I’m home from the Fall 2011 Exchange Connections conference and have successfully transitioned from the Las Vegas sunshine to the drab wonders of an Irish winter. I’m wondering whether I will be able to readjust back to both the weather and the change from the wonderful suite that I occupied for five nights in THEhotel where I lucked out and was given a room on the 62nd floor. In fact it really wasn’t a 62nd floor as you might think because floors 39 through 59 don’t exist. The wiki article on THEhotel states that the penthouses (suites) range in size from 1,500 to 2,500 square feet. I’m quite prepared to believe this as the suite was bigger than many apartments that I have seen. And the best thing about it was the incredible view over the Las Vegas strip.
The good news is that the professional rugby season is about to hit high gear as the Heineken Cup starts. This weekend I am in Belfast for the Ulster v. Connacht Rabodirect league match. Next weekend the travel starts and I’ll be in Paris on Friday night for Racing 92 v. Cardiff before taking the TGV to Toulouse for the Toulouse v. Gloucester game on Sunday afternoon. Should be a good weekend of high-class rugby!
Getting back to Connections, my personal highlight was the chance to give a keynote on Wednesday morning. A good crowd of around 400 cast off the effects of yet another night in Las Vegas and struggled in for an 8am start to hear my session on “Why Microsoft’s head is in the clouds and what it means to you”. You can download the PDF for the session here: Exchange Connections Keynote
I was also impressed by Jeffrey Snover’s keynote. Jeffrey is best known as the father of PowerShell and now he is the Chief Architect for Windows Server. He and I both worked at Digital Equipment Corporation in the past and I also had the honor and privilege of working with his wife Jo-Ann on products as varied as DECwrite, Electronic Business Documents, and TeamLinks. She was a great programmer then and I’m sure she is a great photographer now as that’s what her passion is today.
Jeffrey’s views on how Windows server technology will evolve as cloud economics take effect on datacenters and the resulting follow-through for administrators were thought-provoking. Essentially, the transition of workload from on-premises servers to the cloud will force administrators to upskill or lose their jobs. “Managing with a mouse… is a strategy for failure” was one of the more noteworthy comments he made, meaning that if you persist in attempting to manage servers one click at a time, you’ll be rapidly bypassed by the need to automate operations to deal with tens or hundreds of servers at one time. “Automation is the heart of cloud” and “Automation is central to Windows 8 Server”. Indeed – I think we get the message!
Standardization and automation were the two pillars of his mantra and PowerShell is core to the ability to achieve these aims. Jeffrey noted that Windows 8 Server will include over 2,330 cmdlets to allow for management of just about anything on a server and that PowerShell has spread across many Microsoft and non-Microsoft products so that it is possible to build automation in a way that just wasn’t possible before.
The week before Connections, I took the risk of publishing a blog post about “Eliminating PowerPoint sins“. It was a risk because I clearly had to deliver a session that didn’t replicate the problems that I described – too much text on slides, too many slides, slides that the presenter didn’t know well, lack of practice, and so on. You can download the session from the link above and make your own judgment as to how well I did on the format of the slides! In passing, I note that Kevin Allison’s slides were highly colorful (Metro like), few in number, and a low word count, which was quite unusual for a keynote session delivered by a Microsoft executive. Greg “four times” Taylor poked fun at me by including a perfectly blank slide during his session on Exchange 2010 SP2. Regretfully, the remainder of his slides were not up to the same standard.
Other sessions persisted in the same old mistakes. Color choice for text and graphics seemed to be more important for this event. Perhaps it was the projection system in use in the various rooms or the slide template used by Connections but I found some slides very difficult to read when projected on-screen. This was especially so when presenters committed the cardinal error of applying the Connections template to an existing presentation and not checking the result until the slides were projected. If you take a deck created with a template that uses light backgrounds and apply one that is based on browns and yellows, you absolutely need to go through each slide to check the resulting color selections for text, graphics, and objects. It seemed that quite a few presenters forgot and so inflicted eye pain on their audiences.
At a conference like Connections, it’s impossible to get around to every session, even within the limited scope of “just Exchange”. Overall, I thought that the sessions that I attended were of high quality and delivered real value to attendees. Microsoft provided a good set of speakers, both from the engineering group and the field, and I especially liked Tim McMichael’s sessions on the Database Availability Group.
It was good to see so many MVPs at Connections and to hear them share their knowledge of practical hands-on deployments with the attendees. These sessions provide a counterbalance to the product and engineering descriptions delivered by Microsoft so that people gain a complete understanding of technology from multiple perspectives. For example, Michael B. Smith made an eloquent case for why no one would ever buy an Office 365 P1 subscription and should buy E1 instead, the logic being that getting telephone support is worth the extra $4/month (in the U.S.) alone. I’ll keep my P1 subscription for now but I certainly can see the value in the case that Michael makes.
Some speakers suffered from glitches such as the microphone snafu that meant that Mike Crowley broadcast his session on Office 365 Administration to another room. Fortunately Mike has a strong and clear voice and was able to dispense with the microphone when the problem was pointed out! Some network glitches also meant that online demos were a risk and proved once again that presenters are always best to avoid demos altogether or have control over local resources if at all possible.
Finally, thanks must go to Lee Mackey, co-chair of the Exchange Connections conference and remarkable individual. Lee lives in Vegas and was kind enough to take care of an MVP group over dinner at N9NE in The Palms (my review isn’t published yet, but suffice to say that it’s not as good as others have been) on Wednesday night. Setting everything up and making sure that people are taken care of wasn’t unusual as Lee makes sure that everyone is happy any time people he knows are in town. Thanks Lee!