Exchange Connections 2013 wrap-up

What do you do in an airport when waiting for a plane to arrive. Write a wrap-up of Exchange Connections, of course. So here's a brain dump of some of the thoughts and ideas that came from this week's conference. I enjoyed myself, I think the attendees did too, and I know that our speakers did because I saw some of the parties they attended (no more of that). The important thing is to deliver a great conference that's packed full of high-value information. I think we succeeded. Let the debate begin!

Another Exchange Connections conference has been put to bed and I’m en route back to Europe from the delights of Las Vegas. It seems appropriate to write a wrap-up report as I await a plane in McCarren airport. Here goes.

I’m not quite sure how many conferences I’ve attended in Sin City over the years but it now amounts to quite a few, most of which have been in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The Mandalay Bay is a very acceptable location but its conference center is showing its age with dicey Wi-Fi service and AV that comes from the last century (small screens and unintegrated projectors). Perhaps they’ll drag themselves into the modern world soon. In any case, the facilities all worked and these are just observations from a grumpy old technologist. The important thing is that the speakers delivered great content for attendees that was better prepared and more content-rich than previous years. We introduced a number of new speakers who had never been at a Connections event before and they all did really well.

As well as all of the MVPs in attendance, it was nice to catch up with some of the key third-party vendors in the Exchange ecosystem such as Steven Pivnik, CEO of Binary Tree and Jay Gundotra, CEO of ENow Software. ENow ran that challenge at MEC 2012 where people had to track down well-known personalities in the Exchange community and have them sign the back of a t-shirt. Jay tells me that they are planning an even better challenge for MEC 2014. Perhaps they’ll look for people with memorabilia from MEC 1996, which was also held in Austin. In any case, I shall be at MEC 2014 to see.

Speaking of MEC, some queried whether an independent conference can compete with a conference run by Microsoft that focuses on the same technology. My answer is “absolutely”. I view MEC as a complementary event for Exchange Connections. MEC delivers the Microsoft view of the world and where Exchange and associated technology is going. That’s extremely valuable information to have, especially when you balance it against the independent voice expressed at Connections together with the reports of how the technology actually works and behaves in real life. I think the two conferences go together pretty well.

I won’t go into some of the interesting technical queries raised by attendees here as I plan to cover them in detail in future blog posts over the next few months. Observations from Day 1 and Day 2 of the conference are already available online.

In terms of feedback, some attendees asked for more Office 365 content. I’ve been thinking about this for a day or so. Sessions covered Office 365 security, comparing Office 365 with its competitors, hybrid connectivity, and single sign-on. Together with directory synchronization, I think that these are the major areas that can be discussed by independent commentators at a conference like Exchange Connections. Details of interesting technology that might create other topics is hidden inside the Office 365 datacenters totally under Microsoft’s control and cannot be managed by tenants, so it’s a bit of a puzzle to figure out from where more Office 365 content will come. We’ll think about this for the 2014 event.

Lync interoperability with Exchange was definitely a hit at the conference and we should probably offer more content in this area next year.

In terms of on-premises content, the sessions on high availability, backup and restore, and taming ActiveSync were popular with attendees, not to mention the excellent Microsoft sessions on performance, virtualization, modern public folders, Managed Availability, and the Client Access Server. At first blush, it seems like we’ll be hard pressed to have compelling new content for next year, but I know that many of the speakers are already considering new angles for sessions and anyway, we can guarantee that Microsoft will shake things up in terms of new features and updates shipped between now and then. Such is the way of technology.

The other parts of Connections (Windows, SharePoint, SQL, and Dev) all seemed to have done well too, so that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s very nice to be able to pop into some of the sessions from other tracks to get a quick update on what’s new in those worlds.

Attendees have already had their chance to provide feedback on the conference. I’d be thrilled to hear ideas for content that you’d like to be covered in 2014 as well as feedback on other aspects of the event. You can do so by adding a comment below or by tweeting me (if that indeed is a verb and something that is legal everywhere)!

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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