This week in Orlando, Microsoft brought together a mass of Exchange Server engineers, MVPs, and admins, representing businesses of all sizes and with widely varying years of experience in the field. The event, of course, was the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC), making its return after a 10-year absence. And while the C in MEC ostensibly stands for conference, this event made clear that the C also stands for Exchange Server's thriving community.
In fact, during the opening keynote, Microsoft's Michael Atalla announced the launch of a new website dedicated to promoting community within the Exchange world, aptly found at www.iammec.com. This site is all about sharing knowledge among this dynamic group. The main page (after logging in with a Microsoft account) features a Twitter box for tweets containing the new community hashtag, #IamMEC. Throughout the site, you'll find links for news and technology updates as well as how-to articles, wikis, and videos. The focus is on you, the Exchange community, so this site will be as successful as you make it.
Present at MEC were more than 50 Microsoft MVPs for Exchange Server and more than 60 members of the Exchange team from Microsoft, according to Atalla's remarks during the opening keynote. Most of the technical sessions were given by members from these groups, presenting the latest information on Exchange Server 2013 and Microsoft Office 365 and related content. Certainly, the level and quality of information presented was higher than anything we've seen for Exchange (perhaps outside an MVP Summit) for many, many years.
But as valuable as that technical content is, it's community that makes this event so special. My experience from other conferences has been that Microsoft speakers tend to disappear except during their session slots or keynotes. At MEC, there were always Exchange team members, as well as MVPs and MCMs, everywhere you turned, ready to discuss a problem or explain a new feature. The exhibitor's hall featured whiteboards where the experts were always on hand to help attendees grasp tricky concepts.
During the conference in Orlando, I spoke with Exchange experts from all over the world: New Zealand, Australia, China, India, Germany, Sweden, Spain, England, Ireland, Canada—and I know there were many other nationalities present that I missed. But here we all speak the same language: DAGs and DLP, namespaces and site mailboxes, geo DNS and OWA, and so on. No one is left out of the conversation. And it was great to see so much passion around these topics and such active debate both live and via Twitter: You didn't always have to attend a session to participate in the discussion. In fact, if you were following the # IamMEC hashtag, you didn't necessarily have to be at MEC!
In this relaunch of MEC, it certainly seems Microsoft was successful in reinvigorating Exchange community spirit while also celebrating the new Exchange 2013. The conference wasn't flawless. For instance, the day 2 keynote, a live "Geek Out with Perry" session, was a good idea that didn't play too well in front of a large crowd. I heard many complaints from attendees about being shut out of sessions that were full by the time they showed up; I assume the organizers intended to keep the room sizes small and intimate to facilitate discussion, but no attendee wants to be left standing outside a closed door.
At the Exchange Arena competitions, spectators commented that the replicated screens were too small to follow the actions of the competitors, which meant that the experience wasn't useful as a lesson in troubleshooting as some perhaps hoped it might be. In the Exchange Arena, contestants were given real-world problem scenarios with an Exchange 2010 environment and had to get the system back online within a specific timeframe—all with an audience watching and cheering on their favorites.
But on the whole, my experience and certainly the feedback I heard again and again from those I spoke with was overwhelmingly positive. Here are just a few of the comments from Twitter:
- @ebuford: Excited by the MEC community that I saw built this week! #IamMEC
- @greg10101: What a great experience @MEConf was. Best convention I have been to. So much great info I can use to drive improvements now. #iammec
- @Bill_Kean: @MEConf MEC is the "rock concert" of conferences. #iammec
And even Michael Atalla tweeted, "I am not going to come down from my @MEConf high for a long time to come! That was AWESOME! #iammec"
Perhaps the only letdown was the failure of Microsoft or the Exchange team to commit definitely to a follow up MEC. At the closing keynote, Atalla was quoted (by Paul Robichaux) as saying, "Yes, we will absolutely have MEC again. Not gonna tell you when. When we have something to talk about." For all those who thought this event marked a return to MEC as an annual event, that sounds a little disappointing to say the least.
Nonetheless, MEC 2012 has shown that the community feeling is strong for Exchange Server. Through Microsoft's new website and through the connections made at the conference, as well as through Twitter or wherever you gather to talk about Exchange, let's keep the Exchange community as strong as it's been this week.