Why system admins should put the Microsoft Management Summit on their conference calendars

Brad Bird wants to counter the naysayers that think conferences are a waste of money. He makes a pitch for the learning and networking opportunities at the annual Microsoft Management Summit.

For those unaware, the Microsoft Management Summit 2011 (MMS) was held last week in Las Vegas. This event happens every year at around this time. I have been attending MMS since 2008.

Industry trends and new System Center products

The Microsoft Management Summit features the Microsoft System Center suite of products as the superstar. Mainly, the sessions and hands-on labs at MMS deal with System Management. You can expect any number of topics dealing with current versions of System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM or ConfigMgr), System Center Operations Manager (SCOM), System Center Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM), System Center Service Manager (SCSM), and the new-acquisition products, Opalis and Avicode.

At MMS, I learn about the trends being seen in the market, and the message that Microsoft is driving. This year, the message is that IT services are heading towards a cloud delivery model and that IT itself is heading towards consumerization. Workers no longer want to be constrained by a particular device but want to be able to be constantly connected regardless of the device they use. Examples of devices we work with may include: a desktop computer, a laptop, a netbook, a tablet PC, a smart phone or mobile device, or sometimes a hybrid device such as a thin client. Users want to be productive and get the information that they need quickly and efficiently regardless of the device used.

I am not going to restate all of the driving points or how Microsoft addresses these issues in this post, but this is the primary message.

Microsoft uses MMS as a pivotal time to announce major releases of its products and this year is no different. This year Microsoft announced many of their 2012 software releases. See my colleague's, Colin Smith's, blogs about some of these announcements.

I work in System Management and Virtualization so this event in particular is a must-attend and I make sure that I have it scheduled a year in advance. For example, in the keynote address today, the dates for next year's MMS were announced and are already in my Calendar!

This year MMS 2011 was held at the Mandalay Bay Casino.

Next year's date announced: MMS 2012 was announced today as being held at the Venetian Casino from April 16 - April 20, 2012.

What you learn at MMS helps to give you ideas about how to use the technologies that companies are investing in. Knowing what the trends are and where the industry is heading can help inform decisions about current investments and whether adjustments need to be made. Also, the speakers at MMS do a great job of energizing the crowd and demonstrating where these technologies are breaking through.

There are so many sessions to choose from, it is wise to take advantage of the schedule builder application within the online portal at the MMS website. Often, I find that I want to see more than one session which is slotted at the same time. Microsoft records these sessions and makes the content available online hours after the session is complete (video recording and PowerPoint slides).

Hands-on labs and instructor-led labs

Another reason to build your schedule early is to ensure that you get access to any labs. As I mentioned earlier, hands-on labs are available to actually try using these technologies. They also offer instructor-led formats, in which an actual lab proctor or instructor is leading the session and walking through the labs with you offering professional guidance. These instructor-led labs are extremely popular and fill up very quickly. Very soon after registration has been announced (usually months before the event date) Microsoft makes the schedule builder available to registered attendees to plan and make sure that their schedule is filled up.

There is also a partner expo hall where many companies and hardware vendors showcase their products and services as they relate to extending and using the System Center suite of products or benefit system management in some way. This is an excellent place to come out and talk to partners to see what is out there in the market. Many vendors host contests which involve free giveaways such as software licenses, subscriptions, brochures, and stationary -- and let's not forget the Vegas element -- home electronics like game consoles, flat screen TVs, and I have even seen a motorcycle being given away.

Peer networking...and Vegas!

Next, I would like to stress a very important aspect of major events like MMS, networking. MMS is a gathering of people with similar interests. If you are facing challenges, networking with peers may help you find a way to solve the same issues.

The partners in the expo hold numerous parties throughout the week at MMS which adds a fun aspect to attending the summit. After all, it is in Las Vegas, so these parties are often extravagant and quite impressive and include live entertainment or an open bar.

These are the reasons that I enjoy coming to MMS and some of the benefits of attending. I often hear from work colleagues that management does not condone major conferences as they are seen to be a waste of money. My hope is that some of what I wrote here can help to dismiss that theory.

Other vendors host similar events like VMware's VMworld and Citrix's Synergy, for example. Microsoft also hosts events like TechEd around the world (North America, Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, EMEA), as well as TechDays, which is a smaller version of TechEd in Canada. I have heard that there is talk of reproducing the TechDays model in other countries.

The Microsoft Management Summit is my favourite event and one well-worth adding to your calendar, even if it's the only one you can get to.

By Brad Bird

Brad Bird is a lead technical consultant and MCT certified trainer based in Ottawa, ON. He works with large organizations, helping them architect, implement, configure, and customize System Center technologies, integrating them into their business pr...