Throughout the year, Microsoft sponsors and supports various conferences at which attendees can learn about new technologies and obtain in-depth product information from experts. Substantial effort is required to coordinate an event—tracks must be organized, sessions scheduled, content managed, and speakers arranged. As a result, many participants—including event owners, track owners, session owners, speakers, and speaker managers—are involved in the event-coordination process.
Recently, my company, InterKnowlogy, won an opportunity to apply cutting-edge Microsoft technology to a real-life business case—an event-management and attendee-communication system. We built a comprehensive Web-based event-management tool, called Microsoft MyMSEvents CommNet, designed to streamline the coordination of major Microsoft events, such as Microsoft TechEd, Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference (PDC), and Microsoft Fusion. We built the system solely on Microsoft .NET technologies to take advantage of the benefits that the .NET platform provides. A beta version of MyMSEvents CommNet was up and running in just 3 months.
For event coordinators, MyMSEvents CommNet provides robust features such as a management tool to set up tracks, email notifications, and session information; the ability to import data from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet; and a Windows Forms application for uploading speakers’ slide decks to the MyMSEvents CommNet Web site. For attendees, MyMSEvents CommNet provides an advanced session-search capability and a calendar, which has a UI similar to that of Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA), to schedule, save, and export session information to Outlook. To access the MyMSEvents CommNet Web site, go to the following URL:
We built the Web site using ASP.NET, which let us develop the application quickly. We built the UI in Visual Basic .NET. And we wrote the code for the business logic tier, tools class, and data class in C#. Several external interfaces were necessary, including an interface with an attendee registration system and a third-party speaker tool. We implemented Microsoft BizTalk Server 2000 and XML Web services for these interfaces. The project required a mobile component, so we used the Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit to develop a Pocket PC version of the site to serve attendees who brought their wireless Compaq iPAQs or laptops to the event. Attendees could also download an offline version of the schedule to their Pocket PCs, so they could revisit event information without being connected to the Internet.
MyMSEvents CommNet also takes advantage of the following other Microsoft technologies:
- .NET role-based security
- .NET forms-based authentication
- Microsoft .NET Passport
- Network Load Balancing (NLB)
- Windows clustering
In addition, we integrated Microsoft Content Management Server 2001 (for managing site content) and Microsoft Commerce Server 2000 (for usage analysis) into the system. The solution takes full advantage of the entire .NET platform, including XML Web services, and can accommodate events of any size.
The MyMSEvents CommNet infrastructure contains the following major components:
- a Web site application that hosts the sites for all events
- a remotely hosted server infrastructure that supports the Web site
- hundreds of kiosk PCs deployed at the event for attendee use
- onsite servers and network infrastructure to support the PCs
- wireless networking throughout the event site, with intelligent formatting and content delivery based on wireless-device type, to support attendees who use laptop computers and Pocket PCs
Because of MyMSEvents CommNet’s design, infrastructure, and use of .NET technologies, the system provides a fast, streamlined production experience for event coordinators, as well as an enjoyable and efficient attendee experience. To entice potential attendees to sign up for the event, the Web site lets the public view detailed event information, including the tracks, session titles, and abstracts, and provides full search capability. Attendees can schedule sessions in personal calendars and print a personal agenda. The system provides in-depth information about current and upcoming events—including daily news, agenda modifications, and profiles of industry-expert VIP speakers—and about networking opportunities.
Recently, various industry analysts have shared their thoughts about applications based on the .NET Framework. Some of these analysts claim that the .NET Framework might not scale, or that it might be unreliable, or even that they simply might not like it. But the MyMSEvents CommNet site's ability to provide a robust solution isn’t an opinion—it's real-world proof that .NET works!