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September 27, 2012

Microsoft Exchange Community Reunites at MEC 2012

By Live from MEC 2012

The legends of old spoke of a conference so awesome that people would mist up at the mere thought of it. Ten years had passed with no hope that their beloved conference surrounding all things Microsoft Exchange would ever return. It had been mistakenly mixed in to the popular (and people-bloated) TechEd conference… until this week. I’m happy to report that MEC…is back!

I was leery. How cool could it be? Were people just remembering the past with rose colored glasses? Thinking back to the fond days of old when admins were feared and Exchange admins especially so because “when you control the mail… you control INFORMATION!” (a la Neuman).

So far, it’s every bit as awesome as I had been told it would be; roughly 500 people with the same administrative focus, challenges, and concerns. Bonded together, both new and old Exchange admins, we have come together this week to enjoy being with the Exchange Server Team and about 50 different Exchange MVPs and Microsoft Certified Masters (MCMs). We’re all wearing “i am mec” badge holders and the twitter hash is #iammec where many attendees are lighting up the feed with tons of cool Exchange 2013 news announcements.

The Exciting Keynotes

MEC 2012 Keynote

Day 1 the Keynotes were awesome. There were video montages and a bit of cool-aid in the beginning to help get folks in the mood for Exchange 2013 enhancements. Personally I like to drink a little cool-aid, and why should the Apple folks be the only ones that loyally follow their tech masters? Especially when they’re following them down the wrong road (yes, a pun on the new iPhone 5 maps problems).

But in all seriousness, this show truly is the “non-conference.” MEC may stand for the Microsoft Exchange Conference but it really stands for the Microsoft Exchange Community and we see that spirit here. Everyone is in sync and the sessions have a feeling of depth that you just don’t get at TechEd where you are trying to please 10,000 people. Whiteboards are everywhere and you can have off-the-cuff technical conversations with the best and brightest at any moment.

Here are some of the great Exchange 2013 features that were highlighted:

Improved IOPS

Ross Smith said there is a 99% IOPS reduction from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2013. The joke is that the next version of Exchange will give you IOPS back! In addition, it was mentioned that you should deploy on 7200RPM disks to get capacity, and 10K/15K disks are not needed.

From 5 Server Roles Down to 2

The new roles are Mailbox and Client Access. All the other server roles are merged into those. There is still an Edge (although it isn’t out just yet). Ultimately the two big building blocks to Exchange 2013 are CAS arrays and DAG. And the need for L7 load balancers is no longer present so you can go with L4 load balancers (which are cheaper) because CAS is enhanced.

But we’re seeing an architectural shift in Exchange where more is done at the protocol level and we see a dropping of MAPI. RPCs are still there but encapsulated in HTTPS. And Exchange 2013 will be the last release that supports a MAPI/CDO download.

Outlook Web App improvements include the ability to work with it OFFLINE! That is very cool. Outlook also has a new touch mode for tablets and slates, which is awesome if you have ever tried to work with Outlook on a slate and have monster fingers like I do. It’s a nightmare, so I’m happy to see a touch mode.

High Availability and Unified Messaging

One of the coolest announcements (in my opinion) was in the high availability session I attended where site failovers have been provided for site resiliency. So with Exchange 2010 if you have a WAN link failure and you lose quorum in your primary datacenter you may need to switchover to your secondary datacenter at some point, and that switchover is a manual process in 2010. With 2013, if you follow certain criteria (for example you need 3 locations for this to work) you can have an automatic failover occur. Now even if you don’t have 3 locations and still need to do a manual switchover, the process has been greatly simplified down to 3 easy steps. This is great news for those who have ever had to do this in the past.

I presented a session on Unified Messaging (the Deep Dark Secrets) that focused on Dial plans, IP Gateways, Policies and AutoAttendants. I used a really cool Alienware laptop (that Dell sent me to use for the show… thanks Dell, Alienware is awesome!) that has an Audiocodes IP gateway connected to it with 2 phone lines. It’s a mini-UM deployment in a box so to speak. It’s similar to my setup for the Exchange Unified Messaging course we have with TrainSignal.

You can head over to the website for I Am MEC to catch the session recordings and more from Microsoft Exchange Community. You just need to log in with a Live account.

It’s Great to Be Back

The MVP stand has a “Hall of Fame” featuring Exchange MVPs.

MVP Hall of Fame

There weren’t a ton of vendors but it felt like a good number and they all revolved around Exchange. Many of these folks have products I’ve reviewed like ENow’s Mailscape, KEMP Technology Load Balancers, Mimecast and others.

So, the week is pretty much over and already I think the event is a huge success. Judging by the crowd, MEC truly IS back.

About the Author

(Exchange MVP, Triple-MCSE, MCT, MCITP: Enterprise Messaging 2007/2010) is an author with over a dozen titles sold internationally. He has written hundreds of articles, speaks at a variety of technical conferences held by Microsoft, 1105 Media, WindowsITPro and others and is the Enterprise Windows columnist for 3+ years for InfoWorld. Most notably, J. P. B. is a member of the Train Signal family and is our very own Exchange instructor. Follow him on Twitter at @jpbruzzese.

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