This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the Microsoft Ignite event in Chicago. Having attended TechEd NA in Houston last year I was looking forward to more of the same quality technical content and product details around Azure, Server vNext and Systems Center suite.
I arrived on Saturday and spent much of the first few hours of my trip waiting to get on a Go Express shuttle bus, much to my annoyance. Once I arrived at the excellent Thompson hotel, I dropped off my gear and headed straight to the Microsoft store on the Magnificent Mile (North Michigan Avenue) to collect my badge followed by a quick visit to the Disney store to make sure I didn’t disappoint my two girls when I got home.
I must say it was great to see that Microsoft had catered so well for badge pickup with a wide list of hotels and other locations, it is just a pity they didn’t have a collection point in terminal 5 of O’Hare airport. On Sunday morning I attended the Microsoft 101 session presented by Joey Snow and Rick Claus (very funny guys), giving me an early opportunity to get familiar with the layout of McCormick Place and to run through the transportation routes open to me as my hotel was between two routes. During the afternoon I caught up with friends and went for a tour of Chicago and ultimately ended up finishing of night at the Krewe Meet N Greet party.
From the keynote Satya Nadella made it very clear in which direction Microsoft was pushing everyone, the era of cloud computing is well and truly here and it is changing both the role of I.T and the people that it empowers. Unless you have been under a rock for the past few years you would know that cloud is the number one driver for Microsoft especially given the success of their Office 365 platform, Microsoft is building on this with a constant stream of services arriving into Azure. It was good to see that Microsoft are however embracing the hybrid datacentre model, Microsoft is taking a partnership approach here which offers to serve vast resources to you via simple cloud integration where you require it.
Windows 10 dominated the majority of the keynote, in fact it was difficult to keep up with the build numbers being demonstrated across a wide range of devices. The advantage of running the same code across all platforms is clear, given this I would see Microsoft gaining much needed market share in the mobile arena as the ability to move your app from your Desktop, to your Surface to your phone enables people to work freely on any device.
Following the lengthy (3 hour) keynote we were all directed to the main canteen area across from the expo hall which was opening at the same time. This is where the cracks with the new Ignite conference started to open up.
My focus at Ignite was Azure, Hyper-V, Systems Center and Windows 10, so I had a lot of sessions to choose from. I constantly had to decide which of the 4 or 5 sessions that clashed to attend, however this is nothing different to TechEd and I must congratulate Microsoft on providing updated access to the sessions online each evening via the MyIgnite site. Content was hit and miss for some of the sessions, I was only attending level 300 & 400 and I found at times level 300 could have been dropped to 100/200 as the content was more about marketing than the technical substance behind the product.
As always there were absolute gems that some sessions turned up, in fact I found that the best session I attended was presented by a fellow Irishman Aidan Finn with his “The Hidden Treasures of Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V” (http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/Ignite/2015/BRK3506). Aidan didn’t fail to impress the entire room with his PowerShell demonstrations and take away technical content.
From a Systems Center Config Manager / MDT / Windows 10 deployment side of things, sessions with Michael Niehaus, Mikael Nystrom, Johan Arwidmark and Kent Agerlund never disappoint with their clear technical content for future deployments of Windows 10. Now all I need to do is wait for the related SCCM / MDT updates.
The food this year was in a word, terrible. The packaged lunch on day one could have been excused but it simply didn’t get any better and McDonalds became the stable diet for the majority of attendees. This was so disappointing when compared to the previous year in Houston, I mean I am a fussy eater at the best of times but I always found something I could eat at TechEd 2014.
Snacks between sessions were also very limited, you basically had to know which small area would be set up with a canteen trolley which would be cleared within a minute or two.
The wireless was equal only to the food in terms of its sheer disappointment. I know that providing stable wireless connectivity for 23,000 attendees each of which with probably 2-3 devices is no easy task, but ping responses in the thousands and drop offs are not something I would have expected from a conference of this scale and given the amount of revenue generated. It didn’t improve throughout the week and I believe speakers also had their own issues although they had access to a separate network.
It was great to meet up with some of my friends from twitter and also make new friends along the way. The likeminded individuals that form connections at these conferences is a priceless part of the experience, as is often the case that challenges faced by you in your role have often a solution which can be shared by interacting with the right people. Ignite provides the perfect forum for these connections to be made.
I can’t say enough good things about this city, there was so many things to do I don’t think I got to go to half the places I had wanted to during my stay. The food was incredible in every place I tried, from steak to Indian and everything in between, and I am also now a fan of Goose Island beer :). The signature bar at the John Hancock tower provided probably the best views from a bar in the city and thanks to the Disney Store I received a very warm welcome home by my two girls.
I hope that with all the feedback Microsoft have taken from their attendees, Ignite 2016 will be a more mature event and the issues with food and wireless access will be overcome. Overall I had a great experience at Ignite 2015, bringing back a changed view on a number of topics which I am already implementing today in my job. Would I go back?.. Of course I would!.
Finally I must say a big thank you to Trevor Sullivan (@pcgeek86) and Nickolaj Anderson (@NickolajA) for introducing me to some great people while I was there.