Ignite 2015: Call for Topics

ignite ButtonIn October, I reported on the new ‘mother of all Microsoft events’, Microsoft Ignite. This event is going to take place from May 4-8, 2015 in Chicago, US.

Differently from how the agenda used to be determined for TechEd or the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC), Microsoft now asks for your help to determine what contents should be presented at Ignite. By completing a short, anonymous Call for Topics survey here, you can let those in charge of assigning session slots know what session you would like to see at Ignite.

If you have any questions on Ignite, Microsoft is also having some Twitter sessions for specific products. More on this in the original Call for Topics post here. The Exchange session takes place at Tuesday, December 2nd 9 am (Pacific Time) and use hashtag #ignitejam to participate.

So, if you went to MEC and would like to see a fair share of Exchange or Office 365 should you visit Ignite, be sure to complete the Call for Topics survey and plug your favorite product or platform.

Aaand we named it .. Microsoft Ignite!

Today Microsoft revealed the name of the event temporarily known as MUTEE, or Microsoft’s Unified Technology Event for Enterprises:

Microsoft Ignite 2015 Full

The Microsoft Ignite event, which replaces Microsoft Exchange Conference, LyncConf, Microsoft Management Summit, SharePoint Conference and TechEd North America, will be held from May 4-8, 2015 in Chicago at McCormick Place. On the Exchange Team blog, former  Microsoft Exchange Conference attendees are told this will be their ‘go to’ event for 2015 (apart from independent conferences, such as Exchange Connections 2015).

The Microsoft Ignite 2015 site is already up and you can even register, in case you are worried this event with a potential of 20k attendees will soon be sold out. Microsoft is asking potential attendees to provide input through a YamJam. For those unenlightened, a YamJam is a virtual event on Microsoft’s Enterprise Social platform called Yammer, meaning you have to register on the hosting Yammer network first.

The announcement on the Office blog has some additional information here, including information on Convergence and //Build 2015.

PS: It is likely that the adoption of this name has consequences for the events formerly known as Ignite, e.g. Office 365 Ignite. Those events were technical training to get IT Pros up to speed on new products. The faith of those training sessions has not been disclosed.

IT/Dev Connections 2014 Wrap-Up

Connections 2014 JerseyNote: For those that attended Jaap and my session on Thursday, PowerShell Tips & Tricks for Exchange, and are looking for the scripts used in the demonstrations, they are available here.

Today I returned from one of the largest, independent conference on Microsoft technologies, as it is not sponsored by Microsoft. Sessions were spread over a 3 day period on popular topics as SharePoint, SQL, developer and Windows, as well as out beloved Exchange. In addition, the conference offered pre and post-conference workshops. The conference was held in the city of Las Vegas, a place which I hadn’t seen after I left it around 1996 when leaving something called Comdex.  The estimated total of attendees was 1,400, of which around 100-200 attended Exchange sessions since people were free to switch between tracks.

With this being my first Exchange Connections, I must confess the community feeling and depth of contents were well-above expectation. Exchange sessions were not only presented by independent Exchange MVP’s and MCSM’s, but there were also sessions hosted by Tim McMichael and Wes Blalock of Microsoft. Greg Taylor, Exchange PM CXP, was also present, but unfortunately didn’t host any session.

The Exchange track was kicked off by an plenary session for those interested in everything Exchange or related topics such as Office 365. I am still waiting for the formal feedback and ratings on the PowerShell Tips & Tricks for Exchange session with Jaap I did on Thursday, but unofficial feedback was overall good which I am happy with since this was my first presentation in front of an international audience and I am somewhat self-critical. The week was closed with a Exchange panel session, wrapping up the week and answering audience questions. It was also when the winners were announced of the trivia contest offered by sponsor ENow. Prizes included an Xbox One and $500 in cash.

When connecting with the community, you get a sense on the current opinion on the product and future plans. It was learned that the majority of the attendees are still running Exchange on-premises and a vast majority still runs Exchange 2007 or Exchange 2010. There were quite a few comments on product quality, mainly referring to the recent issues with Exchange 2013 Cumulative Updates resulting in Hybrid Configuration Wizard issues, issues with Exchange 2013/Exchange 2007 co-existence deployments, or more recently issues experienced when using Chrome with the Exchange Administrative Center.

Connections 2014 VegasI had a blast at Connections, despite a minor inconvenience as my luggage was delayed. There were lots of opportunities to meet up at the conference, receptions, many dinners and the excellent Scheduled Maintenance party. Outside of these formal events, people were also actively looking each other up to exchange musings over a pint. Having experienced my inaugural Exchange Connections this year, I must say I am really looking forward to next year’s event to stay in contact with the community, and catch up with my MVP and MCSM friends. The MVP Summit is next up on the agenda, so I won’t have to miss most of my MVP friends for long.

I was also very pleased with my Huawei E5372, a so-called MiFi device which functions as a mobile WiFi access point, routing traffic to a mobile data provider at a fraction of the roaming mobile data costs. In the end, the amount of mobile data used after this week was rather low, which mainly can be attributed to the excellent WiFi facilities in Aria, the conference hotel.

One final shout out to ENow for the personalized NFL jersey. People attempted pronouncing my last name, and most came up with “The Rouge” which is close enough for me.

Finally, here are some of the other Exchange Connections wrap-ups:

Austrian MVPs Martina Grom (Office 365) and Toni Pohl (Client Development) analysed Twitter data related to IT/Dev Connections 2014, and came up with some nice statistics where they present here. It seems I was a Top 10 Tweeter.

Ready for IT/Dev Connections 2014

imageIt’s almost time to head off to IT/Dev Connections. This year, the conference will take place from September 15-19 in the Aria Resort in Las Vegas, USA. IT/Dev connections is a widely recognized independent, multi-disciplinary conference with tracks for Development, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server and Windows related topics.

For the Exchange track, I will be co-hosting a session with long-time Exchange MVP and compatriot Jaap Wesselius, on PowerShell Tips & Tricks for Exchange. In 60 minutes we will show and demonstrate some Exchange-related PowerShell tricks, which are immediately usable in the daily life of Exchange admins.

PowerShell Tips and Tricks for Exchange
When: 9/18/2014, 1:00 PM- 2:15 PM
Room: Bluethorn 1/2

Note that Jaap also has a session earlier that day, Autodiscover – What’s the deal, which starts at 9:00 in Bluethorn 1/2 as well.

Other Exchange MVP fellows as well as members of the Product Group are lined up to provide some great content. Information on the sessions in the Exchange track can be found here. It appears you can still register for the event here, use SOCIAL14 for a $200 discount.

When you are attending IT/Dev Connections, do not hesitate to come up and say hi. 

I hope to see you there!

Microsoft announces Unified Technology Event for Enterprises

imageOne Event to rule them all, One Event to find them,
One Event to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

Today, through Microsoft’s General Manager for Office, Julia White, Microsoft announced that there will be a Microsoft Unified Technology Event for Enterprises in Chicago next year, to be held in the week of May 4th. This new event is aiming at the current attendees of TechEd, Sharepoint Conference, Lync Conference, Project Conference (uh, what), the Microsoft Management Summit and our beloved Exchange Conference. It is also replacing those events starting next year, meaning RIP for events like MEC, SPC and TechEd. There is nothing mentioned regarding the faith of the related events held in non-NA regions, like TechEd Europe or TechEd Australia.

I consider myself lucky being able to attend the – what looks to be the last (again) – Microsoft Exchange Conference this year. Looking back at that event, thinking about setting, identity and depth, one can only hope for the best with this new monstrous event. After all, looking at recent attendance numbers and assuming there are some attendees visiting multiple of these events, adding recent numbers of TechEd North America (10k+), SPC (12k+), MMS (5k+), MEC (2,5k), LyncConf (0,5k) show the estimated attendance could easily go in the direction of 20,000+ attendees. That estimate is without representation from the related product groups and exhibitors. That is one big event.

With the next release of Exchange being announced for 2015, one could assume there are more products lined up for a common launch next year, similar to the Wave15 launch end of 2012 when Exchange 2013 was released together with Lync 2013, Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013. Though, I do not know the exact timelines of the non-Exchange products, so I could be wrong here.

An event of this scale event poses some serious challenges. That could be as elementary as transport or where to put that many people in the near surroundings of the convention center. Also, what sessions will be scheduled and at what level, given the mixed crowds of the generalistic TechEd and the more product-oriented deep-dive events like MEC. Companies sending delegations of their IT staff to these events may need to have drawings on who needs to stay back at home to keep IT running.

For people worried about the new unified event, Julia White tries to reassure people that the new format will be as ‘magical’ and ‘enjoyable’ as the individual events and it will even exceed them regarding ‘awesomeness’ and value. Meanwhile, Exchange fellows Tony Redmond and Paul Robichaux written up their own views on this change, I suggest you check them out as well.

Note that this site mentions McCormick Place as the event venue (thanks Mike Rigsby). It also mentions the event takes place from Monday until Friday:

Event Name Venue Start Date End Date Attendees
Microsoft Commercial Event 2015
Lakeside Center at McCormick Place

Map It

05/04/2015 05/09/2015 20000

The official announcements can be found here and here. More details will be made available around September.

Clutter in the Gutter?

At the Microsoft Exchange Conference earlier this year, the Office team introduced us to some nice features which were under development at that time. These features are part of Office Graph, a machine learning feature set meant to make the end user experience more personal and contextual as part of the Enterprise Social initiative.

imageIn the keynote, during a “Geek out with Perry”, Perry (Corporate VP for Microsoft Exchange) mentioned that the “Cloud First” approach allowed Microsoft to implement features step by step, with the option of reverting not-so-good changes. In the end, this should also result in a better product for the on-premises customer when releasing new Exchange builds, and ultimately Exchange v.Next (the next version), as they would not receive the not-so-good changes. It was mentioned several times, also in individual sessions on Office Graph features like Clutter and Groups as well, that these features would be “cloud-first” but there was “no ETA yet” for Exchange on-premises. At that time, most of us leaving MEC did that with the impression that all these features, at some point, would make it to Exchange or Exchange v.Next.

Apparently we got hold of the wrong end of the stick. Last week this article appeared on Network World, where in an interview with Julia White (GM Office Marketing) she mentioned that Clutter would not make it to “Office Server”, which seems to be the term for the on-premises deployments of the Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync Server triplet. This was a bit surprising, given the information received at MEC. The reason given in the article for this deviation was that Office Graph is too “compute intensive” to include on a Office Server. I assume to preempt any sounds on being forced to the service, Julia states that, “It’s not capricious favoritism toward Office 365 customers.” This is more or less in line with Microsoft’s earlier statements, on not having plans to stop delivering on-premises releases of Exchange (v.Next). In the discussion that followed on Twitter, Julia confirmed that “Clutter won’t make ExServer v.Next unfortunately.”

File:Classic shot of the ENIAC.jpgThe scale of Office 365 is incomparable to the average business running Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync on-premises and the amount of information that needs to be processed for Office Graph. And I can’t help it, but looking at the ‘compute intensive’ argument brings back memories of computer rooms where big monolithic systems offered computing powered easily surpassed by today’s tablet. With Clutter being expected for later this year and vNext next year, that is a considerable window. Some claim that Moore’s Law is obsolete and we also can’t expect to be running Skynet from home next year but still, computing power increases and I know of some customers who would just get the additional hardware onboard to facilitate those extra features. In addition, Clutter can be enabled on a per-user basis anyway.

In a more or less opposite statement, Julia is quoted saying, “Our philosophy is anything we technically can ship in servers, we will. We want our server customers and our cloud customers to have as much as we can ship to them. If it’s possible technically and it’s feasible then we’ll put it in the servers.” I think the reason for not adding Clutter should be sought in the hints Julia provided in the 2nd part of the article. With on-premises customer not following or even delaying upgrading to current versions of Microsoft’s products, Exchange, Sharepoint, Lync and clients, makes it hard to ship and support product transcending features, especially if this requires the latest (and greatest) version.

Think Site Mailboxes, more or less the predecessor of the announced Groups feature of Office Graph. Implementing Site Mailboxes requires Exchange 2013, Sharepoint 2013 and Outlook 2013 and additional configuration to integrate the Exchange and Sharepoint products. In the field, I see very low adoption of Site Mailboxes. Many customers are running older product levels (blocking implementation) or it’s a more elementary reason like not having deployed Sharepoint. But then, for those that are running Site Mailboxes, it adds value. Isn’t that what this is all about? Note that for the compliance discovery feature to work, proper configuration of Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync is required as well, but compliance is perhaps is a better selling point than clutter or one of the other Office Graph features could ever be.

“Assumption is ..” are the first words of a well-known saying. For the future, don’t expect anything you see announced for Office 365 to be ported to the on-premises Exchange releases, even though that product stems from the same code. Then again, features might get dropped, for reasons provided above or just because they were not ready. That’s nothing new and we got accustomed to a little disappointment now and then. In the case of Clutter, it’s a shame because it looked like a neat feature to work more efficiently through e-mail without configuring tons of rules. In the case of Groups, it is confirmed for v.Next, but you never know for sure until it is released. Meanwhile, Microsoft should maybe try to prevent confusion by demonstrating Clutter a.o. in sessions called “What’s new in Exchange“.

If you got an opinion on these changes in course or feature drops, please share them in the comments.

MEC Recordings on Channel9

mec2014logoA small heads-up as not everyone seems to be aware, but the recordings of the Microsoft Exchange Conference 2014 keynote and breakout sessions are up on Channel 9. A total of 74 recordings have been made available to public and they can be accessed here.

You can also download all presentation videos and – where available – slide decks for offline viewing using a script by Exchange fellow Peter Schmidt’s. The script is available here.

The UC Architects Podcast Ep36

UC2We’re glad to announce the availability of episode 36 of The UC Architects podcast, recorded live at the Microsoft Exchange Conference 2014 in Austin, Texas.

This episode is hosted by Michael Van Horenbeeck who is joined by Dave Stork, John Cook, Paul Cunningham, Serkan Varoglu and Michel de Rooij. Special guests are Greg Taylor, Brian Day and Jeff Guillet. Editing was done by Andrew Price.

Topic discussed in this episode are taken from sessions held at the Microsoft Exchange Conference as well as well as input from the audience. They are:

  • Favorite moments at MEC
  • Yammer
  • Exchange and Office social interaction features
  • OWA for Android
  • OneDrive for Business and Exchange
  • Sizing Guidance
  • Multi-Factor Authentication
  • On-premises vs. Hybrid vs. Cloud
  • Managed Availability
  • NFS Support
  • Questions from the audience

We are extremely proud the session made it to the Top 15 of the sessions held at MEC.

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More information on the podcast including references and a link to download the podcast here or you can subscribe to the podcasts using iTunes, Zune or use the RSS feed.

About
The UC Architects is a bi-weekly community podcast by people with a passion for Unified Communications; our main focus is on Exchange, Lync or related subjects.

MEC 2014 Wrap-Up

imageAfter enjoying some days off in Austin, Texas, after the Microsoft Exchange Conference 2014 ended, it’s now time to wrap-up the event. As this was my first MEC, I have no reference but from what I heard from others who attended the MEC 2012 in Orlando, this MEC was in one word EPIC. I cannot disagree with that qualification. The event took off with what might be called a false start in the form of a somewhat uninspiring key note and substandard food, but instant enthusiasm was achieved by the hilarious Taylor/Espinoza video and Dell Venue 8 Pro giveaway. What followed was incredible quality contents and a level of interaction was beyond expectation, making this a near-perfect event.

imageThe conference featured over 100 sessions, making it impossible to catch everything with some time slots even set for 9 parallel sessions. Luckily, the sessions can be downloaded (script) by registered MEC attendees, which might explain the success of the unrecorded Unplugged sessions. Being free format, those sessions allowed for some nice Q&A between audience and panel members consisting of Product Group members, MCMs, MVPs or other SMEs.

imageThe UC Architects session on the last day in a final slot drew a bigger audience than expected, as it was parallel with one of the assumingly popular Unplugged : Exchange Top Issues session, hosted by Tony Redmond. Then again, we got Greg Taylor, Brian Day and Jeff Guillet on the show and several MSFTs were also in the house. The impact of the session’s high “sit back, relax and enjoy” factor can also not be ruled out. Nevertheless, great crowd and some great feedback after the event making it a potential recurring submission, especially on such a difficult last day/last slot where people are exhausted.

imageThe city of Austin has proven to be a perfect host for such events, much like New Orleans was during TechEd North America last year. Everything was at walking distance and Austin’s lively nightlife, especially 6th Street, proved to be excellent for getting together with old and new friends outside of MEC social activities like MAPI Hour and the Attendee Party at Rainy Street. The reception and treatment by the friendly folks of Austin also contributed greatly to the positive experience.

imageA special shout out to ENow for hosting an excellent UC Architects party at the Speakeasy. With the venue located on the rooftop, it was really amazing as it offered a nice Austin nightly backdrop while enjoying the party. The turnout was incredible, with even Julia White (GM Office) and Michael Attala (Director Office Product Management) making their presence. The party was a real success and it looks like its going to be repeated as the Scheduled Maintenance registration website now mentions TechEd, Houston TX.

Some take-aways from the conference:

  • Exchange development is clearly a cloud-first strategy. Emphasis was added that cloud-first should be seen from an innovation point, as it can implemented faster due to the high level of standardization. This especially benefits OWA users directly as Outlook users need to wait for client updates. For example, Office Graph (the new container for self-learning social features such as ‘Clutter’ and ‘Groups’), will become available on Office 365 first, OWA first.
  • Yammer started to make sense. During the conference, you could interact through Yammer for the session you were attending and you were able to follow the presentation via ‘Second Screen’ functionality, showing slides as they were presented. Beyond this, people seemed to ignore Yammer, which perhaps could also be attributed to the contests on Twitter.
  • Using OneDrive for Business allows for storing attachments online (e.g. Office 365) while providing links to the attachment in the original e-mail, somewhat similar to Remote BLOB Store (RBS) in SQL Server which allows you to store BLOB  externally, outside of the main database.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication and Single Sign-On is coming to Outlook 2013 for Office 365 this year and Exchange 2013 on-premises next year.
  • Updated Sizing Guidance to accommodate for for MAPI/http impact on the CAS role (+50% CPU, but still lower than Exchange 2010) but also a cap on the pagefile sizing when using more than 32 GB of memory (maximum 32,778 MB).
  • With the introduction of MAPI/http will become the preferred protocol instead of Outlook Anywhere.
  • Outlook WebApp for Android is coming (no ETA) with all the nice features of a dedicated app like OWA for iOS, like selective wipe.
  • Clear statements on NFS not being supported to host Exchange databases. I repeat: NFS is not supported.
  • Emphasis on installing .NET Framework 4.5.1.
  • Recommendation to deploy 4 database copies, including 1 lagged copy, using a File Share Witness in a 3rd location.
  • Lots of well attended sessions on Office 365 Hybrid solutions, which shows a rise in the interest. However, during the UC Architects session, a vast majority of the audience indicated they are still (and will be) running Exchange on-premises.
  • Lots of attention for the Public Folder migration and the 10,000 folder limit raised its ugly head a few times. However, it has Microsoft’s full attention and they are working on it and are targeting a next boundary that will lie somewhere in the 1,000,000 region. However, still many customers with over 1m folders, so there was some discussion on that.
  • Lots of feedback on making troubleshooting Managed Availability easier. Since it’s a task of lookups and cross-checks between Exchange and Event Viewer a.o., being a DevOp I start to think in terms of developing a useful tool. I put that on my To Do list, so hold on until MS comes up with something or I find some decent time to develop tooling, whichever comes first.
  • Some requests for creating an interface for Edge Transport role as not every admin can be expected to have PowerShell skills. Same rule applies here as for the Managed Availability tool: duly noted until when time permits or MS comes up with something.

imageAfter MEC, I joined my colleagues for a shopping spree in Round Rock Premium Outlets and enjoyed hiking in McKinney Falls State Park were we were taken on a free, unsolicited but very welcome tour by a friendly local. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and Saturday saw a formal closing of the trip with the return flight to Amsterdam.

A big thanks to Microsoft for this well-organized, excellent event and the Exchange PG, MVPs and MCM/MCSMs and everybody attending for contributing. It makes me really proud to be part of this family as an Exchange MVP and I really look forward to the next MEC. Thanks everyone!

PS: In addition, here are additional write-ups by some Exchange fellows:

Microsoft Exchange Conference 2014 Countdown

imageThe one conference people involved with Exchange and related technologies are looking forward to is now only one week away, the Microsoft Exchange Conference. In fact, this will be the first MEC(*) I will be attending and I am really looking forward to it. Apart from attending sessions and joining discussions that I am sure will be interesting, conferences like these means catching up with peers, some I have not had the pleasure of meeting them in person yet.

With over 100 sessions crammed in a 3 day conference, you can imagine picking sessions is not an easy task, depending on your experience and knowledge you wish to attain. For those still in doubt on which sessions to attend to, Exchange fellow Tony Redmond wrote a helpful list of recommendations here and followed up today with an overview of the MVP sessions here. As you may or may not know, MVPs are recognized people from the community offering independent real-world experience and insights.

Apart from all the learning opportunities, there will also be festivities and parties. I’d like to bring to your attention one of these parties, the ENow sponsored UC Architects party at the rooftop of the Speakeasy on April 1st (no joke). You can request a pass at  http://schedulemymaintenance.com but be quick because the number of passes is limited. To increase your chances, should drawing be required, make sure you listen to The UC Architects episode 35 for a special promo code.

Like with conferences I have attended before, I will be tweeting noteworthy information from the event. If you want to receive MEC-wide information, I suggest you monitor the official hashtag, #IAmMEC.

*) Pronounced by many as  [mek] but according to this Geek Out with Perry – MEC Edition video, Microsoft pronounces it as [em-ee-see]. However, this is insignificant compared to the discussion on how to pronounce Azure.