Microsoft Ignite: A Great Event Challenged by Growing Pains

MicrosoftIgniteBlogWhen it comes to event planning, Microsoft subscribes to the “go big or go home” school of thought. The house that Bill Gates built does not host small parties. So after deciding to combine the Lync Conference, the SharePoint Conference, the Microsoft Exchange Conference, plus the flagship TechEd North America conference into one event, Chicago was a logical choice of venue.

Chicago’s McCormick Place conference center is a massive facility, with over two and a half million square feet of exhibition space. That’s vital when you need an exhibition hall for more than 100 vendors (plus Microsoft’s own exhibition booths, of course), and also want to fill a huge room with tables for feeding a record-setting 23,000 hungry IT professionals!

So how did it go? Putting things charitably, I think Microsoft is going through some growing pains with respect to planning for this event.

Certainly, there is always a lot to like about attending these conferences. Even in my limited role as a Microsoft Certified Trainer, it’s enormously valuable to me to be able to say, “I was at Ignite, and what Satya Nadella said to me was…” Having right-from-the-horse’s-mouth information about what’s coming to Windows 10 and Windows Server is a huge differentiator in the classroom. It’s even more valuable to the implementers and developers who need to start planning now to anticipate the changes in the market that Microsoft’s strategies will precipitate.

One shining example of those changes: Nano Servers. Windows Server 2016 is going to include a new, minimalistic server installation mode. Remember when Server Core was added to Windows Server 2008? Hold that thought, and now think smaller, lighter, and faster. Given their goal of enabling “born in the cloud” applications, Microsoft is finally allowing almost complete modularization of the operating system. Nano Servers have no graphical processing stack by default. Zero. There’s no reason to use the Remote Desktop Connection tool to connect to a Nano Server — there’s nothing to see there. The only way to administer a Nano Server is remotely — through a GUI on a client, or (my favorite) through PowerShell. This is a big step for a company that made its name in the industry as a purveyor of graphical-interface-managed operating systems!

Another fascinating area of development is in the “Internet of Things” — the coming wave of miniaturized sensors sending real-time statistics back to home base. The technologies needed to gather that tidal wave of data, store it, analyze it and react to it are daunting — but Microsoft is building them and making them available to the marketplace. It’s astonishing to see.

Microsoft’s technical marvels created a noticeable contrast with some surprising missteps in the event planning. Bussing to hotels was routinely delayed far beyond the promised “every 10 to 15 minute pickups”. The facility menu contained items that were sometimes comically inexplicable (I’m looking at you, vegetable strudel.) Most surprisingly, the planners booked local punk rock group Fall Out Boy for the closing party. The age disparity between the millennial rockers and their baby boomer audience inspired the lead singer of the band to joke, “You might not know us … but your kids do!”

Coordinating a function this large is no easy task, and I’m grateful for the many things that Microsoft got right in this event and the wonderful sense of community that is generated by putting so many committed IT pros together under one roof. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this was the best Ignite ever … only because it was the first Ignite.

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