Microsoft Ignite 2015 Chicago – My Experience as a MMS alumni

As I sit at Chicago-Midway airport ready to fly home, I thought I’d share some thoughts since they are fresh in my mind.  First, a bit about me.  I’ve been in the desktop management field since about 2004.  Since then, I’ve used…

 

  • Altiris 5.0
  • Altiris 6.0
  • Altiris 6.5
  • Altiris 7.0 (Symantec
  • Configuration Manager 2007
  • Configuration Manager 2012 and R2

I’ve also attended conferences for each of the above products almost every year.  Starting back with the smaller ManageFusion from 2005-2008, Symantec Vision, and MMS every year from 2010-2013.  They ranged in size from about 2500 at the older ManageFusion conferences to about 6000 at MMS 2013.  Another disclaimer, I’ve never attended a TechEd prior to Ignite.

As you can see, I am used to the smaller, technology specific conferences.  Even ManageFusion to MMS was quite a shock for me.  After booking Ignite, I really had no idea what to expect.  One thing I do find strange is that Ignite “sold out” at about 15K attendees, yet there were 23K in attendance?  I don’t understand that one.

Day 1 – Arrival

After some weather issues I arrived at Midway airport around 8:30 PM Sunday night.  The airport was extremely busy.  I waited in the taxi line for about 30 minutes before getting downtown.   I stayed at the Hilton Suites – Magnificent Mile.  I booked the conference a bit late so the hotel choices were a bit limited.

Not much more I can say about Sunday.  There was no Ignite airport check-in at Midway, and I arrived too late to run over to the McCormick conference center to get it.  Not the conferences fault… just bad luck with weather.

Day 2 – Monday

I got up pretty early so I wasn’t waiting in line forever to pick up my badge.  I walked over to our bus stop at the Westin which was only about a block away.  Massive line for the bus.  One bus showed up, and not everyone got on.  So we waited longer.  I am guessing it took another 20 minutes or so for the next bus to show up.  It took about an hour from the time I left my hotel and the time I walked into the conference center.

The badge check in line was surprisingly short.  They were very efficient at moving people through and getting their badges created.  Good job on that.  I then walked over to see quite a big line for backpack pickup.  It went pretty quick though.  No issues.

I first started to realize the scope of the conference size when the keynote lineup started.  a HUGE crowd slowly walked over the bridge to the Lakeside building.  They slowly filed us in to a giant ballroom.  Absolutely huge.  Took my seat way in back.  Couldn’t see much of stage, however lots of video screens showed the keynote.  I did hear a few people grumble about only having 15K seats for 23K attendees.  That’s a lot of people who couldn’t see the keynote.

Keynote content was good, but it does seem that almost 3 hours is a bit long with no break.  About halfway thru, people were constantly getting up and down to use the restrooms or leave.  A little annoying.  Here’s where things went downhill fast.  After the keynote, 15K people trying to leave all at once and go over to lunch was a mess.  I am not really sure what else could be done with that volume of people…. but what a mess.  Then we get to the lunch.  Oh boy, the lunch…

First off, I am NEVER one to complain about food or anything.  I am not expecting much.  The lunch provided Monday was absolutely horrible.  It was a box lunch of a steak or chicken sandwich, some gelatin thing I can’t even describe, a pasta salad I think, and a small desert bar.  Again, I don’t expect much but this was just bad.  I can only judge by the 10 previous conferences I attended which always had at least decent food.  Lots of complaints on this one.  I am not sure if this is the venue’s fault for providing crap food, or Microsoft’s fault for buying a cheaper option.

After lunch, I went early to find my room.  I didn’t do any recon earlier in the day, and this was probably my mistake.  This conference center is HUGE, and you can get confused and lost pretty easy.  Anyway, I made it to my first session about 30 minutes early, only to find out it was already full.  A few guys made a scene at the doorway to the purple shirts.  Not sure why they had to do that, they don’t control the room size.  I was still a little ticked off because this was the only session of the week.  Ok, let’s find another session.  Walk all the way across the conference center to my second choice.  FULL AGAIN!  Not a good start here for me.  I find out about the overflow streaming that was provided.  One guy mentions that if he wanted to stream the sessions he would have stayed home and save $3,000.  I had to agree with him.

I did have better luck in my later sessions that afternoon.  The content was decent, but many speakers didn’t seem to allow much time for Q&A.  And with such huge rooms, there were at least 25 people up at the podium after the session waiting to get questions answered.

Shuttle buses didn’t leave for the hotel until 6 PM which also ticked off some people… myself included.  Once you are down there, you are kind of stuck.  I talked to a few people saying that the taxi line was about an hour long between 4 and 6 PM.  Not good.

Overall Day 2 grade – C-

I’ll give them benefit of the doubt for the day 1 issues.  Not a good first impression though.

Day 3 – Tuesday

Same story with the morning buses.  This time its raining while we wait.  About an hour from the time I leave hotel room to the time I arrive.

Sessions.  Here we go again.  This time, arrive at 8:20 AM for a 9 AM session.  FULL AGAIN.  I am about as easy going as they come… but even now I am getting wound up.  Keep in mind, my company did not pay for the conference.  This is money out of my own pocket.  So once again, my second choice is all the way across the conference center and I get in there.

Lunch.  Personally I thought it was a little better today.  Still lots of complaints on social media.

Here’s what it looks like trying to feed 23K people at once.

lunch

 

After lunch, I got into the sessions I wanted to.  Content was good.  Only complaint is these are listed as 300 level courses.  Not the case for most.  100, maybe 200 level.  Watered down it seemed.

Shuttle buses started at 3:45.  Much better time, but  lines were absolutely huge.  We ended up just leaving since another friend had a car and took us with him.

A good shot of Chicago from the conference center:

Chicago

 

Large Ignite Session

 

largesession

Overall Day 3 grade – C

Food was a little better, but the shuttle buses and full sessions were not acceptable.

 

Day 4 – Wednesday

Things turn around here.  Maybe I just got lucky with shuttle buses, but 2 of them are waiting when I get over to the pickup spot.  Ride’s a bit long, but can’t control traffic.  Today I wear an old MMS 2013 shirt to put some ideas in people’s heads to bring it back to life 🙂

MMSBadge

The sessions were good, the food was a little better (in my opinion).  Overall, a much better day.  Shorter lines at shuttle buses back to hotel.  Maybe I got lucky on timing or maybe they added additional buses.  No idea.

Overall Day 4 grade – B+

Can’t complain about much.  Good day.

 

Day 5 – Thursday

Lucked out on bus routes, session were decent.  Nothing full!

And the closing party!

closingparty

I read a lot of complaints on social media (Facebook and Twitter) about long lines for food, too many people, etc.  I don’t know what people expect.  I never waited for more than 10 minutes for good food, and never more than a minute or 2 for beer.  I can’t complain at all. I thought it was a great atmosphere, great food, and a great concert.

Overall Day 5 grade – A

A great day.

 

I skipped Friday mornings sessions as I had an earlier flight back home.  Overall, it was a good conference and I’ll probably be back.  Hopefully they learn from their mistakes and get the issues worked out.

I’ll post another blog post in another day or 2 on what I think they can improve on.

–Brett

 

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