All good things come to an end and that’s also true for MEC 2014. On the day after MEC 2014 it is time to rethink the event. Overall it was an awesome event, despite the dull keynote session although the videos shown there were great, especially the one featuring David Espinoza and Greg Taylor on email innovation:
Also the fact that all attendees were given a Dell Venue 8 Pro was a big surprise for everybody and I have to admit, it’s a great device. Right now it looks like I am going to prefer this over my Windows Surface RT 🙂
But back to the event…. MEC 2014 was a three day event with over 100 unique sessions, divided in two kinds of sessions:
- Break-out sessions – the regular sessions where a presenter goes through his Powerpoint presentation and you can ask questions during the presentation or at the end of the presentation. These are presented by members of the Exchange Product Group (‘how things should work’) and by MVP/MCM (‘how things work in the real world’).
- Experts Unplugged – this is a free format session without Powerpoint slides where a couple of experts (mostly Exchange Product Group members, sometimes moderated by an MVP or an MCM) where you can ask any open question related to the topic. These turn out to be very valuable.
The good thing about a dedicated event against an overall event like TechEd is that there’s a great presence of the Microsoft Exchange Product Group. Easy to identify in their brown shirts and open for questions to everyone. Personally I was amazed how open and honest these people were, especially around Office 365. This certainly helped me in positioning Office 365 better, but also have a better understanding how Microsoft manages Office 365 on a daily basis. In turn this will help me manage our own platforms.
During the event I heard a couple of interesting things. The following is a list of my understanding of things regarding Exchange and Office 365:
- The service (i.e. Office 365) is the future for Micorosoft and for Microsoft Exchange. All developments are done in Exchange online. When features are interesting enough for Exchange on-premises than they are released for on-premises Exchange.
- Microsoft releases new software to Office 365 every 2 (TWO!) weeks.
- Microsoft recommends using multi-role servers (i.e. CAS and Mailbox on one server) for Exchange 2013 on-premises deployments. Office 365 however is using dedicated server roles (i.e. separate CAS and Mailbox servers). The reason for this was not unveiled, but I suspect it’s a political issue within Microsoft. CAS is owned by a different team than Mailbox and each team is responsible for its own deployment (but again, this is my interpretation).
- When a new version is released, the servers are completely scratched. Exchange is uninstalled, Windows is reinstalled and the new version of Exchange is installed. Fully automated! I do remember a Program Manager (Bob Rapp) working at Microsoft 14 years ago saying this was the road ahead. The downside of this is of course that it is hard for Microsoft to find issues with a regular update like we do in an on-premises environment.
- OWA seems to become the preferred client for Exchange. This makes sense since OWA is controlled by the Exchange team while Outlook is controlled by the Office team. Good features will make it to Outlook, but at a slower pace.
- Besides the OWA for iOS client Microsoft will soon release an OWA for Android client. This will hopefully solve a lot of the ActiveSync issues we currently see with Android clients and Exchange servers.
- Microsoft is struggling with the social media and how to integrate it in Office 365. Yammer looks like a promising product but lacks a decent client and integration with other products, making acceptance low. There was a heck of a lot complaining about Yammer at MEC, especially from MVP’s and MCM’s.
But all this fuzz turns out well in new stuff like Universal Groups, Clutter, People View and Office Graph we will soon in Office 365, but also the new social networking or integration framework codename Oslo looks promising.
- A lot of work has been done in migrating to Office 365. Directory synchronization with password synchronization, creating a hybrid scenario, implementing ADFS, a lot of the complexity has been hidden or taken away (but this does not mean it’s an easy path though!)
From an Exchange on-premises point of view there are also a lot of interesting announcements or new features coming along:
- There was a lot of focus on deployment of Exchange 2013. For example, to prevent certificate warning in Outlook clients during installation of a new Exchange server it is recommended to install Exchange 2013 in a separate (empty) Active Directory site. After proper configuration the Exchange server can be moved to the production Active Directory site.
- NFS is still not supported on NFS volumes (a lot of discussions going on here during MEC :-))
- Public Folders in Exchange 2013 is a cause of concern and there’s a lot of attention from Microsoft on this and the team is working hard to resolve the current issues. The maximum number of supported Public Folders right now is 10,000 but Microsoft is targeting towards 1,000,000 Public Folders. There were some customers with over 1 million PF’s so there was a vivid discussion on this.
- Exchange 2013 Sizing Guidance has been updated to reflect new features in SP1:
- The recommended page file size is now 32778 MB (fixed) if the Exchange server has more than 32GB of memory.
- CPU requirements have increased by 50% due to MapiHttp implementation. However, the CPU requirements are still lower than Exchange 2010. Please check-out the blog post on the Microsoft Exchange EHLO site on these two topics.
- MapiHttp is the protocol of the future, Outlook Anywhere is dead.
- Recommended Exchange deployment now is using 4 Mailbox database copies. Three regular copies and one lagged copy (and increased emphasis on lagged copy).
- The preferred File Share Witness is now in a 3rd datacenter (Hey, I’ve been doing successfully for quite some time now)
- Multi-Factor authentication and Single Sign-On (SSO) are coming to Outlook 2013 this year for Office 365. For Exchange 2013 on-premises most likely next year.
Besides the technical aspect of such an event it is also a social event. There’s enough time to meet with old friends again (MVP, MCM, PG) and have interesting discussions. Microsoft is also organizing stuff like a Welcome Reception (at the venue) and the Attendee Party. For the Attendee Party 6 bars were closed at Rainy Street in Austin for this private event which was great.
Overall MEC 2014 turned out to be a great event with a lot of great, informative and honest sessions. Personally I gained a lot of knowledge about Office 365 helping me better position the product, understand Microsoft’s strategy on this making me more enthusiastic about Office 365 (which I was not before the event).
I would like to thank Microsoft for organizing this great event, the Exchange Product Group and the MVP and MCM for their great contribution to this event and everybody else that contributed as well of course. Looking forward to the next MEC.