I got e-mailed a survey, I filled out my session reviews, but in general I felt none of those really captured the topics I think needed covering so I'm typing out this review on the forums to fill in "the rest" in the hopes that someone is reading who is planning next year.
From a background perspective I've been to the last two MMS sessions, only coming to TechEd because MMS has been closed, and so my viewpoints might a bit skewed accordingly. From a professional perspective I have a number of certifications ranging from Exchange to private cloud and make my money on the consulting side of things, and my company pays me to go to these events each year so I can stay in front of emerging technologies, practices, and general peer review of how the market is handling today's challenges. In short I got to a nerd convention to learn nerd things so I can then execute nerd projects. I want deep dives, I want design theories, I want industry trends.
OK so that out of the way lets break TechEd down into a few components:
- Actual event hosting
- Event content
The event itself was not hosted nearly as well as either of the previous MMS events I have been to in the past. This might be because before those were in Vegas which is, IMO, a much better town for these things, but in general I felt the event was lacking nearly everywhere from the center itself, to the food, to the transportation.
Lets start with the transportation, as that's the first thing we are greeted with each day (unless you were able to lock in the Hilton). The buses were horrible after Monday. Monday morning things were organized very well. 3 buses waited at 6:45... we got there directly in about 20 minutes, and for the most part the rhythm was set. Again: not like Vegas where each year previous I stayed in the hotel and just rode an elevator down ... but manageable. That all fell apart Tuesday. Tuesday onward the buses stopped going directly to the the convention center and started taking looping routes to other hotels. They would sit in front of a hotel until either full or antoher bus pulled up behind them meaning you had no idea how long you were going to _sit_ at a particular stop. Monday's 20 minute ride quickly became Tuesday's 45 minute ride which nearly made me miss breakfast. By Thursday it got no better ... in fact Thursday took me over an hour because our bus went the wrong way down the freeway. Yes the wrong way. 30 minutes into the ride a guy behind me chirps up "hey isn't that our hotel" and sure enough there it was.
I felt sorry for whoever gave those opening 8:30 lectures because I'm certain they had to be half full due to the unreliable transit we had.
The venue itself was also a mess. With the 2nd floor useless for lectures, everything was crammed on the third floor. After 13,000+ people ate breakfast we all herded like cattle up two sets of escalators at a horrific rate. Again I'd like to point to Vegas. After a major keynote, Vegas hotels were smart enough to change the escalators to all run in the same direction to maximize lanes (three up and only 1 down for example). No such automation in Houston. We had to cram everyone onto the same two escalators. Oh and lets say I decide to take the healthy route and use the stairs? NOPE: the doors are one-way fire-exit only. I walked up 3 floors just to walk back down to the bottom. Got my exercise at least.
Then there was the food itself. Sum it up with eggs the consistency of tofu. Now the food is never something to write home about ... but again a big step back even from MMS. I mean there wasn't even any milk available.
The saving grace: the closing party. This party blew away anything MMS did in quality. Way more spacious (anyone saying it was crowded didn't try to navigate the MMS club that was elbow to elbow), way more food available that was way better quality (again the MMS after party had little more than appetizers) ... and the bull riding and other activities were fun. The closing party was a breath of fresh air and a wonderful part of the event. Bravo to whoever put all of that together.
Aside form my mostly negative review of the venue and travel arrangements, the content let me down most of all. All announcements being cloud first I should expect ... but things like the Recovery Manager still being cloud only in it's deployment and not having something built into SCVMM yet sent out a very different message than what Microsoft seems to actually say: They are public cloud first, hybrid cloud only as it help get you to public, and private cloud can go sit and spin.
The bottom line is that TechEd for me felt more like a big cloud sales pitch rather than a technology summit to help IT decision makers solve real problems. My company dumped thousands into me being here ... I didn't need a 1.5 hour breakout session on security that was nothing more than "we added extensions to deploying a VM that auto-install antivirus for you" ... heck i write those processes for companies on their private clouds already ... and that work is barely 300 level ... yet this lecture on how to check a box in a wizard is 300?
Now there were some brilliant lectures as well ... most notably the DSC/powershell by Jones/Hicks ... but by EOD Tuesday I found myself re-arranging my entire schedule: anything lower than 400 wasn't worth my time as it went no deeper than what I could find by browsing the internet. Heck some of the slides I recognized from 3 years ago. Where MMS could overwhelm me in a single suite of products, TechEd seemed more interested in selling a larger audience to the System Center model ... and less interested in helping us already sold on it to be come more proficient in it (guess it's all going to the cloud anyway?). In other words TechEd just felt like the beginners guide to MMS ... leaving us alumni out to dry.
Where do I go from here? To this I do want to take a special section to call out those individuals who saved the trip for me: all on the Expo floor. When a lecture got dry I could hit the TechExpo and Microsoft booth and usually find an iconic name who was more than willing to put on his nerd-hat and indulge me in theory crafting, road maps, sprint release schedules etc. Wonderful conversations about Microsoft's 12month sprint release and how hard it is to keep up with coool stuff coming out got me interested again ... and the response "be patient" to see if they could answer VMware's virtual SAN ... oooooh I'm eager. Chats with Jeff Hicks and Don Jones about Orch and SMA ... nerdvana. Real world design discussions around RMA, DSC, RMS, Exchange .... it saved the show.
Oh and how dare MS not hand me out a free Windows phone after I showed the nice lady my cracked and destroyed Nexus (broke at the airport) ... especially after all my clients got one (showed them off at dinner wed night and laughed at me as i got glass stuck in my thumb trying to answer email)... us techs just don't seem to get the respect ;)
Re-reading the above ... its seems mostly negative ... but I think maybe I'm somewhat sour about MMS being cancelled. The whole event felt like MMS was crammed into TechEd to sell System Center better ... and all the content got sales pitched up and dumbed down accordingly. I hope next year is richer.