Tony’s recent post on the history of the Microsoft Exchange Conference got me to thinking. Why is it that there is no independent Exchange conference?
“Independent” has a couple of different meanings in this context. One meaning is that of a conference that is not tied to other products. Another is that of a conference that is not sponsored by, or even closely affiliated with, Microsoft. I’d like to explore both of those meanings in more detail.
One of the things that made the MEC so special is that it focused exclusively on Exchange. At one point, the event organizers included SharePoint, but there was little synergy between the two products, and that affiliation didn’t last. Because of the focus on Exchange, there were many more opportunities for deep technical content to be presented and discussed. At the Boston in me see in 1998, I remember attending a presentation on the internals of the extensible storage engine given by Laurion Burchalll, one of the developers. It was actually at Fleet Arena, and it was very well attended. Most of the presentations at the MEC were given by Exchange program managers or developers. However, there was a sprinkling of material presented by Microsoft product support, and this was arguably the most interesting and valuable content.
Over the years, the focus on content has changed as an inevitable result of being tied to TechEd, Microsoft’s premier IT professional event. TechEd is a great show for launching products, evangelizing the features or business value of new products, or sharing some types of deployment information. However, the problem is pie.
Not literally, of course; how could pie ever be a problem? (Except when you run out of it!)
No, the problem is that Tech Ed is a pie of a fixed size. The more products Microsoft shoehorns into TechEd, the smaller the individual slices must become. For example, consider that there are roughly the same number of sessions available to cover both OCS and Exchange than used to be to cover Exchange only. Now factor and other products, like Forefront Protection for Exchange, that can legitimately claim to be part of the same product track. There just isn’t room for deep coverage of everything. The result is that interesting, valuable sessions don’t make the cut. Instead, the sessions that are chosen tends to be those that the product team believes will be of interest to the broadest audience.
That’s not a bad thing, because it means that non-Microsoft conferences like Exchange Connections and TEC have room to flourish. However, as Tony points out, there is value in having a Microsoft owned and sponsored event as the flagship for a product. In my role as Exchange Connections conference chair, one perennial frustration I have is that it is difficult to get Microsoft developers or program managers to speak. The juiciest announcements and launches are reserved for Microsoft’s own events, and internal politics often make it impossible to get the key technical support and development staffers– the folks who are most knowledgeable and passionate about their work– to come speak. Microsoft’s marketing and PR plans often don’t allow us to get the most interesting speakers or topics covered with Microsoft’s official imprimatur.
(Side question: Microsoft still maintains a separate, unofficial conference for SharePoint, so why can’t we have one?)
Now, on to the second meaning of “independent”. The SQL Server community already has its own, completely independent event. It’s known as PASS Summit, and it is organized, sponsored by, and run by a user group of SQL Server administrators. There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent in the Exchange (or OCS) world. There certainly are user groups, but none have the national, or international, reach necessary to successfully put on such an event. I’m not sure why that is, given that the Exchange community is both large and lively, but it’s a fact nonetheless.
I think that there would be value both for the community and for Microsoft to have a dedicated conference, similar to MMS or the SharePoint conference, just for Exchange and OCS. Perhaps one day we’ll get such a conference. In the meantime, I hope to see you at Exchange Connections, which is coming up the first week of November in Las Vegas. We have some big and interesting things to talk about there, and I hope you’ll be part of it.