Every year in September, right after the summer holidays, there is an unofficial start of a new “work season”. For some this unofficial start moment comes a bit earlier, for others a bit later. Some even say their work season lasts the entire year… But that’s besides the point. The fall traditionally also heralds a myriad of tech conferences, each fighting for a moment in the spotlights. With Microsoft’s massive Ignite conference moving in from May, this year’s “conference season” promises to be exceptionally busy.
I’ve always liked going to conferences. Although content is important, having the opportunity to talk to peers and interact with the speakers (experts) is something I’ve learned to value more and more with each conference I attended in the past.
This year, I’m lined up to speak at a bunch of conferences again. If you have read some of my previous announcements, you’ll notice that I’m speaking at a pretty much the same conferences as before. Continue reading to find out why!
It’s been a while since I last wrote an article… Although there’s no excuses, I have been pretty busy lately…
First of all, I’ve been ‘heads down’ preparing version 2 of the “Office 365 for Exchange Professionals” ebook.
As Microsoft recently announced, there have been a LOT of updates and those need to be reflected in the book too!
New items include information on the new hybrid configuration wizard, modern authentication, Azure AD Connect and so much more… As Tony mentioned on his blog, we plan on releasing “v2” at IT/DEV Connections in September. If you are attending IT/DEV Connection, Tony, Paul and I will be there too. Make sure to come and talk to us. We’d love to hear your feedback on the book.
This brings me to the conference itself. This year, I am lucky enough to be speaking there again. IT/DEV Connections is without a doubt one of my favorite tech conferences. It runs at a smaller scale than e.g. Ignite, but there’s a TON of great sessions, all led by even greater speakers! The fact that you aren’t overrun by ten thousands of other attendees allows you to interact with all the speakers. If not during the sessions, there are plenty of opportunities at the evening events or in hallway! You still have time to register, so if you are looking to attend a conference this ‘season’, IT/DEV Connections is what I would recommend. As usual, the conference is held in Las Vegas from September 14 – 17, in the beautiful Aria hotel.
I have two sessions this year. One about Identity Management and Authentication in the online Microsoft world. Although I still have a lot of work to do for my sessions (making sure I provide you with the latest information!), I can share with you that I will also be talking about Windows Hello and Microsoft Passport. This session is on Thursday at 8:30 AM.
The second session is somewhat different from what you’ve usually see me present about. On Wednesday at 11AM, I will be speaking about automation. The idea is not to be giving a theoretical session about how e.g. PowerShell DSC is supposed to work or what PowerShell is; other people are probably better suited for that! It won’t be a level 400 coding session either. I’m no developer and I’m also not a PowerShell guru! It’s rather a hands-on, real-world approach about how you can use all sorts of tools (mainly PowerShell though, but also e.g. Orchestrator) to automate simple and more complex tasks. The idea for this session grew from visiting customers all over the world and seeing how they automated service tasks, onboarding etc… By the end of the session you should have picked up some ideas about what can be useful to you and how to best approach and build it!
Later in September, I will be joining another fantastic line-up of speakers at the UK UC Day in Birmingham. This is the first time this one-day conference is held, but the organisation did not spare any efforts. A lot of speakers from IT/DEV Connections will be there and it’s good to see some speakers join us from the US too! This time, I will be speaking about hybrid deployments in all its glory. Single-forest, Multi-Forest, AAD Connect and many other things will be discussed. A high-paced session, but definitely for you if you are in a hybrid deployment, you are looking to configure a hybrid connection or you’re a consultant that deals a lot with hybrid!
ENow will be represented at both conferences as well! In the UK we are joined by the team of Essentials. Make sure to stop at our booth and have a conversation! We look forward to another great conference and an even greater Scheduled Maintenance party!
2014 promises to be a busy year, just like 2013. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in Austin and soon I’ll be speaking at TechEd in Houston as well. Below are my recent and upcoming speaking engagements. If you’re attending any of these conferences, feel free to hit me up and have a chat!
Pro-Exchange, Brussels, BE
Just last week, Pro-Exchange held another in-person event at Xylos in Brussels. The topic of the night was “best of MEC” where I presented the full 2.5 hours about all and everything that was interesting at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in Austin.
TechEd North America – Houston, TX
This year, I’ve got the opportunity to speak at TechEd in Houston. I’ll be presenting my “Configure a hybrid Exchange deployment in (less than) 75 minutes”.
The session takes place on Monday May 12 from 4:45 – 6:00 PM
Given that Microsoft isn’t organizing any TechDays in Belgium, this year, the Belgian IT PRO community took matters in their own hands and created this free one-day event. It will take place on June 12th in Antwerp at ALM.
The conference consists of multiple tracks, amongst which also is “Office Server & Services” for which I will be presenting a session on “Exchange 2013 in the real world, from deployment to management”.
For more information, have a look at the official website here.
In this latest installment, Steve, John, Michel, Stale and myself talk about a myriad of things including some random thoughts on the Microsoft Exchange Conference, the recently disclosed Heartbleed vulnerability and latest improvements in the world of Hybrid Exchange deployments. Stale also started a new feature called “using Lync like a Lync PRO” in which he will reveal a very handy tip on how to better use Lync. Make sure you don’t miss it!
Don’t let the length of the show (almost 2 hours!) scare you, it’s filled with tons of great info!
Typically, this time of the year Microsoft would organize its TechDays: a multi-day technical conference with tracks for both IT Pro’s and developers. This year, however, there’s no TechDays. This leaves a gap in the Belgian “conference market”. To my knowledge, TechDays was attended by several hundred if not thousand attendees every year. Speakers from all over the place would come over and present on the latest and the greatest of Microsoft. But in general there would be a lot of local speakers involved too.
Recently the developers community announced their “Tech-o-rama” conference which would both serve as a replacement for the Community Days and somewhat fill the gap for TechDays. This is exactly what the IT PRO Community had in mind when launching the ITPROceed initiative.
ITPROCeed is a community-driven one-day conference, to be held in Antwerp on June 12th. Although not officially organized by Microsoft, the conference has certainly the potential to reach a wide audience as TechDays did. Here’s why:
As mentioned earlier, there won’t be (many) other opportunities to learn from the experts first hand in Belgium, this year. As such, it seems like the perfect opportunity to catch up: for free.
The conference itself is divided into 4 tracks: SQL, System Center, Azure and Office Servers & Services. More than enough to create a balanced schedule with, don’t you think? It’s not only a good way to learn about new technology and features, it’s also great to interact with all of the experts who will be present that day.
The speaker-lineup is phenomenal, in my opinion. A lot of Belgian MVPs will speaking at this event and many of them have spoken at various international conferences before. To give you just a few of these names: Mike Resseler, Alexandre Verkinderen, Johan Delimon, Dieter Vanhoye, Thomas Vochten, Ruben Nauwelaers, Pieter Vanhove, Nico Sienaert, Tim De Keukelaere, Donald Hessing and many, many more. Every single one of them are experts in their field.
So, if you haven’t subscribed yet, I strongly suggest you do so soon. It doesn’t happen every day that you get the ability to witness all this for free (in case you didn’t get it the first time). I for one, know what I will be doing that day…! http://www.itproceed.be/
As things wind down after a week full of excitement and – yes, in some cases – emotion, MEC 2014 is coming to an end. Lots of attendees have already left Austin and those who stayed behind are sharing a few last drinks before making their way back home as well. As good as MEC 2012 in Orlando was, MEC 2014 was E-P-I-C. Although some might state that the conference had missed its start – despite the great Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet giveaway – you cannot ignore the success of the rest of the week.
With over 100 unique sessions, MEC was packed with tons and tons of quality information. To see that amount of content being delivered by the industry’s top speakers is truly an unique experience. After all, at how many conferences is the PM or lead developer presenting the content on a specific topic? Also, Microsoft did a fairly good job of keeping a balance between the different types of sessions by having a mix of Microsoft-employees presenting sessions that reflected their view on things (“How things should work / How it’s designed to be”) and MVPs and Masters presenting a more practical approach (“How it really works”).
I also like the format of the “unplugged” sessions where you could interact with members of the Product Team to discuss a variety of topics. I believe that these sessions are not only very interesting (tons of great information), but they are also an excellent way for Microsoft to connect with the audience and receive immediate feedback on what is going out “out there”. For example, I’m sure that the need for some better guidance or maybe a GUI for Managed Availability is a message that was well conveyed and that Microsoft should use this feedback to maybe prioritize some of the efforts going into development. Whether that will happen, only time will tell..
This edition wasn’t only a success because of the content, but also because of the interactions. It was good to see some old friends and make many new ones. To me, conferences like this aren’t only about learning but also about connecting with other people and networking. There were tons of great talks – some of which have given me food for thought and blog posts.
Although none of them might seem earth-shattering, MEC had a few announcements and key messages; some of which I’m very happy to see:
Multi-Factor Authentication and SSO are coming to Outlook before the end of the year. On-premises deployments can expect support for it next calendar year.
Exchange Sizing Guidance has been updated to reflect some of the new features in Exchange 2013 SP1:
The recommended page file size is now 32778 MB if your Exchange server has more than 32GB of memory. It should still be a fixed size and not managed by the OS.
CAS CPU requirements have increased with 50% to accommodate for MAPI/HTTP. It’s still lower than Exchange 2010
If you didn’t know it before, you will now: NFS is not supported for hosting Exchange data.
The recommended Exchange deployment uses 4 database copies, 3 regular 1 lagged. FSW preferably in a 3rd datacenter.
Increased emphasis on using a lagged copy.
OWA app for Android is coming
OWA in Office 365 will get a few new features including Clutter, People-view and Groups. No word if and when this will be made available for on-premises customers.
By now, it’s clear that Microsoft’s development cycle is based on a cloud-first model which – depending on what your take on things is – makes a lot of sense. This topic was also discussed during the Live recording of The UC Architects, I recommend you have a listen at it (as soon as it’s available) to hear how The UC Architects, Microsoft and the audience feels about this. Great stuff!
It’s also interesting to see some trends developing/happening. “Enterprise Social” is probably one of the biggest trends at the moment. With Office Graph being recently announced, I am curious to see how Exchange will evolve to embrace the so-called “Social Enterprise”. Features like Clutter, People View and Groups are already good examples of this.
Of course, MEC wasn’t all about work. There’s also time for fun. Lots of it. The format of the attendee party was a little atypical for a conference. Usually all attendees gather at a fairly large location. This time, however, the crowd was shattered across several bars in Rainey Street which Microsoft had rented off. Although I was a little skeptical at first, it rather worked really well and had tons of fun.
Then there was the UC Architects party which ENow graciously offered to host for us. The Speakeasy rooftop was really amazing and the turnout even more so. The party was a real success and I’m pretty confident there will be more in the future!
I’m sure that in the course of the next few weeks, more information will become available through the various blogs and websites as MVPs, Masters and other enthusiasts have digested the vast amount of information distributed at MEC.
I look forward to returning home, get some rest and start over again!
Au revoir, Microsoft Exchange Conference. I hope to see you soon!
You might probably wonder why I’m writing this article; why on Earth would I try to convince you to attend this conference? Well, first let me start by telling you that it’s NOT because I’m one of the speakers ~ though if that were a reason to attend, I would be flattered if that would be the reason. Anyway, back to reality now…
I consider myself a frequent conference attendee. As such I’ve attended multiple conferences over the past few years. Despite what you might think, I did not attend TechEd Europe or North America. Although they’re definitely on my “to-do” list, I usually prefer smaller scale conferences like the recently demised “The Experts Conference”.
So what is it that makes me want to promote this conference above the many others that exist out there?
Just like you, if I spend my money on a conference, I’m looking to get the most value out of it. This means that I need to get valuable content and I need to be able to socialize with like-minded peers. I prefer having an international crowd – that way you get a more diverse view on things. After all, how things are handled in the US can be very different from how certain IT related problems are dealt with in e.g. Europe; if at all the same business problems exist.
How do you know if content will be good? Actually, you don’t really know until you’ve attended. However, there are some benchmarks which can help you identify if content is likely to be good. And I can assure you, the signs for IT Connections are good. Heck, they’re even great! First, let’s have a look at some of the speakers who will speak at the conference:
Mary Jo Foley, Steve Goodman, Martina Grom, Adnan Hendircks, Dan Holme, Tim McMichael, Jeff Mealiffe, Mike Pfeiffer, Tony Redmond, Paul Robichaux, John Rodriguez, Mark Russinovich, Loryan Strant, Greg Taylor, Rod Trent, Jaap Wesselius and many, many more.
Anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock and will easily recognize most of these names. Every single one of them are reputable and well respected individuals that – in some way – have put their mark on the Technical Communities. Some of these speakers are MVPs, others are well-published authors, Certified Masters or Microsoft Employees. Each of these accreditations mean something. So, the likeliness to hear some crap come out of their mouths is very small. Additionally, you should know that all sessions in the Exchange track are subject to Tony Redmond’s scrutiny. I’ve spoken at several events and I have never had so much valuable input back as from Tony. He’s really working hard to ensure the quality, and by the looks of it you won’t be disappointed.
You might think that this is no different from, let’s say TechEd. Maybe that’s true. However, Microsoft conferences are usually about “how things are designed to work” whereas conferences like these will give you more information on “how things actually work [in the real world]”. Both might seem the same, but there’s a subtle, yet significant nuance between both. It’s just that ‘small’ difference that YOU – as an IT Pro – is looking for. That’s why conferences like these have a chance to stand up against the much larger ones, like Microsoft organizes.
Anyway, enough eulogizing the speakers; I wouldn’t want them to become complacent over it… 🙂
A second point which allows you to benchmark a conference are the sessions. A good speaker is one thing, but if he/she talks about a topic which does not interest you, it’s likely not going to bring you much value. And that’s exactly another point where this conference stands out from amongst other conferences. I mean, just have a look at that session list (for Exchange)!
I highly doubt that – in this very diverse list of sessions – there’s nothing that interests you…
Then there’s the aspect of “socializing”. There’s actually nothing much I can say more than: “It’s in VEGAS, baby”! Although I have never been to Vegas before myself, I can hardly imagine there will be a lack of socializing-opportunities. Some of them are organized by the conference, but ultimately it’s up to YOU to socialize with peers. And believe me the best conversations I ever had were at dinner or while having a beer or two (or three, or four, or…). The fact that you don’t have to mingle amongst several thousands of other people is just an additional bonus as you’ll be much more easily able to connect with speakers and other attendees.
Finally, there’s the aspect of cost. Although there’s less impact for people living in the US, it’s usually more of a problem when you’re travelling from Europe.
So, let’s have a look at what this conference might cost you:
Airfare (Brussels – Las Vegas)
+/- 800 EUR (just checked via SkyScanner.net)
Conference (Basic Registration)
+/- 1.130 EUR
Hotel (6 nights)
+/- 900 EUR
+/- 2.830 EUR
Considering that a full week of training on Microsoft Exchange (Advanced Solutions of Microsoft Exchange Server 2013) will cost you about 2700 EUR EUR (incl. VAT), this conference is a bargain! You’ll find much more value from these sessions and the experience than you’ll have from a week’s training.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against training. But given the difference between both, the conference is where I’d put my money in.
Note Because both the conference and the training would take up 5 billable days, I didn’t include them in this comparison as it wouldn’t contribute to the case anyhow.
The UC Architects
I admit, this part is a shameless plug. Nonetheless, if you’re still not convinced after all I wrote, maybe here’s something to think about. Next to some other extra activities and panel discussions that will take place at the conference, The UC Architects will have a live panel discussion (which will be recorded) with some very interesting guests! And you can attend! We are currently working very hard to make something very special out of it; so make sure to keep an eye out for more information. Whatever you do: don’t miss it!
What follows is an overview of my experiences with the MCSM: Messaging certification. I’ll walk you through my proces from signing up to preparing myself for the training and finally attending. If you are thinking of enrolling for the program, you might enjoy (or not, depending on how you look at it) reading this blog post. Don’t expect me to reveal questions from the exams or other type of content though. Not only would that violate my NDA, it would be unethical as well.
The re-branded MCSM: Messaging certification, formerly know as “MCM (Microsoft Certified Master)” and before that “Exchange Rangers” is one of the top-level certifications Microsoft offers for a variety of products including Windows Server (Active Directory), SQL, SharePoint, Lync and Exchange. Although you’re not always required to follow the training prior to taking the exams, I honestly don’t believe there are many people out there capable of just walking up to a certification center and passing. One of the reasons is that the level of detail, covered in the three weeks training, goes much farther than any information currently publicly available. Of course there’s also the human aspect of attending the training. In my rotation, we were 14 in total. And I can tell you, the accumulated experience and knowledge of the people in the classroom was absolutely impressive. Next to the classic tutoring, I probably learned more from everyone attending than I’d held for possible. Not attending the training means that you would have to miss out on this interaction and miss the chance to build a network of peers all over the world. One by one very knowledgeable individuals!
Preparing for the course wasn’t all that easy. After all, how do you start preparing for this? Although there’s a ton of good resources out there, I only had the Exchange 2010 pre-reading list to go off from and there aren’t particularly many books available out there just yet. Shortly before I left for the rotation, I bought early-access to Tony Redmond’s and Paul Robichaux’ “Exchange 2013 – Inside Out”. A purchase I haven’t regretted! Even in its pre-release form it’s a pretty awesome book and I’m sure that when the Pre-Reading list gets published, it’ll be on it. Just as was the case for Exchange 2010, by the way.
Based on these past few weeks, I put together a small (pre-)reading list myself. If you consider attending, or perhaps just for fun, you should definitely take a look at the following books, websites and other resources:
Actually, there are many good blogs out there and I reckon that I probably left out some pretty good ones… So don’t treat this list as authoritative, rather as a starting point for your pre-reading.
Other than playing around with Exchange 2013, reading as much as blog posts (and information from TechNet), along with some of the RFCs that were on the 2010 pre-reading list, there wasn’t much I had done. Luckily, I did have some experience with Exchange 2013 in the real world as my company’s internal deployment had already switched to Exchange 2013 a while back. I do believe that future rotations will have the slight advantage of having more real-life experience with the product as it will (hopefully) gain more attention and develop a bigger install based than it does today.
A tip: make sure that you cover all the topics around Exchange 2013 (yes, this also means SharePoint and Lync related stuff). Don’t think some topics are less important. They’re not. Even though you won’t cover everything in detail during class, it will most certainly help you to understand the material being taught.
Registering for the rotation was pretty easy. After signing up through the Advanced Certification Portal I came in touch with someone from MS Learning who guided me through the rest of the registration process. It was literally a breeze to walk through the rest of the formalities (e.g. signing the NDA and some other paperwork for physical access to Microsoft’s buildings). If there’s one thing that I found a tad frightening it’s the fact that Microsoft has the right to cancel or reschedule the rotation up to two weeks before it starts. So if you book your flights early, make sure that you buy flexible tickets! Although I don’t expect it to happen that often (if at all), you’d want to be better safe than sorry, no?
In our rotation, people were staying in different hotels. If you’re looking for something at a walking distance (approx. 15 min walk), I can recommend staying at the Silver Cloud Inn. It wasn’t too expensive and breakfast was included. A little closer to the campus was the HomeStead (Extended stay America). They’re a bit cheaper, but don’t include breakfast. I personally enjoyed the daily walk to and from the campus. It’s an ideal moment to clear your head for a while. However, we were (extremely?) lucky with the weather… I can imagine if you’re attending a rotation during winter, these walks being less enjoyable. The Silver Cloud Inn does offer a free shuttle from the hotel to Microsoft’s campus, but you’ll have to figure another way to get back as it’s only available until 5 PM…
Some fellow students stayed at hotels either in downtown Redmond or too far away to walk. So make sure you rent a car if you choose one of those!
Our rotation started on June 3rd. Given I had to travel half around the world, I made sure I was there a few days beforehand to get used to the time zone difference. You wouldn’t want to be caught by Jetlag during the first few days of training, believe me! I arrived Thursday before the start of the rotation, which gave me more than time enough to get adjusted. However… June 3rd came quickly and what happened than is literally somewhat like a rollercoaster. The next three weeks I found myself almost living in a (well-equipped) classroom and eating mostly junk. Before leaving for the US, I had made the resolution not to give in (too much) to fast-food and unhealthy habits. It didn’t take too long before they were gone through. Maybe it’s me, but I just didn’t feel like keeping myself busy trying to find some healthier things to eat than what the classroom had to offer. It doesn’t mean you couldn’t though. If I ever get to attend an upgrade (or who knows maybe a rotation for another product?!), I know that I won’t be making the resolution to start with. That way I don’t have to feel bad for not sticking to it …
The classroom was well-equiped. A brand new workstation and dual-screen setup for everyone.
Anyway, back to the rotation. During the 3 weeks, you’ll be taught almost non-stop. Days would start at 08:00 AM and usually last to somewhere between 06:00 and 08:00 PM; though walking out (much) later wasn’t an exception. Usually, you’d stay to do some labs after class. Our first “day off” was on the second Sunday, which we gladly used to catch up on some labs… No rest for the wicked, I guess? Even though most instructors try to end in a timely fashion, they just don’t always succeed. That or you just want to practice a bit more perhaps. This is one of the cases where more is better, trust me!
Picture taken by one of the instructors (Neil Johnson) during the rotation (I was still smiling!)
Three weeks fly by… And before you know it, you’re off to take the exams. The written exam is the day before the qual lab. Funny enough you get the results of that exam immediately after taking it. Although usually I like knowing whether I passed rather sooner than later, I was kinda afraid this time. Failing would inevitably put me off for the qual lab the day after. Seems I wasn’t the only one looking at it like that. Someone in our class refused to view his result and turned off his phone so he couldn’t accidentally read the email: pretty clever! 🙂 In my case, curiosity won… It was a big relieve to see that I actually passed the written. I still trying to figure out how I passed, but I’m glad I did!
And then it was time for doomsday. A full-day qual lab in which you will face the wrath of a system administrator who just had a bad day. Possibly even a week… Hell, rating by how f***** up the environment was, you’d even wonder how that guy could ever get near a computer in the first place! :p Just to put things into perspective: if I said before it was hard, think again. The qual lab is possibly one of the toughest exams I ever took. Looking back at it, it was kinda fun too. Yes, after being back for a week, I start to “enjoy” the experience, although I would rather avoid taking it a second time. At time of writing I don’t have my results back, but I expect them any time now… Honestly, I don’t have very high hopes. But we’ll see.
Over the past few weeks, I learned a lot and I learned from the very best. I’ve got to know what my strengths were but also where my weaknesses are (hello, UM and SharePoint!). Overall, I would advise everyone who’s interested in Exchange and willing to lift his/her knowledge to the next level to take the step (or leap, whatever you want to call it). I understand that the overall cost is a somewhat limiting factor, but I truly believe there’s value in it. Whether or not that amount can be regained through additional assignments or possibly a higher rate, is something I hope to find out in the next few months and weeks. Even if that’s not the case, it would’ve been worth it; but I don’t think this last argument will convince your employer to pay for it. And now that I come to think of it: I was amazed (and shocked at the same time) to see there were quite some people who attended the rotation by paying for it themselves… It seems that a lot of companies don’t see the value of (or aren’t able to profit more from) the certification. I do hope that Microsoft keeps threshold for attending and passing the MCSM certification high enough. Nothing would sadden me more than to see the value drop to a point where the “regular” certifications (like MCSE or MCITP) once were.
I want to conclude by thanking everyone who organized, taught or attended the rotation and helped me through it. My experience wouldn’t have been the same without you, guys! Thanks!
Our “last dinner” only a few hours after the dreaded qual lab.
Earlier this week we had the pleasure to welcome you for our in-person event “Load Balancing and Reverse Proxying for Exchange 2013 and Lync 2013” at Microsoft Belgium. Despite the fact that some people cancelled at the very last minute, the turnout was really great!
Both session from Johan Delimon and myself could count on a lot of questions from you guys, which kept things interactive at all times. Thank you for that!
For those who couldn’t attend, below some picture to help you muse about what you’ve been missing out on:
As promised, we’ve also made the slides available for download here. (Note: you will be redirected to the Pro-Exchange website!)