The air is getting crisp, the leaves are turning: must be time for this year's fall Microsoft Exchange Connections conference. If you weren't able to attend last month's Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) in Orlando, you still have the chance to get great Exchange Server content from the experts in a warm environment, as Connections takes place in Las Vegas, October 29 through November 1. Plus, spending Halloween in Las Vegas? You know that's got to be fun.
One of our long-time Exchange authors, Nathan Winters, will be speaking at Connections for the first time this year. After working for a few difference companies over the years, Nathan is now an Exchange technical specialist with Microsoft UK. He most recently wrote Mastering Lync Server 2010 and is currently working on projects for the 2013 product wave. I asked Nathan a few questions about what attendees at Exchange Connections could expect from his sessions, as well as how a graduate of the Royal College of Music came to work with Exchange Server.
BKW: According to your bio, you actually studied music, not technology. How did you end up working in IT and on Exchange Server specifically?
NW: It was certainly an interesting transition! I started out working at college before I finished my degree. Basically, getting a job in an orchestra in the UK as a clarinetist was a massive long shot. I'd been teaching in schools for a few years beforehand and decided I didn't want to do that fulltime, so I looked for something else I was interested in. I'd always been excited by technology ever since high school, so I went and did my MCSE courses and exams. Then I pestered the college IT department to let me get hands on. One Exchange 5.5–to–Exchange 2003 migration later and the ball was rolling.
BKW: You're doing a session at Exchange Connections focused on Forefront Online Protection for Exchange (FOPE). Microsoft recently announced significant changes coming to the Forefront product line. Can you tell us a little about those changes, and will they affect your FOPE session?
NW: FOPE and Forefront are changing. We are implementing basic anti-virus/antispam in the Exchange product, which we will then pair with Exchange Online Protection (the development of FOPE). I will cover the technology behind EOP, which comes from FOPE, and will then dive into how customers can use EOP to protect themselves both from viruses and spam coming in, and how data loss prevention (DLP) features can stop data leaking out from Exchange.
BKW: You'll also be speaking about "those Pesky PSTs." From your experience, how big of a problem are PSTs, and what kinds of problems do they cause organizations? What can the free Microsoft Exchange PST Capture tool do to help alleviate the PST problem?
NW: PSTs are a big issue for all sorts of organizations. They create problems for the end user in terms of finding data and accessing data on multiple devices. They create problems for the administrator because they tend to get stored on file servers (which isn't supported) or on local drives where they can be lost. Backing them up and recovering from corruption is a huge headache! In Exchange these days, we want to keep data in place to allow for high-fidelity access from all the devices out there but also, most importantly, to ensure that an organization can search the data and remain compliant.
In terms of the Microsoft tool, it aims to assist companies bringing data into Exchange or Office 365. It can search out PSTs on the network or PCs and then give options to link them to a user mailbox and move them into either the mailbox or an archive mailbox.
BKW: You have one session scheduled that will touch on some of the new features coming with Exchange Server 2013—site mailboxes, modern public folders. How can businesses use these collaboration features to improve their productivity? From your experience, will the work of implementing the new features be worth the productivity gains?
NW: Absolutely! Of course I would say that . . . but seriously. The way things are moving is toward Office as a solution or service. Microsoft is focused on making end-user scenarios superb across a variety of different back-end products.
In particular, it's such a common challenge to manage emails and documents about a project. Site mailboxes enable this scenario whilst ensuring the user can continue to work wherever they are -- SharePoint site or Outlook -- while still getting all the best bits of Exchange for email and SharePoint for document management, versioning, and coauthoring. What's really important is that this is configured from one location; it can be done by the site owner rather than the IT admin, and retention and discovery is entirely tied into the process so that businesses remain safe.
BKW: Of course, MEC was a great community-building event for Exchange admins, but any in-person event can be useful. Do you have any advice for conference attendees about getting the most out of the conference experience?
NW: Getting the most out of conferences can be tough. It's all too easy to get sucked into the flow and not think through what your aims are. In my experience, planning is essential. Go through and sort out your schedule early, and put some thought into the questions that you want answers to. Sad as it may sound, getting some sleep is also pretty essential to make sure that you can actually take in all that information!
Good advice, Nathan! Remember that Exchange Connections is co-located with Windows Connections and DevConnections so attendees can go to sessions from any track -- you know, just in case you need to bone up on SharePoint or SQL Server. Microsoft distinguished engineer and lead architect for Windows Server Jeffrey Snover will be delivering a keynote about Windows Server 2012, which should be of interest for Exchange admins looking to upgrade their environments to Exchange 2013 at some point.
And if you're planning to attend, let me know! I'd love to take a few minutes to say hello and find out what's working for you and what the pain points are with your current Exchange environment. Send me an email or connect on Twitter.