So I just flew back from this year’s Exchange Connections conference (and, boy, are my arms tired.. and so is the rest of me thanks to the tiny seat American assigned me.. but I digress) and I wanted to share a few thoughts from the conference.
Exchange admins remain wary of the cloud
Over and over, I heard the same few questions and comments from attendees: “When will Microsoft lose interest in on-premises server products?” “There are some attractive parts of Office 365 but we can’t move because X” (where X ranged from regulatory restrictions to political issues to functionality, such as Lync enterprise voice, that isn’t offered in the cloud yet). Microsoft’s messaging about the utility, potential cost savings, and functionality offered by Office 365 is clearly reaching their target audience, and they are winning converts, but there are still obstacles to overcome.
We’re fresh out of Kool-Aid
Microsoft is one of the sponsors of the IT/DevConnections conference, of which Exchange Connections is a part, but that had no effect on the content of the presentations (though I can’t speak for the developer- or Windows-focused tracks, because I didn’t have time to attend any of those sessions.) The Exchange sessions were presented with vigorous independence; in every session I attended, at least once the speaker said something like this (paraphrased):
Microsoft says this feature is supposed to be for use case X. In practice, it really does Y, and so you should be prepared to do Z.
Having a group of mostly Exchange MVPs or Microsoft Certified Masters presenting adds a welcome dash of non-party-line thought to the curriculum. And although there were Microsoft presenters, they weren’t from the product group. For example, Tim McMichael, a legend in the Exchange community, gave what I heard was a typically excellent presentation on site resilience, presenting real-world examples and tips based on his extensive, long-running experience in supporting Microsoft’s customers. This real-world perspective is often missing from TechEd, and it was one of the key elements that helped make the dearly departed product-specific SharePoint, Lync, and Exchange conferences so valuable.
No one knows what to expect from MUTEE
Whatever Microsoft calls it, the big uber-event planned for 4-8 May in Chicago had a lot of folks speculating. Will it be TechEd Plus? Will it be a mash up of the product-specific conferences, or something completely unexpected? I think it’s safe to say that TechEd is long overdue for a reboot, and I am hopeful that the result will continue the high information content and community spirit of the individual conferences. Jamie Stark, Brian Shiers, and the other product group folks involved in planning the event have promised that the new event will do so, and having seen the fruits of their labors at prior events, I’m inclined to believe them. One interesting aspect of having a single large event, though: it cuts down on the number of events where Microsoft can announce or launch new technologies. Think about Delve, for example: first shown at SharePoint Conference, it was shown again and again at MEC 2014 and TechEd North America (and presumably at TechEd Europe.) It looks like we’re headed towards a world where individual products get their own launches, not tied to the keystone event—and perhaps the rumored Windows 9 launch event is the first step along that path.
There are still some mysteries in Exchange 2013
We’ve had access to Exchange 2013 for nearly two years now, but there are still parts of the product that aren’t well understood by many administrators. Managed Availability is a great example: both MA sessions were packed with people seeking to learn more about what the feature is and does. Hybrid configuration is another such example. With a new version of Exchange likely on the horizon for next year, it will be interesting to see what Microsoft does to better document, or provide better interfaces for and access to, these features—and more interesting still to see what the mystery features in v.next are.
We want our stability back
Not to beat a dead horse, but the quality problems revealed in CU6 are of great concern to customers. The Exchange product group is well aware of this. They’re working to resolve it, of course, and I have seen a welcome trend of increased openness about product quality since Exchange 2013 shipped… but the variety of problems in CU6, combined with the high-speed treadmill of the CU release cadence, has many customers concerned about both the process of upgrading and the stability and suitability of new releases. I look forward to seeing CU7 and hope that it holds the line on quality.
Overall I thought the conference was a great success, and I look forward to the next one—especially if it’s at the Aria again.