TechEd Europe 2012 (Amsterdam, 25-29 June 2012)

After a sad year of no TechEd Europe in 2011, one of our favorite tech conferences for Microsoft technologies is back in full force. Ladies & Gentlemen, TechEd Europe 2012 will be here sooner than you think.

It’s more than just technical training, it is networking, white board sessions and passionate discussion amongst peers, experts & Microsoft employees who built the products. If you still need more technical content than that take a look at the pre-conference agenda for a full day of expertly delivered education.

No this is not just a commercial, I haven’t missed a TechEd Europe yet this century and for good reasons. If you’d like to read why take a look at this blog post Why I Find Value In A Conference

There will be loads of sessions on all products in the System Center 2012 and Windows 8. In the developer sphere there’s the .NET Framework 4.5 & Visual Studio 2012 to look forward to. Combine this with a lot of experience based guidance on current technologies and you can’t afford to miss out. To avoid disappointment register as soon as possible to join your fellow IT Pros & Developers.

Hope to see you there!

Tech Ed 2010 Europe – After Action Report

I spend the last two days of Tech Ed 2010 doing break out sessions and Inter Active Sessions. Only one Inter Active Session was a  complete disaster as the guy handling it had no clue, it looked more like a bar discussion, not for lack of the public trying to get it going. One breakout session on SCVMM vNext was a mess due to the speaker not showing up and the improvising that caused. But on the whole the sessions were good. John Craddock confirmed once more he is a great scholar. The SCVMM team managed their message well. The info on Lync was good and useful but I do find the explanation about getting the configuration data out of Active Directory a bit weak as the same can be said for Exchange. If they go that way the entire dream of using Active Directory for leveraging applications goes down the drain. The other thing that I found a bit negative about Lync is the focus on large enterprises for high availability. Smaller ones need that as well. And small to USA standards is medium over here in Europe Winking smile

I also really enjoyed the Clustering interactive session. I almost wanted to start speaking on the subject my self but I could refrain myself Smile.

The statement that the Exchange team no longer recommends Windows NLB is no surprise and was welcomed by most. But in retrospect, that’s a public secret put into words. They talk more about WNLB in their docs but never recommend it over hardware NLB, they just never really discussed the latter, probably because the hardware configuration is vendor specific. There is some info available on what needs to be done on the Exchange side when you opt for hardware load balancing and it’s a bit more involved.

The networking aspect of the conference was a success. I’ve had long technical and conceptual talks with the Windows (clustering), Hyper-V and System Center Virtual Machine Manager teams. Those hours providing feedback, conveying wishes and concerns and learning how they look at certain issues were very interesting. The most new info on future releases was on SCVMM vNext. Things like managing the fabric (storage,network, cluster), library management, deployment and WSUS/Maintenance Mode integration for automated patching if the hosts are cool. I’m looking forward to the public betas. They could not talk about any items in Windows clustering /NLB or Hyper-V vNext. I also signed up for an Office365 beta account. We’ll have to see when one becomes available.

The developers I know that came along came away with the sobering confirmation of what they already knew about agile, project managers and time based planning of implementation versus releases. Now how will they communicate this back home. Food for taught, I bet!

Then there are the rumors. There was one about Tech Ed changing back to the time frame it was running until 2005, in the summer. This lead to the rumor that this would be the last Tech Ed Europe. I don’t think so, I guess that it’s probably the last one in Berlin for now, but not the last one in Europe. The following rumor was that due to the timing the 2011 Tech Ed in Europe would be skipped as summer 2011 would be to soon. We’ll have to wait and see. If so, I’m eyeballing Microsoft Management Summit & Tech Ed North America in the USA.

Speaking of the USA, if you look at the money Microsoft throws against Tech Ed North America and PDC  than this year the European Tech Ed really stood out as being a bit “poor”. In the end no one goes to a conference for a bag, freebies or swag. But the atmosphere at the outset of a conference determines how the mood is starting the event and this year they messed that up. By the end of the week that was mostly forgotten. I do think however Microsoft needs to manage and guard the quality of the sessions. This is very important, it should not become a marketing/managerial types event. Tech Ed = Technical Education and that education should be of a high level. The combination of that with high quality architectural and conceptual sessions is value for money. As already said above, something they did very well this year was providing lots of quality interaction and networking opportunities with MVP’s, Microsoft personnel and partners. That is awesome and I hope they keep working at that.

If you went to the conference I hope you had a good Tech Ed. if you didn’t make it you can enjoy loads of sessions here: Tech Ed Europe 2010 Online Sessions

Having a Lab & Using It

It’s nice to have a lab, really nice. Trust me. I hear a lot of people complain they don’t have a lab and the time to test out all the possibilities and new features in recent or coming releases of operating systems & server applications. Why don’t they have a lab? Is it the money, lack of space, a shortage of time, the difficulty in setting one up?

Whatever the reason, can you afford not to have one? I think that depends on your area(s) of expertise. But no matter how you look at it we’re making our living in a live long learning business people. Learning isn’t that bad or hard. It is fun and you build on past experience and existing knowledge. It’s not like your starting from scratch every time you start exploring new technologies.

It’s your knowledge that makes you valuable to employers & customers. Even if you are an “architect” and you don’t have to deal with the lowly hands on implementations of your designs you need to know how to do it and be able to do it in collaboration with your team. So yes, you need to keep learning the hands on skills as well.

How long do you think it will take for your “grunts” to start giving you the one fingered salute if you proof to be an empty suit? At that point you can stuff your remarks about how easy it all has become because IT is a commodity that takes no expert knowledge. Your self-promoting sales talk that these facts in combination the excellent products and your outstanding architectures make it a walk the park to implement your solutions will bite you in the proverbial ass. If you don’t stand by your solutions in operational conditions and if you can’t implement and support them, go away. You can’t lead from behind sport!

So techies, system-network-storage admins, designers, analysts and architects get a lab!

Space can be an issue.

@Work: Well get an extra table and use that. Find and make more room. Yes the office will look nerdy but hey, form follows function. Unless of cause you want a designer “office look”, maybe because you’re working hard on climbing the corporate ladder. But even in that world the design of your suit and desk is not the most important characteristic. Those management & sales folks also have real and valuable skills!

@Home: If you’re single well … what do you think the living room is for? If you’re married and have kids it can become a bit harder. Have a spare room to use as study or home office? A free corner where you can set up your lab?

A word of advice: in a lab it pays to have direct access to the hardware during building and testing. How important that is depends on your needs and area(s) of expertise (i.e. networking versus SQL Server development). Perhaps you need to mimic clients their environments a lot for POC’s or trouble shooting and having a lab in a remote place isn’t really practical in that case.


We all have 24 hours in a day. Time is the most valuable resource you have. You cannot buy more hours in a day; you can’t produce time or grow it. Make the most of the time you have. That’ doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and have to become a workaholic. But seriously, becoming competent takes time and a sustained effort on your part. Unless you have a naturaly aquired rare and very valued skill, you’ll have to put in a lot of work. No, you’re not entitled to a great paying job with lots of vacation time, benefits, company car etc. because you went to college or university. Well, not more than any other person on the planet anyway. Now perhaps you say that those efforts might not pay off or help you advance in your career. Perhaps that’s true, but won’t you benefit when you need or want to find another job? Being good at your game and learning skills means that you give yourself some options. It creates at the very least the ability and possibility to try and make something out of opportunities that arises. Opportunity never knocks twice. So be ready.

The real question is what do you do with the hours you have? Sleep for 8 hours. That’s good, you need your rest. Work for 8 hours. Check. That leaves another 8 hours for everything else. What if you carve 3 times 2 or 3 hours a week out of that for lab time and reading? That’s about 24-36 hours a month of solid learning. So where can we get those hours?

Stop watching TV every night. I don’t even own one. If you don’t watch television you have at least a couple of hours extra in every day! That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the news or great series or movies or be a recluse. Go to the movies once in a while, perhaps a 3D one for the extra experience. Rent or buy your movies & series (on line or off line) and watch them at a time of your choosing. I’ll be dammed if I let a TV guide influence, let alone dictate, my schedule!  And as a bonus to myself I watch my movies on a HD beamer. Now that’s quality time.

Gaming? Sometimes I do that, yes. But I don’t do it very much. I you have time to game till the wee hours of the morning; surely you can’t complain you have no time at all to test & learn anything. There are choices to be made.

Start commuting by train if you can. Chances are your company helps pay for it (anything to reduce the peak traffic hell) and you’ll be able to get some reading done. When your train is late, even more than you bargained for. I plan as much of my travels outside of peak traffic hours. I also telecommute as much as possible. That makes traveling a whole lot less frequent and less stressful. It also saves time, time not spends in transit and traffic jams. Time you have to do something else. Ride your bicycle to work if you can. You get some exercise and avoid traffic jams.

Get out of the house regularly. Read whitepapers or books in the park or in a coffee shop. Go walking, jogging or cycling with an MP3 player with pod casts. And once in a while leave it all tech stuff alone and do other stuff.

Power Bill & the environment

Well I don’t own a car. When I need one is use a rental or barter with friends. Indeed this is “Car as a Service”, CAAS. It’s quite cheap actually compared to owning and running one. For the most part I drive my bicycle and use public transport (train).

So the money saved by not having a car can be used for the lab and the reduction in carbon footprint gives me plenty of surplus CO2 quotas to run a couple of extra PC’s a few times per week. Just turn it off when you don’t need it. In winter it also helps heat the room 🙂

Is this unrealistic? How many of you have two cars at home? Home many electrical entertainment & household devices do you own? Two PC’s for 6 or 9 hours a week are going to break the bank and ruin the environment? Get real and get some solar panels.

Get Some Lab Equipment

You don’t have to build the lab feature complete from day one. Make good use of hardware replacement projects. Scrounge for discarded or redundant hardware. An old KVM console, replaced Cisco switches? PC’s or servers left over after a refresh cycle. Just keep an eye open for opportunities to get some good gear. Building such a lab is also fun and is a learning experience in itself. Even developers benefit from knowledge about hardware, networking, operating systems and virtualization.

Getting Access to the software

If you’re in the Microsoft ecosystem then a Tech Net Plus subscription is absolutely one of the best investments you’ll ever make. Developers should look towards MDSN but that’s considerably more expensive. A lot of vendors have free editions and trial versions out there. Use them.

Servers & PC’s

I have 3 small form factor PC’s and one mini tower PC with 4 to 8 GB of RAM and 250 GB of disk space. I also have a laptop for mobile work and a very beefy desktop with dual screens.

The lab is managed using KVM and a couple of extra 21” Flat Screens I got from an office sale. A lot of the time I just RDP into the servers I need to work on.

The mini tower has an extra 500 GB disk that is used as storage for the iSCSI target running on there, which means is can do clustering. Yup I run a Hyper-V R2 Live Migration setup at home.

Can I do with less hardware? Yes, but you can’t go entirely virtual if you want to play with Hyper-V clustering for example.


Next to an ADSL/VDSL/Cable Modem/Router, get one or two decent 1Gbps layer 2 switches, at least web managed, to test networking scenarios.

Add an extra router to the mix if you want to do sub netting/routing/VLAN’s or get a layer 3 switch (expensive).

Use differently colored Cat 5e cabling to keep things organized: yellow for iSCSI, orange for Hyper-V, green for ordinary LAN, etc.

Each hardware server node has an onboard NIC and I added an Intel 4 port NIC cards. That means they have room for iSCSI, LAN, Hyper-V dedicated NICS, multiple subnets etc.

It looks overkill to some but if you want to test various scenarios, with multiple subnets, routing, VLAN’s (with or without using VLAN id’s) this is very comfortable.


There are many whitepapers, web casts, podcasts and self-study books. Use them with on line documentation, support forums, blogs and articles to get the most out of your lab. The resources out there are vast and varied. You’ll find something that fits your learning style. Don’t just learn about pieces of technology. Learn how they interact with and depend on each other. Get some business insight about the use of technology.

What do I do with all that?

Using this kit and virtualization (VMware Server, Hyper-V) I run AD, DNS, WINS, DHCP, SQL Server, Exchange, MDT 2010, WDS, SCSCOM2007R2, SCVMM2008R2, W2K8R2 IIS etc. Just build your core infrastructure and add or remove virtual machines and environments as needed. This is the lab where I test upgrades, migrations transitions, learn about functionalities, test ideas and reproduce issues to find out how to fix them. This is also the home office from where I telecommute and run my little IT worlds in a couple of cities. Broadband, remote access cards (ILO/DRAC), KVM over IP in combination with secured connectivity make this all possible today.

Now this is all very modest, believe me. You don’t have to be Stefan Didak ( to get a great learning & working environment set up.

Selling a lab to your employer & company

For your employer, company and actually also your customers it is a very big benefit to have lab. The better you are in what you do the faster you can deliver better quality results with less risk. The cost isn’t really that high. The moment the cost of becoming and staying competent is higher than hiring others to do the work; it’s time to seriously start thinking about sourcing the work.

At one place we are getting busy to build a test Hyper-V cluster with “recuperated” material from their data center. The servers are recent PE 2950’s from DELL that became available due to a very successful virtualization project. We have access to shared storage, both iSCSI and FC, that they have in place. The thing about this client is that they know that the “cost” in recuperated material is nothing compared having under skilled people working directly on production systems. Their entire lab (servers, network kit) is worth perhaps 20.000,00- to 25.000,00- Euro’s originally, but now it amounts to perhaps 4.000,00- 5.000,00- € in all now on eBay. As an example check out this link:

If your management thinks training is useless and doesn’t produce results they have multiple serious, issues. One of them might be very bad HRM. Which is even more proof that a lab isn’t that expensive when you really need one I guess? Consider a lousy employee with a master’s degree. One of those cost around 75.000 € / year all overhead & taxes & benefits included. And then you still have to make a profit. Let’s assume you have 500 employees an only 2 of them are really not functioning well to a level that they become a burden to others. That’s 150.000 € right there. Even worse, you need to hire extra employees, contractors or consultants to get results they are incapable of delivering. So actually getting one good employee gets rid of that cost and you still have plenty of cash to buy some lab gear and put a decent savings on your financial report.