Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Microsoft IT Camp

I was invited to attend a Microsoft test event on Monday 12th December. The Technet staff were trialling a new format of training session and wanted to get some feedback on the format from people within IT, and how people felt it would work if rolled out as part of Microsoft's normal training material. The session was held at Cardinal Place in London; a great venue, very modern with superb facilities but as I’m based down in the South West, this was a long way to travel.

The event was opened by a rather hoarse Simon May who left a lot of the talking to Andrew Fryer. The basic idea was to showcase the updated versions of the System Center products, with a specific emphasis on Virtualisation, making use of Hyper-V. However, they also wanted to focus particularly on the setting up of clusters. I’d seen some previous material on the earlier versions of these products, but was keen to see the 2012 versions due out next year.

For those that don't already know, there has been a move towards much more integration of the various products within the System Center range. Each product is now seen more as an integral part of the overall suite, rather than as a separate product that just happens to work with the others. This seems to a sensible move and it means that sysadmins should have access to all of the tools they need to manage their data centres.

Rather than use high specification equipment, Andrew wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to set-up a test lab using older machines; the sort that can be obtained using ebay or that might be sold off after an equipment refresh. He had several laptops; 2 acting as the Hyper-V hosts and one that was acting as a type of SAN unit. He proposed to join the 2 hyper-V hosts as clusters on a single node.

The presentation did not go quite as planned! He actually ran into several key issues during the set-up, but as many of the people present were very familiar with the product, they were able to highlight a number of the factors that had caused the hiccups. What was interesting was that even with these technical issues, the whole process didn’t actually take that long.

During the day, and also at the end, the staff asked for feedback on the event which it has to be said was generally positive. However, quite a few people (myself included) felt that they had missed a trick; many of us had our laptops with us, and it would have been a really impressive feat to have got these working as part of the set-up as well. There was a general feeling that most delegates would have been more than willing to bring their own equipment, possibly even downloading and installing some items in advance in order to make this more effective.

Having said, they were more than willing to consider this and a couple of other ideas that might allow those present to take a slightly more active and positive role. I’ve seen a couple of VDI infrastructure plans, and I feel that they would easily be able to set-up something that could be used for attendees to connect to and work with VMs in order that they could get a real “hands on” experience.

The plans are for the new format to be modified, based partly on experience but also on the feedback from those that were there. They also hope to develop it further to encompass more topics, and the organisers were keen to get feedback on which ones were of the most interest. Some comments were made about making sure that any future events would be held in other locations; the Microsoft offices are great, but not everyone can get there easily. Although there were no commitments, it seems that they intend to try to cover more of the major population centres than before; and that can’t be a bad thing!

I have to be honest I do enjoy these sorts of events. I feel quite strongly that those of us that work in IT can all too easily develop a “silo mentality”. We get so wound up with day to day problems, and all too often work in small groups, and it’s far too easy to forget about the bigger picture. This can also make the job less enjoyable; it’s just too easy to find the passion for the work drifting away. By going along to the various sessions, it’s possible to see new ways of working that might otherwise pass us by, to meet with other professionals and hear what problems they face. I find that it can help generate a new enthusiasm for the work that can all too easily be lost when you are dealing with very basic problems most of the time.

All in all, I found it to be an interesting, useful, enjoyable day. I suspect that future events will be along the same lines, but will benefit from the comments of those that have taken part so far. If you see one in your area, I would urge you to go along; it will most definitely be worth the time and effort.

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