It's been a few years since Jim McBee has written for Windows IT Pro. If you don't know who Jim is, he's a Microsoft MVP for Exchange Server and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), who keeps himself very busy with training and consulting gigs, working for organizations such as Microsoft and the US military. I've heard rumors that he works on ultra-secret projects of the sort that he'd have to kill you if you found out about them. However, his gentle, smiling face and dark, even tan tells me the real reason he hasn't found time to write for us is that he's spending all his time lounging on the beaches of Honolulu, where he lives.
A couple times a year, at least, Jim is able to tear himself away from the waves and secret projects to speak at conferences such as Microsoft Exchange Connections. In fact, at the upcoming show in Orlando (more sun—coincidence?), Jim will be presenting a session on the hot topic of migrating from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010. I had an email conversation with Jim recently about what people can expect.
BKW: What are some of the pain points around these Exchange migrations that you've encountered—and will be covering—in this session? What is it that isn't necessarily clear from the official Microsoft documentation that people need to know?
Jim: Like many migrations or transitions from an older version of software to a newer version, one of the most common pain points is identifying the prerequisites and factors that you need to consider from a third-party perspective. Most of my session will review some of the prereqs that organizations overlook when they move to Exchange 2010. Over the past few years, the Exchange Server documentation has evolved from some fairly rudimentary documentation to a comprehensive collection of Exchange knowledge. But Microsoft's documentation authors cannot anticipate every scenario and combination of third-party tools or in-house software.
BKW: The other two sessions you're presenting both include aspects of the larger business outside the IT department (i.e., lowering costs, economics of outsourcing). This element is possibly contrary to what IT pros traditionally view as their role in the company, so can you talk a little bit about why you feel it's important for them to be involved in these decisions?
Jim: IT has always been a very dynamic and rapidly changing industry. Admittedly, I'm very skeptical about outsourcing email services. After all, supporting an in-house Exchange system is my bread and butter. But I feel it's important for IT professionals to not only have technical skills but also be able to look at how their technology affects their business and understand the costs associated with supporting that technology. In some cases, outsourcing an email system will make economic sense. As IT professionals, we need to continually evaluate not only the technologies we support, but also how our own job functions fit. The email administrator today might be the corporate IT compliance officer in 5 years.
BKW: You've been attending and speaking at events such as Exchange Connections for years. What is it that keeps you coming back?
Jim: I love the Connections conferences. The size of the conferences ensures that I get to spend time with the attendees as well as the other speakers. That interaction and finding out how other people are handling IT is what makes the conferences so valuable for me. And we have many regular attendees that I get to see once or twice a year, so it is nice to be able to catch up with people.
BKW: For IT pros and Exchange admins who are coming to Connections, possibly for the first time, what should they expect to find, and how should they prepare?
Jim: The conference is awesome from start to finish. I never miss one of Mark Minasi's or Tony Redmond's keynote speeches. I also recommend attendees look at the pre-conference and post-conference sessions and try to sign up for at least one.
To maximize the value of their time at the conference, I like to recommend to attendees that they make sure each session's content is right for their skills and experiences. If they aren't sure, I recommend asking the speaker a few minutes before the session starts if the session will be right for them.
At the beginning of each day, I try to plan out my spare time at the conference so that I can attend sessions and meet exhibitors. I look at the exhibit times and the schedule of other sessions. Planning things out doesn't always mean that the day works out that way, though, as many times I get involved in great discussions or other sessions that I didn't even realize I would find interesting.
BKW: So there you have it. Exchange Connections should have something to offer for every level of Exchange administrator. I'll be in Orlando for the event—if you see me, feel free to say hi! I'd love to hear what projects you're working on and what your messaging pain points are. And in the meantime, check out the conference website to see videos from last fall's Connection's show, including a fun interview between Peter O'Dowd and .Net Rocks! host Carl Franklin about how music led to an IT career—because you just never know who you'll meet or what conversations you'll get into at a show like this.