann Vu, of Microsoft product management. Perry, the Director of Software Development for Exchange, and Ann are a well-known double act featuring in the “Geek Out With Perry” blog/video series.
I liked the concept of the idea of Perry answering questions sent in beforehand very much as I think that a well-managed cut-and-thrust debate between experienced interviewers and interviewees can be compelling. However, despite the depth and quality of some of the discussion, I was disappointed by the overall impact here. Ann is a great lady who does a fine job with the video blog, but the format used for short online debates isn’t so good when scaled up to a massive stage in front of over a thousand people. I would have preferred to see fewer soft questions thrown to Perry and more insightful and inquisitive debate as (like all of us), Perry had a tendency to wax lyrical about some topics (like SSDs for Exchange) that really could have been dealt with in a few words (they’re not important right now, period). A better conversation over 75 minutes could have been created had Perry been asked some harder questions, but I guess it wasn’t really intended to be at the standard of a presidential debate.
Nevertheless, Microsoft should be applauded for doing something different and for allowing Perry to share his undoubted knowledge and expertise in a way that he’s obviously very comfortable. Having a massive electronic whiteboard certainly helped too – a device that weighs some 700 pounds, so it isn’t appropriate for every office. The whiteboard almost made me want to use OneNote, and that has never happened before as Word has always satisfied my requirements.
Paul Robichaux suggested that the audience should get to vote on the questions so that Perry could answer them in order of importance. I like this idea very too, but I think that its success is linked to a good quality of questions sent in by MEC attendees. The best of this year’s batch came from MVP Jeff Guillet who asked Perry what area of technology Exchange administrators had to become proficient in to master Exchange 2013. Jeff laid out the various areas from previous versions and Perry responded. I’ve tried to capture their contributions with an observation of my own (the “influence” column) below:
|Version||Area of technology||Influence||Design for mailbox size|
|Exchange 2000/2003||SAN and clusters||Growth in users||100MB|
|Exchange 2007||PKI and namespaces||Growth in devices and methods of access||500MB|
|Exchange 2010||Load balancing (CAS/ISA)||Bring your own device||5GB|
|Exchange 2013||Compliance, discovery, data mining||Tighter integration with SharePoint and Lync||100GB|
Many interesting and worthwhile points were raised that deserve more attention in dedicated articles and I’ll return to these over time. For now, it’s sufficient to say that I hope that Perry comes back to future MEC events to debate again. It’s always interesting to listen to someone who observed that the most fundamental thing that he’s learned in his career at Microsoft is that “everything breaks” and that when you scale up “you see everything breaking at once”, which seems to be a pretty accurate encapsulation of Microsoft’s experience of making Exchange a successful cloud-capable platform over the last few years. This is an example of an interesting opportunity to probe further and ask “just what broke so badly and why” rather than simply accepting that stuff broke with no further explanation.
So much else happened at MEC that it would take several articles to do justice to what’s been going on in Orlando. For now, here are the highlights and some lowlights from day 2:
Many of the interactive sessions were packed out and people had to sit on the floor to attend (up to the capacity limit of the rooms). I think some better scheduling and use of larger rooms for sessions that you could almost predict would be popular is essential in future events, else attendees will end up with numb buttocks, a condition that I suffered after sitting through one session. For example, Greg Taylor’s sessions will always be packed because he comes out with some amazing stuff, not all of which is linked with technology (his views on the cancellation of TMG were appreciated). Sessions on DAGs and high availability are likewise always popular.
It’s a matter of coping with success from this point and it is important to provide an adequate size of room so that people feel comfortable and not squashed during sessions. Perhaps the conference center here is limited in terms of available rooms and the problem wouldn’t occur in other places. As a counter, it’s possible that the tactic of scheduling repeat sessions will enable everyone to get to the sessions that they want to attend. But whatever the reason, I think scheduling and room sizes could have been handled better here. Feel free to disagree if you had a different experience, such as pointing out that if I had arrived earlier for the sessions, I’d have had no difficulty getting in!
The whiteboard sessions in the exhibit hall seemed to be well populated today any time I wandered by. Lots of furrowed brows and deep thinking. Far too technical for me!
Some sessions seem to have been cancelled without great warning. Anecdotal evidence is that the majority of these were linked to Office 365, so it’s possible that a presenter had to cry off due to illness or other good reason. Nevertheless, I was surprised that Microsoft didn’t have a substitute to take up the slack of the cancelled sessions.
No conference in living memory has delivered great food at lunch time. And so it came to pass that the quality achieved yesterday (very acceptable in this reviewer’s eyes, or rather belly) was let down today. The conference center has done well so far. Let’s hope better food is available tomorrow.
I didn’t give Microsoft sufficient credit about the t-shirts they distributed to attendees. A range of different shirts were given out, some that even had witty slogans and will appear at MECs over the next ten years or whenever the shirts finally give out. On another fashion note, some declined to wear the luminous t-shirts assigned to various groups on the basis that they made the wearer look like a radioactive highlighter. Another fashion fiasco avoided!
The Exchange Arena was located in a bar featuring a wall of TVs. This proved to be highly entertaining for the audience (note to organizers: let’s have larger text on the screens to help vision-challenged people like me) as well as providing an opportunity for people to win an Emperor Scorpion chair (the chair that the competitors are sitting in the photo above), which I understand to be highly desirable to those who shop for a chair in which to game themselves into oblivion. The challenges (in the case of the first challenge, to figure out why Exchange wasn’t sending a manager’s email) set to the competitors apparently come from the Exchange MCM exam so they’re pretty tough and definitely not the kind of thing you’d solve in a heartbeat. Congratulations to Bryan Cornette and Martina Miskovic, who won today’s heats and progress into the final. Also kudos to MC Nicolas Blank, who cut a rather compelling figure in the middle. Of course, the contestants were handicapped by having to follow his directions in a broad South African accent, but that’s all part of the competition!
I ran a session titled “Making the Call: On-Premises or Cloud” in the graveyard shift late on in the day. Despite being the last session of the day, I was impressed by the attention that the attendees paid to what I was saying. They are clearly more proficient at maintaining focus than I’d be in their position. If you’re interested in this topic, I repeat it on Wednesday at 2:45pm in the Tallahassee 2 room. See you there. Or maybe not if another session seizes your attention.
Overall, the level of passion, engagement, and energy that I’ve experienced at MEC is different to any other technical conference I’ve attended in the last ten years. That can’t be bad and it’s certainly a good reason to anticipate future events. Let’s hope that day 3 lives up to the success of days 1 and 2.
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