Reflections on MEC 2014

It’s Sunday, and I’ve been back from Austin and the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) for a few days now. I even worked on Friday, and if there’s anything to make you feel melancholy about a conference ending, it’s going back to work. As people continue to head out of Austin and return home, wrap-up posts are starting to appear. I’ve read several, and they all do a great job of running down what was announced and discussed at the conference, far better than I can. Here are links to some that I recommend:

I expect there will be more, and I’ll update the list as I find them. Feel free to let me know if you find one I don’t have listed here.

This was my third MEC after attending in 2002 and 2012.  I’m a perennial TechEd attendee, but the modern incarnation of MEC feels completely different. I love the small size, and the incredibly tight community that attends.  It makes for a more personal and more in-depth experience.  Possibly a lot deeper than a generalist like me can truly appreciate. I’m not a consultant and the system I manage is quite modest so some of the sessions don’t apply directly to my environment. I do get value out of it, but more of it comes from the community and networking aspect than from the deep dives.

I’m at a bit of a turning point when it comes to Exchange and MEC.  I’ve managed a small Exchange system and an even smaller Lync setup (no voice) for 15 years at my employer, and MS Mail and Exchange for five years before that somewhere else. I used to have a couple thousand mailboxes, but then we moved our students to Live@edu along with the other schools at the University.  That left me with around 500 mailboxes. Move forward a few years and the students are in Office 365 and faculty and staff have started to join them there.  Most of the schools have committed to moving to the cloud, and my school will be joining them later this year. That means by the end of 2014, I will have shutdown my Exchange and Lync servers.

Many other MEC attendees are moving to the cloud as well, but in most cases they will still be responsible for email after it moves to Office 365. Not so for me. That function lives in our central IS organization.  I’ll have access to create mailboxes and groups for our school, but it’ll be through a custom interface. No more looking up PowerShell commands for Exchange anymore. My plate will still be full at work, and losing Exchange won’t free up much time to work on other things.  Of all the systems I manage, Exchange requires the least care and feeding.  It just works. If I could voluntarily give up one of the products I manage, it’d be SharePoint. Nothing against SharePoint, you can do amazing things with it. I just have never found working with it to be much fun. So many moving parts and interdependencies and nuances and possibilities to really screw things up. Give me Exchange over SharePoint every day of the week.

I think it’s a great thing that we’re finally moving to a single email system at work, and I’m glad that it is in Office 365.  If we had picked Google Apps… well, I shudder to think what that would be like. I’m really looking forward to making use of some of the new features we learned about at MEC like Clutter and Groups and more. I’ll just be doing it as a user and not as an admin.  In that environment, it will be difficult for me to justify going to another MEC.  If you don’t manage Exchange, it’s a difficult sell to management that going to an Exchange conference is a good investment for them.  But who knows? The next MEC is probably 18 months out again, so that leaves plenty of time for a role or employer change in the meantime. We’ll just have to wait and see.