My Thoughts on MMS and TechEd

TechEd or MMSEarlier this month I was in Las Vegas for MMS, aka the Microsoft Management Summit. MMS is Microsoft’s conference for IT Pros that focuses on their device, desktop, and datacenter management products and services. As most of you probably know, I’ve attended TechEd, Microsoft’s other conference for IT Pros (and Devs too), every year since 2003. I was approved to attend both conferences this year thanks to careful budgeting and some extra Premier hours. When people learned I was going to MMS and TechEd, they said over and over that they wanted to hear my opinion MMS as a TechEd diehard. All week, I deferred when asked the question and said I needed to wait until it was over before I could make a valid comparison. I told everyone to wait for my blog post. This is that blog post.

With the way everyone talked about MMS, I was expecting a different experience than TechEd, but to be honest, it felt just like TechEd. There really weren’t that many differences aside from the subject and the scale. Here’s a table comparing the two.

MMS TechEd
Length 5 days 4 days
Audience IT Pros IT Pros & Devs
Attendance ~5,200 ~11,000
Focus Desktop, Device, Datacenter & Cloud Management Everything Microsoft
Session Levels 300, 400 200, 300, 400
Breakout Sessions Yes Yes
Certification Prep & Testing Yes Yes
Hands-On Labs Yes Yes
Pre-Cons No Yes
Vendor Expo Yes Yes
Conference Store No Yes
Attendee Party Yes Yes

Like I said, at first glance there really aren’t many differences between the two. They both fit what seems to be the standard template for a technical conference. The real differences come down to topics and depth (and intangibles).

Topics….  MMS is aimed squarely at the IT Pro who works in infrastructure. If all you work with is Windows Server, System Center, and client management, then MMS makes perfect sense for you. If you work with other technologies, as I do, like Exchange and SQL and SharePoint and so on, then TechEd offers content for those products which simply aren’t covered at MMS. I don’t always attend sessions or talk to product teams about every product, but having that option is useful.

Depth….  MMS sessions are all 300 or 400 level. Some people complained on Twitter this year that there were 200 level sessions masquerading as 300 level, but my experience was that was the exception and not the rule. All of my sessions covered the products in-depth and at a high level of technical detail. They were aimed at people already using the products. TechEd has more review and overview sessions than MMS, but that isn’t always a bad thing, especially if you’re interested in exploring something new. As Microsoft continues to push towards the cloud, they need to continue to bring people into the System Center fold. TechEd is a great place to target those people who haven’t made that move yet.

I also attended the Exchange Conference (MEC) last year, and there was a greater difference between MEC and both MMS and TechEd. MEC was much smaller, around 2,000 people, and much more focused. Because MEC had been gone for so many years, they were able to rethink what the conference should be and I thought they did a great job. The keynote was one of the best I’ve watched in a long time – humorous, with plenty of demos, and hardly any slides. Many of the breakout sessions were small (one might say cramped!) and incredibly interactive with the audience driving the discussion. I’m not sure you could recreate all of this at the larger conferences, but I hope the people behind MMS and TechEd check with their peers working on MEC to swap notes.

At the end of MMS, people started discussing whether the oft-rumored demise of MMS was finally here. There was no mention in the keynote about coming back next year. What Brad did say, however, was to encourage everyone to attend TechEd in-person or virtually because they would talk in detail about the “next wave of investments… in the server and tools business.” Rod Trent (@RodTrent) did tweet that there will be a conference next year, but wouldn’t say much about when or in what format it might return. Hmmm…  Might this be a signal of things to come?

I doubt that I will be able to attend three technical conferences next year again (although I’m going to try), so I’m going to be selfish and say that I would like to see MMS get absorbed into TechEd.  Looking at Channel 9, it lists 428 sessions available for TechEd 2012 and 187 sessions for MMS 2013. Sessions overlap quite a bit between the two conferences so bringing all the MMS content doesn’t mean adding 187 sessions to TechEd. Merging the two should be achievable without sacrificing the technical depth. Restoring Friday sessions to TechEd would help provide capacity for the extra sessions.

I’m curious how many of the 5,000+ MMS attendees would switch over to TechEd if they merged. My week made it clear there are people who feel about MMS the same way I feel about TechEd, so I hope they would bring that passion with them to TechEd. And that leads me into the intangibles I mentioned earlier.

Intangibles….  I’ve been going to TechEd for so long that I’ve built an extensive network of friends and colleagues. (Insert obligatory shout-out to The Krewe here.) I look forward to seeing these people every year, and since most do not attend MMS, I’m not willing to give that up.  Higher technical level sessions about System Center are great, but not at the expense of my network. That’s not to say I haven’t made connections at MMS, I met some great people there and it would be great to see them again.  If it is at TechEd then all the better.

I understand too that making TechEd even larger does pose some logistical problems. Larger conferences require larger facilities.  I’m not sure how many cities are able to host TechEd today, but if you add the two, the pool of hosts probably shrinks.  More sessions, more labs, more rooms, bigger expo, and on and on. Bigger isn’t always better, but I think the combination makes for a stronger conference.


Would I return to MMS next year if it returns as a standalone conference? Yes.

Would I attend MMS instead of TechEd? No, not unless my responsibilities at work change considerably and narrow my focus.

MMS was a great experience, and I learned a lot, but TechEd gives me the most bang for my buck and my time. If I can pick only one, that’s where I’ll be. So I’ll keep my fingers crossed that next year brings us a merged conference, and failing that, a generous travel and training budget for the next fiscal year.

One more thing… I came across two blog posts this morning as I was finishing this post:

Three Reasons MS Would Want to Combine the MMS and TechEd Conferences by Pete Zerger (@pzerger) at System Center Central

Why MMS and TechED Consolidation might not work… by Christian Booth (@ChBooth), a response to Pete’s post

I agree with Pete, not so much with Christian.  Whenever people say that TechEd is mostly sales and marketing sessions for managers I have to wonder if we’re going to the same conference. Sure, there are going to be introductory-level sessions, but the sessions I attend are just as technical as the ones at MMS. If I can find those sessions, they should be able to as well.  I believe they can add MMS in and maintain the level of content that brings people back to MMS year after year.