Thursday, April 10, 2014

MEC = Epic!

Unfortunately, the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) in Austin came to an end last week. Much like the 2012 predecessor, the agenda was packed with fantastic content, speakers, and community involvement. Many in the community have used the term epic in describing the conference and I am more than willing to follow along. I was extremely impressed by the extent of which the Microsoft Exchange product group was represented (much like in 2012). There seemed to be members of the product group teaching at almost every session. If they were not teaching, they were in attendance showing support. The Microsoft MVP community was also well represented with a presence on the expo floor and a strong presence within the sessions. The community is what sets this conference apart from any other.  

Throughout the keynote on Monday morning several consistent messages were presented. First, the strategic advantages of the Microsoft Office 365 product suite were showcased.  New features such as Clutter, Groups and Oslo (OfficeGraph) were demonstrated with varying degrees of success. The message was clearly communicated that Microsoft is looking cloud-first. As such, many new features will be released to the service (Office 365) before they are incorporated into on-premise releases. OneDrive for Business was demonstrated to show just how deep the messaging integration has become. A new email was composed with a large attachment that was stored in OneDrive for Business. Very easy and useful! 

After the keynote, the conference began which would deliver around 100 scheduled sessions over the three days. This year, the ‘Experts Unplugged’ session format was introduced. The ‘Experts Unplugged’ sessions consisted of a panel of 4-6 Microsoft Exchange Product Group members with a moderator (typically an Exchange MVP). As this was marketed as an open forum, the audience members were encouraged to ask questions and really drive the discussion. The moderator would typically kick off the session by asking a question to the panel members, which would inevitability draw audience participation. These sessions turned out to be quite valuable and candid! The Managed Availability, HA, and Exchange Deployment sessions were full of great real-world information. I honestly hope that Microsoft starts to incorporate more of these sessions in future conferences such as TechEd and MEC. 

Below are the important notes that I took away from the conference:
  1. The Exchange 2013 sizing guidance has been updated to reflect feature enhancements in SP1. 
  2. The recommended page file is now 32778 MB if your Exchange server has more than 32 GB of memory. The page file should be set as fixed and not managed by Windows. 
  3. The CAS CPU requirements are 50% higher to accommodate the MAPI OVER HTTP (Alchemy) feature set. 
  4. Multi-Role! Multi-Role! Multi-Role! Yes, given the relatively light requirements of the CAS role, the direction to build multi-role servers falls in line with the new sizing guidelines. Start your deployments with multi-role servers first, and only change if specific requirements dictate. And yes the question was asked - the service does take advantage of the multi-role servers for a variety of reasons. All kidding aside, the importance of building multi-role servers was repeated throughout the sessions. 
  5. Microsoft prefers the primary client connection method to be Outlook Web App for end users. Every demonstration and talk (that I can remember) utilized Outlook Web App. The reason being is that the connection complexity is removed (i.e RPC). Apparently client connection problems based on misconfiguration (i.e. load balancers) represented a large volume of Exchange 2010 support tickets.  
  6. Outlook Web App for Android is now released!
  7. The Edge Transport Role has been reintroduced in 2013 SP1. When I read the release notes of SP1, the importance of this was not initially grasped. However, several sessions pointed out that the Edge server was important for hybrid scenarios. For hybrid customers that required filtering between on-premise transport, and the service, the Edge Transport server is the only supported method. 
  8. The Microsoft Exchange Product Group communicated clearly that NFS is not supported for Exchange. NFS cannot guarantee specific performance measurements that Exchange requires. 
  9. MAPI over HTTP is the protocol that Microsoft is pushing. It seems that traditional Outlook Anywhere through RPC is on life support. This is a welcomed changed and will make configuration and troubleshooting much easier. The ability for clients to reconnect TCP not RCP connections will help to facilitate a better experience. The prerequisites of Exchange 2013 SP1 and Outlook 2013 SP1 may be a bit steep for larger shops. 
  10. The .NET Framework 4.5.1 update is essential if the new MAPI over HTTP connection method will be used. This update resolves an issue that impacts the performance of MAPI over HTTP with the CAS.
  11. Highly recommended – The fixes found in KB2803754 or KB2803755 will help .NET Framework 4.5 become properly tuned for the Exchange Information Store. 
  12. Certificate-based authentication will be made available in CU5 for ActiveSync.
  13. The value of using lagged copies was heard in several sessions. This actually does make sense with the introduction of loose log truncation in SP1. There are now three registry entries that can be added on each DAG-member server (LooseTruncation_MinCopiesToProtect, LooseTruncation_MinDiskFreeSpaceThresholdInMB, LooseTruncation_MinLogsToProtect).
  14. Microsoft is working around the clock to resolve the public folder scalability issues. Specifically, I heard that the limit is being targeted at 1,000,000. 
  15. A slide deck was shared that showed the Office 365 service runs in 26 data centers. There are an astounding 125,000 databases with the environment that only take 15 seconds to failover – most impressive. 
  16. Yammer was touted as the next great social application that the enterprise should be using. Are you? Many groans were overheard among the attendees whenever the product was mentioned. Within yammer, a MEC specific group was setup and used to distribute additional content for each session. 


I cannot wait to catch up with my friends in the community and fellow MCM’s in several weeks at TechEd. For those that have a cool beverage in their hand - YAMMER!


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