Microsoft Ignite 2016, the huge five-day technical conference for IT professionals, drew more than 23,000 attendees to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Ga., in late September. Obviously, this was not a small, intimate gathering at a tiny venue. To give you an idea about the size of the conference center, a walk from one side to the other side was about 2,500 steps. And although the hotels were nearby, a typical day consisted of about 12.5 kilometers of walking. To somebody not attending the conference, it must have looked like thousands of nerds had descended on Atlanta, all of them walking around with the same conference bags for five days.
What made the conference special for me was that I was not only an attendee but also one of the speakers and a Technical Learning Guide (TLG). This was, in fact, my first time as a speaker at a Microsoft Ignite conference. Microsoft Ignite offered thousands of sessions on a wide variety of topics, including the cloud, IT infrastructure, software development and, of course, Microsoft apps. With nearly 500 speakers, hopefully every one who attended found sessions that fit their interests. Speakers came from all around the world to present their expertise. It was the first time for some of these dedicated MVPs to impart their expert knowledge to hundreds of people.
After the first night in the hotel (and a chance to recover from jet lag) the conference started with the main keynote address from Scott Guthrie, who runs the Cloud & Enterprise division at Microsoft. The keynote took place in Philips Arena, which is right around the corner from the conference center. If you wanted to get a seat, you had to start queuing up more than an hour before the address started. But those attendees who did not get a seat inside were able to watch the address (and other sessions throughout the week) via a live video feed in the conference center.
The keynote itself was all about the cloud. It started with an announcement that Microsoft and Adobe will form a partnership where Adobe will make Microsoft Azure its preferred cloud platform for Adobe Marketing Cloud, Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Document Cloud. This was followed by announcements of launches of Windows Server 2016, System Center, Azure Stack TP2, and a lot of new Azure services. Microsoft also announced lots of new products, and each of them fit into Microsoft’s "Cloud first -- mobile first" strategy.
Windows Server 2016, for example, is the first server operating system that was "Born in the Cloud." It already is running in Azure datacenters all around the world. It brings with it Nano Server, a GUI-less server with a minimum footprint that consumes only a few hundred megabytes of storage. This will be the future, because no GUI means fewer issues with security problems and other vulnerabilities. Microsoft also announced the launch of System Center 2016, which the company describes as offering “a simplified datacenter management experience for complex, heterogeneous IT management workloads. As for Azure Stack, which is of big interest to infrastructure administrators, it brings the same technology, same APIs, and same UI as Azure to your datacenter. It has been released for single-node configurations as Azure Stack TP2. The GA (general availability) for Azure Stack with multi-node support is scheduled for mid-2017.
Lots of other launches were announced, including Visual Studio, SharePoint and Exchange 2016, SQL 2016, and tons of new Azure services.
Unlike many keynote addresses, the interesting thing this year was that the real product launches were announced in the detailed sessions the following days. But it was good to do it this way because with so many attendees with differing technical interests, not everybody was interested in every launch.
A second keynote address, by Microsoft CEO by Satya Nadella, had more of a strategic theme than a technical one. But this was a good choice because of the extent of topics he spoke about.
After the first day, it was time for attendees to plan their schedules for the rest of the conference. Because of the sheer number of sessions, it was not easy to find or go to all the ones of interest for each specific attendee. Fortunately, all sessions were available on Channel 9, so you could catch up on any sessions you missed. In addition there were some TLG areas for the attendees to get in touch with the new technologies. For those who didn't attend, you can find some of the best training sessions here.
Sessions ran the gamut from basic to advanced, so a beginner could learn about a new technology of interest while technical experts could plunge into their deep dives.
There were also a lot of expert sessions at the theaters (mostly community driven) that gave the attendees an idea of real-world experiences. With all the talks and sessions, everybody could find a topic of interest. They just had to search for it and find it.
As for me, my lecture took place on the third conference day. My topic was "Migrating your private cloud to Microsoft Azure Stack." It took place at the Expo Theater and I had more than 50 attendees. It was a worthwhile experience and I would like to do it again at a future conference.
Beyond partying, there were some great side sessions, chalk talks, and meetups to discuss topics and have good discussions with the product managers themselves. In return, we gave them an idea about what the customers really want.
But one event was a must-attend: the closing party. It took place at nearby Centennial Olympic Park. About 12,000 turkeys were cooked and eaten, and about 500,000 cans of drinks were consumed. Amid the eating and drinking, there was also time for networking and discussing any topic of interest with your peers, program managers, and other Microsoft employees.
And now, the countdown to Microsoft Ignite 2017 has already begun. Next year’s conference is set for Orlando, Fla., from Sept. 24-29. I hope to see you all there and, perhaps, we’ll find time to take a tour of Disney World together.
Photo credits: Markus Klein