The redoubtable Mr. Robichaux, showing a mastery of technology that marks him as a very special person, has created a Facebook page for our Exchange 2010 Maestro training events that we are planning for San Diego (May), London (UK – June), and Greenwich, CT (October). Not only does this demonstrate the essential “coolness” of these events, it provides a useful conduit for communication about what we hope are interesting pieces of information relating to the training.
Communication was clearly a problem for us and our marketing/organization partner (Penton Media) last time out. For example, we tried to tell attendees about the kind of PC that they would need to run the virtualized Active Directory and Exchange 2010 servers that we use. We thought that we were special (laptop running a 64-bit version of Windows 7 equipped with 8GB of memory) but it turns out that we left out all manner of important detail such as the importance of having a BIOS that supports virtualization (and turning it on – or knowing how to turn it on) and the goodness of downloading at least the evaluation edition of VMware workstation 7.0 (or later) and installing the software well before the event to become accustomed with the process of dealing with virtualized machines.
The result of our ineptitude was seen in many ways. People turned up without a laptop (one guy brought a desktop PC, which was fine, another hired a PC from the hotel, which wasn’t as an old ThinkPad was just not going to even consider running VMware); or they had only just bought a suitable laptop in preparation for the event and hadn’t quite found their way around it; or they had no idea about how to get hold of VMware workstation and how to install it. The upshot was that we spent far too much time passing USB sticks around to allow people to install VMware when we should have been diving into the labs.
I don’t think that we communicated the intent of the labs either. People came along and seemed to expect the kind of “click, click, click, and have a nice day” labs that you often experience at training events when attendees follow step-by-step instructions in lab manuals to guide themselves through some aspect of a solution. Valuable as this kind of training is in its own context, it’s definitely not what we wanted to deliver. The idea behind providing VMware servers was that students could learn at their own pace. They could run the labs at the event if that pleased them and made sense or they could take the servers away and run them elsewhere, including taking the entire environment home where it could be used as the basis for servers to test their deployment of Exchange 2010. We didn’t communicate how we thought about the labs so some students were sadly under-impressed at the lack of tender loving care that they received from us.
We also hit a rock in terms of the slowness of the USB hard drives that we used to distribute the VMware machines. These were slow (5,400 rpm). Not slow enough as to stop you doing work – and anyone who has worked with several VMware servers running on a laptop knows that things seldom proceed at the speed of light – but frustrating if you expected better. We’re looking at how to improve this aspect by sourcing faster drives for the forthcoming events but even so I think some people will still be disappointed at the speed. The solution is to transfer everything to SSD but I doubt that attendees would be willing to pay the several hundred extra dollars that this solution entails.
So it comes back to communication, communication, and more communication allied to a refreshed lab guide and faster drives. The Facebook page is just the start of our communication efforts. Feel free to visit the page to share your views with us and provide feedback on all aspects of the events. And take the time to read about the hard work that Paul is doing to improve course content… Me, I’m just tweaking and refining PowerPoint decks to keep pace with all the changes and new knowledge that appears about Exchange 2010 to make sure that we deliver material that’s as up-to-date as we can make it when we deliver.