Friday, June 15, 2012

Microsoft TechEd 2012 - The Experience in Review

I'm not a professional writer, well, actually, that's not true.  I have written a few (e)books for sale on Amazon, so I guess that makes me a professional, even though I don't earn enough to make a car payment from that, it still helps.  However, I did spend a week in Orlando (thank you to my company president for sending me!  very much appreciated!), attending the Microsoft TechEd 2012 conference.

Key Take-aways for me:


  • My skills are getting dated
  • The changes coming with the 2012 products are vast and diverse
  • Microsoft is changing their direction in some very surprising ways
  • My skills are getting dated, but so are everyone else's now
Like many attendees, I flew in on Sunday, got to my hotel and immediately went on a hunt for food and beer.  It was HOT and HUMID, as is expected in Florida in June.  I walked a mile to meet up with my team mates at their hotel (we were booked in separate places due to timing), and I lost about 10 lbs from sweat along the way.  
Hotel Room - Day 1
Just for the record: The Wyndham Orlando Resort hotel is not a place I'd recommend you stay.  The staff is very nice and helpful, but the facilities are falling apart.  My door lock was busted and took a few hours to get fixed.  Then my phone went out.  They have no free breakfast, or Wi-Fi access, so you have to plug into the phones to go wired, and they never worked the entire time I was there.  The door didn't shut tight either.  At least the air conditioning worked well enough.

I rehydrated at Miller's Ale House on International Drive, where I enjoyed the Ossobuco dinner special, and was left speechless at how damn good it was.
(Ossobuco, already half-eaten)
Afterwards, I had to grab a taxi back to my hotel because I didn't feel like walking another mile-and-a-half in 95 F heat and sticky humidity.  The $5 fare was worth it.

Day 1 - Registration, Breakfast, Keynote, Sessions, Lunch, Sessions and Beer

First stop was registration.  Sign in.  Pick up my badge and backpack.  Stuff my things into the backpack and head for breakfast.  Twenty or so lines were opened up with a cheering staff (I'm not kidding) pointing us to the shortest lines to pile up eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, pastries, juices, milk and so on.  Then we fan out to one of a hundred or so group tables to chow down.  Afterwards, it was comparing schedules with colleagues and new friends, coffee and heading over to the keynote session.

Registration (not yet full, but would be full soon after)

The Keynote

It was a lot of emphasis on Azure cloud services, new scalable features in Windows Server 2012, and new capabilities in Visual Studio 2012.  Lot's of comparison's of the new Hyper-V features against "the competition" as well.
Keynote session

WCL327 - Maximizing Windows 7 Performance: Troubleshooting Tips - Johan Arwidmark

What can I say? Any session Johan presents is going to be good, and worth attending.  It was.  I learned a ton and enjoyed quite a few laughs.

Lunch - (chomp chomp, slurp, mumble, burp, repeat...)

Lunch (or Breakfast)

WCL309 - What's New in Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2012 (MDT) - Michael Niehaus

While a lot was said about Windows 8 deployment support, MDT 2012 packs a ton of improvements and features to help with Windows 7 deployments as well.  Michael always does a fantastic job of presenting.

WCL302 - Alphabet Soup Deployment: From AIK to ZTI - Migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7 Using Nothing But Free Tools - Stephen Rose

This was more of a broad overview of the options available to replace legacy deployment tools like Symantec Ghost, with AIK (ADK), MDT, DISM, and WDS.  Not really technically deep in any one technology, but just enough to provide a reason to consider dumping your legacy (costly) products to at least try out the free alternatives Microsoft provides.

After the last session ended at 6:00 PM, the expo floor opened up.  That means vendor frenzy.  Free food, drinks.  Swag and goodies to fill up your backpack.
Beer!


Day 2 - Breakfast, Vitamins, Water, Sessions, More Food and Beer

Another Keynote?  Nope.  I went to the Hands-On Labs area to work with App-V 5.0.  Even though it's still "beta" and a little rough, it's a huge improvement over 4.x from what I saw.  The customer I work with now is looking to implement App-V and I'm glad they never deployed 4.x since that means no need to co-exist or migrate.

WCL303 - Microsoft Desktop Virtualization: The Right Technology for Your Business Scenario - Karri Alexion-Tiernan and Skand Mittal

This was also more of a high-level scope coverage of App-V, UE-V, MED-V (very little on that however), RemoteApp, and VDI.  Most of the demos were on App-V, UE-V and RemoteApp.  They also spent quite a bit of time demoing the VDI features in Windows Server 2012, which look really nice (and powerfully simple too).

Lunch - I'm a sloppy eater.  I will spare you the details.

WCL382 - Deploying Windows 8 with the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit - Michael Niehaus

The name says it all.  It was a very good session.  Michael also discussed upcoming changes in "Update 1" for MDT 2012 and future "wishlist" features as well.

SIA312 - What's New in Active Directory in Windows Server 2012 - Dean Wells

Dean reminds me so much of Ricky Gervais, more in speaking, tone, humor and body movement than physical looks, that I had to keep reminding myself it wasn't Ricky doing the presentation.  Thankful he was funny, because this was a very deep dive into AD and LDAP, Kerberos, bug fixes, RID services, FSMO management, and much more.  The room was packed and it was one of the larger rooms.  I put Dean on my list of favorite presenters to follow in the future.

SIA311 - Sysinternals Primer: Gems - Aaron Margosis

Great slice of Sysinternals tools which are often overlooked.  Aaron is a funny guy and does a fantastic job in front of a large audience.  Bonus: Mark Russinovich dropped in and sat directly in front of me. I still need to pick up the Sysinternals Toolkit book they both co-authored.

Expo Floor.  Food.  Beer.  Vendor Party at Ice Bar.  Interesting place made (almost) entirely of ice.  The bar, the walls, the seats and decor.  Even the drink glasses are ice.  One free (tiny) drink.  Meh.


I dropped my backpack off at the hotel where my colleagues were staying (because it was closer to the party location).  Afterwards, I couldn't find a cab, so I walked the 1.5 mile stretch along International Drive to my hotel.  I think I worked off the beer and food.

Day 3 - Breakfast, Sessions, Lunch, Sessions, Expo, Food, Beer again

SIA402 - How to (un)Destroy Your Active Directory - Ralf Wigand

Ralf is surprising. A renown MVP, he has a classic German accent, but he's very soft spoken.  That soft-spoken demeanor delivers some seriously powerful information.  He's also very funny.  If you get a chance to attend one of his presentations, do it.  I learned a lot about common errors and some not-so-common errors that can screw up an otherwise functional AD environment.  Even better, he focused on 2008 R2 AD, rather than all 2012, so it was information everyone could put to use "now".

SIA316 - Windows Server 2012 Dynamic Access Control Best Practices and Cast Study Deployments in Microsoft IT - Brian Puhl

This was surprising for me for a few reasons:
  • Brian was very candidate about the challenges inside of managing Microsoft's internal IT operations
  • DAC is not a cure for all security management needs
  • DAC is not a replacement for security groups
  • DAC is a good enhancement to using security groups by extending a policy-driven approach to implementing template-based access management with delegation.
I really had a weak understanding of DAC before this because I had only read up on the capabilities alone.  I had not seen any documented results of actual usage in production environments.  This was an eye-opener for sure.

Lunch (you know the rest)

WCL404 - Turn PowerShell Commands into Reusable CLI and GUI Tools - Don Jones

Wow! Don is such a fantastic speaker and presenter.  This was only my second time seeing him at TechEd, and I saw him again in a later session (read later).  Don covered a lot of aspects of PowerShell, what it is, what it isn't, and provided some great demos of building out a reusable function cmdlet, and then provided a brief overview of creating GUI forms using either WPF or Windows Forms.

BOF11-ITP - Windows PowerShell Best Practices - Ed Wilson and Don Jones

This session was packed into a very small room, which was kind of dumb planning on the logistics side. Not the fault of Ed or Don though.  This was essentially a free-for-all, stand-up, un-scripted (pardon the pun) session where the speakers interacted with the audience to share ideas, challenges, methods, tips and resources among each other.  The session was also broadcast live on Channel 9 (and other outlets?).  I was in the back of the room, leaning on the door next to Jeffrey Hicks.

I was going to attend a session at this point but ran over to the HOL area instead, to play with App-V 5.0 some more.

Day 4 - Final Day - Breakfast, Sessions, Lunch, more Sessions, Closing Party

WCL325 - Raiders of the Elevated Token: Understanding User Account Control and Session Isolation - Raymond Comvalius

I really didn't expect to learn a lot from this session because I foolishly believed I already had a firm grasp of how UAC and sessions work in Windows 7.  I was wrong.  Raymond gave a very good presentation with demos and explanations of how each piece of the process works.  It was well worth sitting in on this one. Raymond has a soft voice and a Dutch accent that fools you into thinking he's going to go easy on the crowd.
Lunch

WCL290 - Microsoft Application Virtualization 5.0: Introduction - Andy Cerat

This session covered some gaps from the WCL303, but in all, they each fit together to provide a fairly good picture of App-V 5.0.  Andy ran through several demos to show how the new web-based management interface works, how to create and import packages, apply access controls, publish and unpublish packages, and refreshing clients.  He also demonstrated Connections and Extensions and how they work to make a more integrated and cohesive experience for users.  I'm looking forward to App-V 5.0 projects.

Lunch - More obscene sloppiness and lost fingers

Hands-On Labs

WCL301 - Case of the Unexplained 2012: Windows Troubleshooting with Mark Russinovich

Anyone who's been to TechEd knows Mark's "Case of..." session is the biggest attendee draw of the week. It was packed.  They should have booked this in the main keynote hall rather than the regular "large" room they used.  I can't do this justice in my own words, so just trust me that if you haven't been to one of his sessions, and you get the chance to go to one in the future, do it.

Mark Russinovich at TechEd 2012


I was planning on attending WCL402 (App Compat for Nerds, Chris Jackson), but I was so burned out from walking and being squished in the room during Mark's session, that I had to take a breather and get ready for the closing party...

Closing Party: Universal Studios Theme Park

They closed the park to everyone else except TechEd attendees from 7:00 pm until roughly midnight.  I started off with pizza, and a Coke, then moved on to beer, and roamed the park.  This is a fairly large park and you can wander for a long time.  It's an interesting place.  I've been to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Disney World, and Universal Studios Theme Park in Los Angeles, as well as Elitch Gardens in Denver.  This park has some very new attractions which were fantastic:  The Harry Potter Adventure and The Hulk.  I also ran through the Amazing Spiderman
Hogwarts - Harry Potter Adventure

The Hulk (part of it)

Getting on The Hulk

Leaving the park was a sad moment, but it also meant I was closer to getting back home to my family and my dog Lucky.

Today, my colleagues and I boarded our Southwest flight back home to Norfolk airport and on to Virginia Beach.  The picture below is from the Orlando airport food court near gate 102.  It's a very nicely designed airport and the birds flying around the inside are a nice touch (none of them bombed us, as far as I could tell).

Conclusion

It was a good year this time.  I think the Orange County Convention Center worked out better than the Georgia World Congress Center (Atlanta, 2011) did.  It made it much easier getting around from one session to the next, and the single central hall works better for sharing an expo, food and lab space with plenty of room to spare.

The buses all ran on time and I never had a problem getting to or from the event and my hotel or Universal's park.  The closing party was fantastic as well.  I met some interesting and impressive people throughout the week.  In all, if you haven't been to TechEd before, and you work with Microsoft products, services or technologies, or even if you are just curious about them, I highly recommend it.  It's just such an overwhelming deluge of useful information, demos and perspectives that your head will hurt after the first few days.

Cheers!
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