Behind the scenes I have been critical of the folks organizing MEC as I consider them to have been too slow to publish the agenda listing speakers and session content for a conference that’s coming up very soon (49 days, according to the counter on the MEC web site). The problem here is that it’s difficult for potential attendees to gauge the value of the conference and to convince the powers-that-be that it’s worthwhile splashing out for travel, hotel, and other expenses to attend MEC if a solid agenda is unavailable. How else can you estimate the value of attendance? Sure, Microsoft has been pretty clear that MEC “the lost conference” is the coming out party for Exchange 2013 and that they’ll deliver lots of Exchange 2013 content in Orlando, but that’s not the same as seeing a fully fleshed-out agenda. And although Exchange 2013 is burning up many blogs at present, it’s also true that a large percentage of the people who might attend MEC are really more concerned about how best to deal with Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010. Or, heresy of heresy, Exchange 2003… So what are we to make of the MEC agenda published today? Here’s my 10,000 foot view:
- Monday, September 24 starts with a keynote right out of the Microsoft playbook when Rajesh Jha, the overall chief for Exchange, talks about topics like “innovative end-user productivity improvements.” I read this to mean that you should expect a tightly-organized and scripted talk that communicates the marketing messages but little else of real interest. Of course, keynotes are often social events – an opportunity to drop by and see who else is attending the conference – but the real action will start afterwards.
- The opening keynote is followed by the “technical keynote”, promising to provide “an understanding of the new Exchange Server 2013 architecture.” No speaker name is assigned to this important and what-should-be-interesting talk, which I anticipate will be given by someone like Kevin Allison. The promise is that following the talk, we should be able to “contextualize new theory and content”, possibly because of the mind-altering drugs that will be freely available at the back of the room (aka Microsoft Kool-Aid).
- For the rest of Monday, you’re offered the chance to select three sessions from eight offered on a menu spanning the major components of Exchange 2013. At this point, I’d be leaning towards sessions such as “High Availability and Business Continuity”, “Apps for Outlook and OWA” (lots to learn here about the new extensibility model), and “Deployment and co-existence with Exchange 2010”. Of course, I’ll make a final choice on site when I know the speakers that have been assigned to the sessions. There’s no real point in wasting time at a conference going to a session given by a weak speaker who can’t communicate.
- Interestingly, Microsoft has taken the time to indicate follow-up classroom sessions for each of the formal sessions on Monday. This allows you to learn something about a topic and then dive into it further at a follow-up sessions more akin to a classroom lesson. I think this is a good approach as formal conference sessions often create more questions than they answer, especially when new technology is covered, and the classroom sessions provide a way to answer those questions after you’ve had some time to think them through.
- Tuesday and Wednesday are called “Nothing but Exchange”, meaning that no sessions will be presented about other Microsoft technology or by third-parties who want to explain how their products add value to the Exchange ecosystem. A range of sessions is on offer to fill out detail about the headline Exchange 2013 topics introduced on Monday. I believe that these sessions will all be given by Microsoft personnel from both the engineering group and other teams that work with Exchange, but it’s hard to say exactly without names being assigned to the sessions. Interesting sessions here include “Public folder migration”, “Exchange 2013 sizing”, and “eDiscovery across Exchange 2013, SharePoint, and Lync”. I’m sure that many people will bring details of their public folder infrastructures to see how they can approach the migration to “modern public folders” and it will be interesting to listen to the Q&A at this session. The session on how Outlook 2013 and Exchange 2013 work together might also be valuable for those considering how to justify an early desktop upgrade to Office 2013.
- Some non-Microsoft speakers are allowed to talk about Exchange 2010 and Office 365, and it’s here that we find ten sessions given by eight Exchange MVPs (about 7.5% of the worldwide total of Exchange MVPs), including my session on “Making the call: on-premises or cloud?”, which will clearly be a highlight of the conference (once I get around to creating some slides).
- No details have yet been released about the evening activities. I imagine that Microsoft will try and make these quite exciting and unique to mark MEC out as a different kind of conference.
Any conference is as valuable as you make it. Some approach a conference like a military exercise and have a carefully-structured plan of everything that they want to do. Others take it more casually and attend sessions as the mood takes them on the day. Whatever your personal approach to conferences, there’s enough potentially interesting sessions on the MEC agenda to justify the attendance of anyone who is responsible for the design or maintenance of medium to large-scale deployments of on-premises or hybrid Exchange. (If you’re running a small one- or two-server deployment, it’s harder to make the case as you should really be considering Office 365 at this point.)
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good content at technology conferences in a world when engineering groups are now so fast at sharing information about new technology and independent blogs take up the remaining slack by providing additional insight and commentary. As a product that has just barely made it to a preview edition and is not expected to formally ship to customers until late this year, Exchange 2013 is still very new and that’s the major reason why MEC works in 2012. Next year, when Exchange 2013 has been out in the wild, it’ll be more challenging to build a compelling agenda as the focus changes from describing new stuff to exploring how that stuff really works in production. Microsoft has made a big thing about bringing back MEC after ten years. The old MEC had many flaws but it also had a great sense of community based on shared knowledge. The new MEC has a shot at delivering the same value, assuming that the speakers deliver in Orlando next month. With that in mind, I better go and start composing some slides!
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