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Ignite 2016 Wrap-Up

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Paul Robichaux
Neon Lightning Bolt


I just flew back from Microsoft Ignite, and boy are my arms tired. (Not really; I got to fly myself there and back.) It was a tremendous conference, with lots of announcements, product changes, attendee chatter, and various other happenings. I wanted to write a quick recap of some Ignite highlights, but first: a quick book review. (I promise it’s relevant.)

Recently I’ve been reading an absolutely fascinating book, The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal. Without giving any spoilers, Marshal was in fact an amazing man, in many ways the prototype of what we today think of as an honorable knight. I happened to be reading the chapter that discussed the emergence of the medieval tournament as a central feature of knightly culture while I was at Ignite, and the parallels were striking. Here’s a snippet of how Thomas Asbridge describes tournaments in The Greatest Knight:

"The knightly tournament emerged…as organized contests in which medieval warriors could fight under controlled conditions, earning both renown and financial reward. … Knightly tournaments in William’s day were entirely different beasts: imbued with some pageantry and awash with colour, yes, but riotous, chaotic affairs.. a critical feature of knightly culture and lifestyle in the central Middle Ages…The simple fact of hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of knights and their servants travelling from one tournament to the next, all requiring lodging and food, caused significant local disruption…Large, prosperous fairs were established at major tournament venues, with armourers, farriers, craftsmen, merchants, and entertainers all coming to ply their trade. In time, events acquired many of the trappings of the modern music festival—the massed crowds and tented cities, the glorious spectacle and ostentatious display, even the notion of celebrity."

That sure sounds like a Microsoft event, doesn’t it? Massed crowds? Significant local disruption? Merchants and entertainers? Long lines at the men’s room? Slow Wi-Fi as people download Windows Server 2016? Well, OK, maybe not those last two.

Anyway, Ignite 2016. I admit to being a little biased; I am a former Atlanta native and love the city, except for its traffic, so I was excited when I learned that Atlanta would host this year’s show. The logistics this year were far better than the 2015 show. The Georgia World Conference Center (GWCC) has a great central location, with plenty of nearby hotels, restaurants, bars, and attractions. Shuttle service was generally smooth and efficient, the GWCC staff was friendly, and the food was better. One complaint I heard was that not everyone loved the box lunches that all attendees were served — but that was a conscious decision on Microsoft’s part to help free people’s time so they could attend more sessions.

I spent almost all my time either on the Expo floor or in customer briefings; the only session I got to attend was “Debate the top 10 reasons…” (see below). However, I ran across a few sessions that might be of interest to those who work with Exchange, its sibling products, and Office 365:

  • Improve shared and delegated calendar experiences in Microsoft Outlook: In this session, you’ll see how Microsoft is making life (vastly) better for people who rely heavily on delegated and shared calendars, using a combination of protocol improvements and a new calendar sync architecture.
  • Debate the top 10 reasons not to move your Exchange on-premises mailboxes to Exchange Online: Despite the terrible title, this was a funny and fast-paced debate between Tony Redmond and Microsoft’s Greg Taylor that conveyed a good bit of useful theory and practice. (Plus, cameo appearances by yours truly and a special guest who read a long poem... seriously… about Office 365).
  • Microsoft’s Tim Heeney and Michael “Van Hybrid” delivered a solid session on how to use hybrid to migrate to Exchange Online... something Microsoft is critically interested in forcing helping customers to do.
  • The Skype team has taken the concept of a preferred architecture and gone one better by delivering an entire integrated operations framework, the Skype Operations Framework.
  • There were a ton of Windows Server 2016 sessions, covering virtualization, security, failover clustering, and software-defined storage with Spaces.
  • Yay for Outlook! The mobile, desktop, and web clients are all getting new goodies.

Tony and I recorded a podcast where we discussed some of the big announcements of the show, at least the ones related to Office 365. Microsoft is giving us better policy controls for Office 365 Groups, a new multi-workload approach to retention policies, some changes to Office 365 analytics, and a slew of improvements and changes in various aspects of Office 365.



There were many things Tony and I didn’t have time to talk about, though, including the release of Windows Server 2016 (it should show up on MSDN in a week or two), the very impressive demo of HoloLens as an aid to Lowe’s kitchen remodeling business, and a bunch of the stuff shown on this list of interesting sessions from the Exchange team. This is always the case at Ignite; there are so many sessions that it’s not physically possible to attend them all, much less absorb all the information available within such a short time.

Overall, I’d have to say the second-biggest highlight of the show for me was the 20th anniversary celebration that the Exchange team put on Wednesday night. Emceed by Greg Taylor, who looks unexpectedly good in a tux, it featured some historical artifacts from Exchange’s 20-year run, as well as some excellent retrospective videos. So far, only the “In Memoriam” video, commemorating long-lost Exchange features such as the M: drive, is public, but the team will be releasing additional videos, and they’re worth watching.

The biggest highlight, of course, was the same thing I cite every year: the opportunity to see old friends, meet new ones, and interact deeply with our current (and future!) customers. Jay and I got a ton of great feedback on how to make our products better, and you’ll see those improvements well before next year’s Ignite.. which, sadly, is in Orlando, not Atlanta. Mark your calendar!

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