For years, MEC was the show to go to when you wanted to connect with the Exchange Server community; talk directly with the most knowledgeable Exchange professionals, authors, and speakers; and find out what was happening in the messaging ISV space. When Microsoft did away with MEC, many Exchange admins felt the loss. But for the past 3 years, Windows IT Pro has cohosted Exchange Connections, a week-long conference that brings together Exchange & Outlook Administrator authors, internationally acclaimed speakers, Microsoft, independent messaging vendors, and a hands-on training course.

Exchange Connections Fall 2005, held in early November in San Diego, featured days of presentations from trusted authors and MVPs, pre-and post-conference workshops, a 3-day troubleshooting course, and an exhibit hall of more than 50 independent vendors.

All the News
Kevin Laahs, Kieran McCorry, Sue Mosher, Tony Redmond, Paul Robichaux, and other Exchange experts spent the week presenting the information about Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2), Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, Microsoft Share-Point Portal Server 2003 and Windows SharePoint Services, and more.

Tony Redmond kicked off the conference with his keynote "Exchange 12: The Next Frontier?". Throughout the year, Tony will keep Exchange & Outlook Administrator readers posted about the approach of the next version of Exchange and the changes you can expect it to bring.

Sue Mosher held several sessions dealing with Outlook, including a packed discussion about Outlook 2003 security. This session compared Outlook 2003's security features with those available in earlier versions, helping attendees prepare to deploy the new features and answer the inevitable array of user questions. Sue also explained ways to protect your network against vulnerabilities that still might exist after you deploy the most recent version of Outlook.

Scott Schnoll (popular former Microsoft MVP and current technical writing lead for the Exchange User Education team at Microsoft) returned to the conference to help attendees get a handle on allowing Exchange access from mobile devices and increasing Exchange 2003 security.

Paul Robichaux led several sessions that provided a variety of tips and tricks for improving Exchange security, including one talk that explained how to leverage the spamfiltering tools in Exchange 2003, Outlook 2003, Outlook Web Access (OWA) 2003, and the Exchange Intelligent Messaging Filter (IMF) and what to look for in third-party filtering systems. Paul also discussed the upcoming antispam changes that Microsoft has announced for Exchange 12. You can find Paul's conference coverage (from his commentaries in the free weekly email newsletter, Exchange & Outlook UPDATE) online at http://www.windowsitpro.com/microsoftexchangeoutlook.

Kieren McCorry spoke about archiving and compliance: definitions, requirements, approaches, and solutions. He also held a session explaining how to leverage new Exchange 2003 features to support remote and mobile users.

Kevin Laahs held several popular sessions as well as a post-conference workshop about SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services. Many attendees told us they wanted even more SharePoint content (see the sidebar "Learning to SharePoint" for more information.) Exchange MVP Jim McBee hosted discussions about disaster recovery and RPC over HTTP, as well as leading preand post-conference workshops dealing with clustering and migration.

Many attendees, such as Heather Jenkins of the US Marine Corps, especially enjoyed Tom Meunier's "Exchange Systems Administration on a Dollar a Day." Tom and Missy Koslosky won audience applause when they took the stage to share some of the best recipes from their Exchange Cookbook (O'Reilly, 2005). They were joined by fellow author Devin Ganger, who made an unexpected appearance to help present the material and answer questions from the audience.

"I've been kind of blindsided" by the conference, Devin told me afterward. "This is a whole different side of the industry. People are a lot more willing to talk, to ask questions. There's a lot more energy about accurately and honestly discussing problems."

Alongside the regular sessions, Exchange Connections offers an amazingly popular troubleshooting specialist course, presented by Exchange MVP Peter O'Dowd. This session always fills up far in advance of the conference (we hope to expand capacity for future sessions). Attendees spend 3 days in a hands-on environment learning how to identify, diagnose, and resolve infrastructure problems involving Exchange.

Hot Products
The 2005 conference boasted the biggest exhibition hall to date, with numerous Exchange and Windows vendors plying their wares. By far, the most prevalent Exchange-related products involved archiving and disaster recovery, as Paul Robichaux wrote in his coverage of the show:

"Overall, the most interesting thing to me about the show floor was the number of disaster-recovery and continuity solutions. Cemaphore Systems, Fortiva, MessageOne, Mimosa Systems, Neverfail, and XOsoft were all there, and their booths were generally well attended. This surge of interest from the customers might be explained as disaster phobia brought on by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Alpha, but I don't think so—these vendors have been building products for a while.

What I think we're seeing is the typical pattern for infrastructure services in a messaging market: an initial period in which one or two vendors own the space, followed by a sudden rapid bloom of competing solutions (the phase we're in now). What happens next is consolidation and failure. It's too early to pick winners in this space because it's so broad. There's clearly room for a variety of solutions at varying price points. Some organizations will want hosted services that do most of the thinking for them; others will want basic replication services that they can use inhouse to build their own procedures."

If you're interested in third-party Exchange product coverage, Exchange & Outlook Administrator's sister publication, Windows IT Pro, provides product reviews, comparatives, buyers' guides, and news. You can access this open content at http://www.windowsitpro.com; look for pointers to current Exchange-related content each month in "Exchange Ideas."

Community Connection
The best part of attending a live event, of course, is the chance to connect with the Exchange community. The 2005 conference saw a huge variety of attendees from all types and sizes of companies. Many Exchange admins told me that they enjoyed the level of interaction available at this smaller, "concentrated" conference, and the chance to have questions answered directly by authors and speakers. First-year attendee John Massei of Raytheon Systems told me that although Exchange Connections is a smaller conference than MEC was, it has "the right mix of vendors, hardware, software, and everything in between."

More to Come
If you weren't able to make Exchange Connections 2005, don't worry. We'll be bringing you plenty of great content from many of the speakers, covering Exchange 2003 SP2, Outlook 2003, SharePoint, Exchange 12, migrations, disaster recovery, compliance and archiving, user management, and more. Plus, this year we're offering two chances to attend the show: in Orlando in April or in Las Vegas in November. You can also connect with other Exchange admins day or night through our online forums, by sharing your solutions in our Reader to Reader column, by chiming in on our online Instant Polls, or by writing to us at letters@windowsitpro.com.