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Microsoft Ignite sessions Exchange admins should attend

Attending the upcoming Ignite conference? One MVP explains which sessions Exchange admins should go to and what takeaways to expect.

Attending the Microsoft Ignite conference, but don't know which sessions to attend? Available sessions show a clear trend toward the cloud. And while this trend isn't new, it's interesting to see so many Ignite sessions focusing on Office 365 and Azure. Aside from cloud-based sessions, admins can check out sessions on Exchange, including some that might provide some useful insight into what's coming in Exchange Server 2016.

Deploying Exchange Server 2016 (Brian Day): This is one of only three sessions on Exchange 2016, so I wouldn't want to miss it.

Advanced Exchange Hybrid Topologies (Timothy Heeney, Tim Thomason): A hybrid deployment is one way to migrate to Office 365 from an on-premises Exchange setup, so admins will want to check this out. And there's no better person to talk about hybrid Exchange than Tim Heeney; he deals a lot with hybrid deployments because of his role as supportability program manager at Microsoft.

Automating Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Configuration with PowerShell Desired State Configuration (Michael Hendrickson): Exchange administrators have been relying on PowerShell since day one. Desired State Configuration, although not easy to get started with, is a valuable addition to an admin's PowerShell skills set, especially if you have to manage larger Exchange environments.

Behind the Curtain: Running Exchange Online (Vivek Sharma): This session sounds a lot like Sharma's presentation at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in 2014. A year has passed since then, so I'm sure Microsoft has new insights to share with us on Exchange Online.

Device and Data Protection with Mobile Device Management in Office 365 (Astrid McClean): Because this feature was recently released, the session will be valuable to give more insights into what the feature does and how it works.

Exchange Hybrid: Make Office 365 Work for You (Timothy Heeney, myself): If admins are looking for a good primer on hybrid deployments with a lot of insight into how things work in the real world, this one's for you.

Exchange on IaaS: Concerns, Tradeoffs, and Best Practices (Jeff Mealiffe): This session will attempt to answer questions that have tormented many Exchange admins. I believe a great deal of this presentation will be devoted to virtualization, but it's good to see that other elements of running Exchange on IaaS are also getting attention. As far as I know, there's never been a session about running Exchange on IaaS.

Exchange Server Preferred Architecture (Ross Smith IV): Although Microsoft has preached about multi-role deployments for some time, many customers still don't deploy Exchange according to Microsoft's guidelines. I personally believe this is because many customers don't fully understand preferred architecture's implications or benefits. Attending this session will provide a great deal of information on what the Preferred Architecture is and why standing recommendations are the way they are. It will definitely help you understand how you can better deploy Exchange in the real world.

Exchange Storage for Insiders: It's ESE (Lin Chen, Matt Gossage, Todd Luttinen): This Ignite session is for the Exchange geeks among us -- the title says it all.

Making Managed Availability Easier to Monitor and Troubleshoot (Jay Cotton, Stephen McComas): Managed Availability is like a black box: Admins never know what they're going to get next. This being said, it's a useful feature to better understand what's happening in an environment. Any session attempting to clarify that, to bring the technology closer to the people and -- from what I understand -- to introduce tools to work with Managed Availability, gets my undivided attention.

Meet Exchange Server 2016 (Jon Orton): In addition to understanding how to deploy the next version of Exchange, which Brian Day will cover, this Ignite session will help admins get a handle on what Exchange 2016 is all about.

Meeting Complex Security Requirements for Publishing Exchange (Greg Taylor): Exchange consultants can probably relate to the title of this session because we're often faced with challenging requirements. Learning from an expert of Client Access Server is always interesting, and Taylor's sessions are always fun to attend.

Modern Authentication for the Office 2013 Clients (Jono Luk, Shweta Vaidya): Modern Authentication is the next big thing for Office, speaking from an Outlook point of view. Outlook has been stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to authentication capabilities, so it's great seeing it evolve into something new.

Office 365 Network Performance Troubleshooting (Paul Collinge): Office 365 is much more than just having different services run in the cloud. The layer that allows you to interact with Office 365 -- the Internet -- is easily forgotten. It's good to see a session dedicated to problems, especially performance issues, admins might see from a network perspective.

Under the Hood with DAGs (Tim McMichael): McMichael is the person who taught Exchange Masters about Database Availability Groups. He is, hands down, the source of authority when it comes to learning about DAGs. If admins are looking for a technical session about Exchange that all MVPs and MCMs would attend, this is probably it.

What does the new conference format mean for Exchange admins?

Microsoft's decision to combine all of its separate events into one large event is difficult from a scheduling perspective. But the good thing about a larger conference is that all of the technologies are being covered in one place, and people are often interested in more than a single technology.

Smaller conferences such as the Microsoft Exchange Conference or Lync conference speak to a relatively small subset of IT professionals. Nonetheless, those conferences allowed the product experts to go deep into the technology, which is something we'll have to wait and see about at Ignite.

One major downside of having a single conference is that the companies Exchange admins work for now have to decide who can attend. When technologies are covered by multiple smaller conferences, it's easier to send one or two people from a team and have the rest of the IT staff cover for them while they're away. An organization can't do this now.

I polled some organizations about this, and some won't send anyone to the conference to keep things fair for all. I understand why they made that decision. It's tough to say "yes" to one admin and "no" to another.

I'm giving Ignite the benefit of the doubt. A large conference will likely undo some of the charm of the smaller conferences, but Microsoft has something to prove and is doing its best to make this conference a success.

About the author:

Michael Van Horenbeeck is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Master and Exchange Server MVP from Belgium and works for ENow, a company that provides systems management software for Microsoft technologies. He specializes in Exchange, Office 365, Active Directory and a bit of Lync. He is an active contributor in the Exchange community by writing articles for several tech websites and his own blog and by participating in the UC Architects podcast. He frequently speaks at international conferences, including TechEd, IT/DEV Connections and the Microsoft Exchange Conference.

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