Microsoft Ignite 2015 Conference Recap

I’ve returned from my trip to Microsoft Ignite 2015, and — like the rest of the 23,000+ people that attended the event — it’s taken me a while to put the show in perspective. While I’d consider the event a success for Microsoft, it’s clear that Ignite has lots of room for improvement when it returns to Chicago in 2016.

So if you weren’t able to attend Microsoft Ignite 2015 in person, hopefully my recap will give you a sense of what you missed. If you did manage to make your way to Ignite this year, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well, so please add a comment at the end of this blog post.

Microsoft News from Ignite

I’ve been attending Microsoft TechEd for years, and I can honestly say that the Microsoft Ignite keynote had more news, new products, and new services announced than any of them. There was a lot of news for Microsoft to work through in the Monday morning keynote, which ran close to a whopping 3 hours.

Microsoft Office General Manager Julia White discussing Office Delve at Microsoft Ignite 2015. (Photo: Microsoft)

While the keynote was jam-packed with information, two of the keynote highlights — mainly Office 365 General Manager Julia White’s (@julwhite) Office Delve and Skype for Business broadcasting demo, and Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson’s (@InTheCloudMSFT) portion focused on Windows Server 2016, Microsoft Azure Stack, and Microsoft Advanced Threat Analytics (ATA) — would have benefitted from being given more time and being bumped up earlier in the keynote.

That’s partly the problem with combining five conference into one: There’s only so much keynote to go around, and you could tell that the product marketing leads for all the formerly-separate conferences probably argued and wrangled over how much time they’d each get in the keynote, and that resulted in a keynote that was losing attendees in droves by the end. That was a shame, because there was lots of news and cool products to go around, especially in Brad Anderson’s section towards the end of the keynote.

Case in point: Here’s a list of most of the biggest announcements, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few. I’ve linked to Petri and/or Microsoft locations to download preview code where available.

  • Windows Server 2016 – Technical preview 2 now available (Download)
  • SQL Server 2016 – In preview summer 2015
  • Exchange 2016 – In preview “later in 2015″
  • System Center 2016 – Technical preview available (Download)
  • Office 2016 – Public preview available
  • Windows 10 support added to System Center Configuration Manager and Windows Intune
  • Skype for Business broadcasting
  • Microsoft Azure Stack
    • Windows Server 2016
    • System Center 2016
    • Microsoft Operations Management Suite
  • Microsoft Advanced Threat Analytics (From Aorato acquisition)
brad anderson ignite
Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson had a host of new products and services to discuss — namely Windows Server 2016, SQL Server 2016, Microsoft OMS, Microsoft Azure Stack, and Microsoft ATA — but his segment was placed at the end of an overly-long keynote. (Photo: Microsoft)

Thoughts on Ignite Conference Sessions

I heard from a wide variety of attendees about the sessions at Ignite, and the vibe was generally a positive one. Combining five conferences into one will always result in the disparate parts each losing some content, and some attendees who used to go to the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC), SharePoint Conference (SPC), or the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) lamented losing out on the sheer breadth and depth of content those conferences offered on their favorite topics.

IT professional and Ignite attendee Robert Newman told me that he preferred the older, more specific formats of TechED and MMS, where he felt “…subject matter was more specific and [the event was] less crowded.”

Jan Hübner (@mr_virtual_ch), an IT professional and a veteran of several TechEd and MEC conferences, saw the variety of sessions as a doubled-edged sword. “The positive is definitely the variety of content,” Huber said. “…but that results in a much larger audience and makes it impossible to attend all your sessions in parallel. So, you end up watching a lot of recordings afterwards.” Attendee Leif Anderson also pointed out that several sessions he wanted to attend were over-booked. “I had to walk away from four sessions [due to overcrowding], but luckily they repeated one of them friday.”

Petri IT Knowledgebase Contributing Editor Aidan Finn (@joe_elway) had some thoughts on Microsoft Ignite sessions as well. “On the positive side, the content was superb. There was a great mix of cloud, on-premises, and across all verticals of systems,” Finn said. “And this was a great year for new stuff. I’ve heard people comment that they wanted more ‘real world’ material for current systems that they are using. I was mystified by some of the room selections. A strategy session for Windows server was in a medium-sized room and a lot of people were turned away long before the session started, while the largest theatre was just 20% occupied with a less popular product.”

You can see for yourself what you think about most of the sessions at Microsoft Ignite, since more than 600 sessions are now available for viewing on demand via the Microsoft Ignite website here.

Beans and Buses: Prepare to Wait

Organizing food and transportation for 23,000 people is unarguably a challenge for any event, but many attendees I spoke with had three primary complaints, centered on event food quality, transportation to and from the event, and spotty event Wi-Fi.

The food offered at the event seemed to earn the most complaints, reinforced by the fact that a Twitter search for the hashtag #MSignite auto-suggests “#MSIgnite food” as the next most relevant search.

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Food at the conference was a popular topic for Microsoft Ignite attendees. (Image: Jeff James)

Event buses only ran in the mornings and in the evenings during Ignite, which meant that attendees were stranded at the McCormick convention center for several hours in the middle of every day. I personally didn’t have any issues with overly long taxi cab lines, although some attendees reported overly long shuttle service between the convention and hotels.

As for Wi-Fi performance, I didn’t have as many problems as have been reported elsewhere, but I also relied on a personal hotspot through my smartphone when the conference Wi-Fi seemed bit sluggish. Granted, Wi-Fi performance can be a bit subjective based on your particular hardware and distance from the closest access point, but it’s clear that Microsoft has some room for improvement on this next year.

The Expo Floor

I spoke with dozens of vendors over the course of several days at Microsoft Ignite, and most had positive comments about the amount of foot traffic and interest from attendees.

“Broadly speaking, both our clients and we were excited by Microsoft continuing to deliver on their vision with a stream of innovative cloud-based products, with richer cross platform support,” Tyson Hartman (@tysonhartman) from Avanade said. One noteworthy aside: Avanade was running a live “Microsoft Ignite Sentiment” report during the conference — based on how attendees where discussing Ignite on Twitter — which I’ve included a screen grab of below.

Prabu Rambadran (@_praburam) from Nutanix told me that “…the number of people who stopped by our booths were obviously a lot more than TechEd last year. A vast majority of them knew or had heard about Nutanix which meant the quality of discussions we had were pretty good. ”

Microsoft Ignite 2015 Conference Recap
A Microsoft PowerBI report showing sentiment on Twitter about Microsoft Ignite. (Image: Edward M. Bobrin / Avanade) NOTE: Click screen grab above for full-size image.

Aimee Ravacon (@AimeeRavacon) from SpecOps Software told me that it was great to meet prospects face-to-face, and that her company saw positive interest from many attendees about Specops uReset, their new password solution. Ravacon also said that she asked nearly everyone she spoke with what they thought of the conference, “ …and the general response was that the content was too marketing focused and not enough in-depth technology. Several people said that the cloud would never be a good fit for their organization, so they were feeling alienated from all of the cloud talk.”

microsoft azure ignite
While the advent of the cloud and hybrid cloud services is an undeniable reality in the world of IT today, Microsoft’s cloud-heavy message at Microsoft Ignite left some IT admins primarily interested in on-premise solutions feeling a bit “…alienated by all the cloud talk.” (Image: Microsoft)

“I felt like the level of attendee had elevated this year,” said Nick Cavalancia (@nickcavalancia), Founder and Chief Techvangelist for Techvangelism and who was also representing a vendor on the expo floor. “I remember in years past meeting lots of individuals who were the jack of all trades / master of some. This year I really got the sense that we re speaking and interacting with a lot more architects, security folks, and those building the strategy in addition to the IT Pros in the trenches. Perhaps it’s a new era with a new trench.”

Another vendor who provided me their feedback at the conference was Commvault. “As a longtime partner and trusted advisor of MSFT and ISV that directly integrates with Microsoft technologies, including Azure, the focus on Azure throughout the conference gave us an advantage in speaking to those looking to consume Azure who dropped by our booth,” said Randy DeMeno, Commvault’s Chief Technologist, Windows Products & Microsoft Partnerships. “The “Ignite Rocks” event at the House of Blues Chicago was a huge success, and the opportunity to connect with Alysa Taylor (Microsoft GM for Cloud and Enterprise) at the event to showcase our longstanding partnership was icing on the cake.”

“It was a great show for Veeam,” said Doug Hazelman (@VMDoug), Director of Product Strategy for Veeam Software. “There was a lot of interest in our new free tool, FastSCP for Azure, and in the new update to Veeam MP (v8), which gives Microsoft System Center deep visibility into virtual environments. Being a platinum sponsor also helped our visibility on the show floor.

When asked about what attendees thought of Microsoft Ignite replacing established conferences, Hazelman thought that some attendees had fond memories of the formerly separate events. “I think there’s some nostalgia for TechEd and MMS, because they were such a long running shows with targeted content. Even so, Ignite fulfils the same purpose, and, from what I heard and saw, people had a good time and got a lot out of it.”

Symon Perriman (@SymonPerriman) from 5nine Software told me that he felt the conference was an “…extremely productive conference for 5nine Software…We were happy with our investment in the conference and will certainly return next year.” Perriman said “talked with generally seemed satisfied and talked positively about Microsoft’s broad technical coverage and 5nine Software’s solutions, there was a lot of positive energy.” Perriman also said that “…the size of the conference made some of the logistics quite challenging, especially with finding convenient hotels, transportations and quality dining.” Permian also touched on the session speaker selection process: “The speaker selection process was very unclear to me, even for a Microsoft employee (at the time), and many people felt that the voice of the community was under-represented. We were thankful and appreciative to participate in a partner breakout session sponsored by Microsoft about the 5nine Cloud Security Azure Pack Extension.”

“Ignite was a very successful event for F5…bringing all the previous Microsoft events together into one large event worked great for us. In general, attendee reaction to Ignite seemed positive, and Chicago was a great choice of a city, ” said Jeff Bellamy (@jeffb262) from F5 Networks. Bellamy did question Microsoft’s decision to not have an equivalent Microsoft Ignite (or TechEd) event in Europe in 2015. “In my opinion, this is a loss for the Microsoft community. TechEd Europe has been more than just a regional event. Occurring in the November timeframe it gave Microsoft and Microsoft partners a second major launch event opportunity each year, in addition to TechEd North America.”

Microsoft Ignite Parties

A highlight of the event were the variety of parties and other after-hours sessions after the show, including our 2nd Annual / Happy Hour, which was sponsored by Veeam Software and Tintri. We’d like to thank the hundreds of Petri and Thurrott readers for taking time out of their busy Microsoft Ignite schedules to attend the event.

(L to R): Petri site founder Daniel Petri, Petri Contributor Pat Richard, and Major Domo Paul Thurrott at the / Microsoft Ignite 2015 Happy Hour. (Image: Daniel Petri)

I wasn’t personally able to attend many parties, although one notable exception was the Pluralsight Tech Uprising party. Pluralsight’s event was well-attended by many of their authors, including Petri contributors Jeff Hicks and Timothy Warner. Petri Senior Editor Blair Greenwood and Petri site founder Daniel Petri joined me as well. I also spotted IT luminaries (and Pluralsight employees) Don Jones and Greg Shields, as well as Microsoft’s Jeffrey Snover.

Petri IT Knowledgebase Contributing Editor Jeff Hicks (black Hawaiian shirt), yours truly (dark blue polo), and #TheKrewe leader Michael Bender (gray jacket at right) at the Pluralsight Tech Uprising party at Microsoft Ignite 2015. (Image: Pluralsight)

Microsoft Ignite 2016: We’ll Be Back

So despite some well-publicized growing pains, I’d consider Microsoft Ignite 2015 to largely be a mission successfully accomplished by the Microsoft Ignite even team. There’s always room for improvement at these conferences, and perhaps our own Aidan Finn says it best:

“Would I come back to Ignite? Absolutely. This was the first time that Microsoft has run an event of this scale, and I know that they have heard the feedback. I am not here for food; I am here for content and the content was excellent. That’s what will draw me back to Ignite again.”

So what do you think of Microsoft Ignite 2015? I’d love to hear what you think, so please add a comment to this blog post, or contact me on Twitter or Google+. You can also catch up on my posts in the Petri IT Knowledgebase forums.