Last week, I spent several days at the Microsoft Exchange Connections conference in Orlando. I was able to attend several of the sessions, which were packed with great content about Exchange Server and Lync and telephony for Exchange admins. I'm sure there were just as many, or more, great sessions that I missed. Anyway, I thought I'd share some of the key takeaways I had from my time at the show for those who missed.
The first full day of sessions at Connections is "Microsoft Day," which means that sessions in all the tracks are presented by speakers from Microsoft or picked by Microsoft. (Remember, Exchange Connections is part of the co-located DevConnections shows, which includes tracks on SharePoint, SQL Server, Windows, and several other Microsoft technologies.) Bradley Dupay of Microsoft spoke in most of the Exchange-specific sessions.
Perhaps the biggest news that came out of these sessions is that Microsoft IT is no longer using lag copies with its database availability groups (DAGs). Dupay said that Microsoft no longer necessarily recommends lag copies as a backup strategy for Exchange data, and if you choose to implement them, you should have a solid justification based on your organizational size, available hardware, and so forth. Tony Redmond reiterated this point during his keynote for the Exchange track the next morning, saying essentially that lag copies are "an interesting exercise in computer science" but there are better point-in-time backup and restore solutions available on the market.
After lunch, I switched over to Harold Wong's session on Lync 2010. I've seen Wong present a couple times before and return to his sessions because it's great to see a speaker who is so clearly passionate about the technology and able to explain it in a meaningful way. In the session I attended, Wong demoed how quickly and easily you could switch devices during a Lync call, without needing to reconnect. I was also impressed with the Lync feature that lets you record not just voice but entire shared presentations—video, PowerPoint, etc.—and store that recording to your local drive. I could definitely use a feature like that!
Migration to Exchange Server 2010 is clearly one of the major topics around Exchange at the moment, and several sessions touched on this point—beginning with Redmond's keynote, "Six Critical Issues for Successful Exchange 2010 Deployments." A few of the takeaways from the keynote include:
- It's critical to get to know the Mailbox Replication Service (MRS) for successful Exchange 2010 migration.
- When planning your migration don't forget about third-party products, connectors, log analyzers, add-ons, and anything else that touches Exchange.
- You've got to consider what client you'll provide for your end users—don't bother with Outlook 2003; stick with Outlook 2010 or Outlook 2007. OWA 2010 is a worthwhile option to avoid using a desktop client, but you get no offline access.
- If you're already on SAN storage, stay on SAN for great performance; if you need to buy new storage, consider DAS for Exchange. JBOD, although technically possible, will require a lot of hands on administration.
To round out his talk, Redmond discussed the possibility of moving your Exchange organization to the cloud. It's been my experience that most Exchange admins aren't in favor of such a move; however, when it comes time to make a decision about the cloud, in many cases it's a company's messaging system that makes the most sense to move. So, Redmond's recommendation is to learn and do many things within your IT organization. As he said, if you only want to run Exchange Server, and your company decides to outsource Exchange to the cloud, your job is toast. Do many things! Redmond also recommends ensuring your company has a back-out plan before committing to any move to a cloud system, just in case things don't work out as advertised or your company's needs change.
Jim McBee presented a session about "Migrating to Exchange 2010 from Exchange 2003." The focus of this session was on what you can do in your environment now to prepare for a planned move—and save yourself headaches later on. One of McBee's big points was to ensure that your Active Directory (AD) sites and subnets are defined correctly. As McBee said, "Exchange 2010 will expose any potential problems in Active Directory." He also discussed carefully documenting your current Exchange environment—mail flow, all the software and services that touch Exchange, what clients you have in use, any custom applications you're running—so that you can make decisions about how you'll handle each of these elements on Exchange 2010. McBee also pointed out that you should ensure that your testing or lab environment resembles your actual live environment as closely as possible to avoid any unexpected problems when you make the actual switch.
As I mentioned up front, I'm sure I missed as many great sessions as I was able to attend. For instance, I spotted this note on Twitter:
@billrod: Best session yesterday was Peter o'Dowd amazing talk on exchange store. looking forward to more great sessions @devconnections.
I did, however, see Peter O'Dowd's session "Telephony Demystified for Exchange Admins (part 1)," which was a great introduction to this topic. O'Dowd geared his talk toward helping admins overcome the fears associated with implementing some of these features, which can be a little more difficult than your basic email, and of course he presented the "part 2" session afterward that got more into the how-tos of implementing these features in Exchange 2010.
So as you can see, there was a plethora of great topics and great people to talk to at the conference. And, being a smaller show than something like Microsoft's TechEd gives you a real opportunity to mingle with your peers and the experts/speakers, who have all come to do the same. I won't name any names, but some of the best conversations took place late at night down in the lobby bar. So, hope to see you at a future show!
Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins
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