Microsoft's new mega tech conference: The pros and cons

A new mega-show will replace the familiar specialty conferences, and not everyone is happy about it

For the last several years, Microsoft has sponsored a series of technology events for enterprises, each focused on a different part of the Microsoft technology stack. Now, Microsoft is switching gears, consolidating these events into one mega-event (as yet unnamed), to be held in May 2015. In a sense, it's kind of like a TechEd on steroids.

I'm glad to see it, but there are real issues with a mega-event, and people already are expressing angst over the upcoming event.

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For example, Exchange MVP Tony Redmond said, "The biggest worry I have heard so far is the potential loss of identity for different groups within the mega-conference. For instance, the last two MEC events in Orlando and Austin had a very distinct feel that was very different to the bland marketing-driven aura that TechEd has so often displayed in the past."

Another concern is that having one mega-show will actually dissuade attendance. For the smaller technical events, you might send the IT folks specifically focused on the subject (such as Exchange or SharePoint), but if everything is merged into one event, who gets to go to the conference? The net result is often that you send fewer, less specialized people.

Granted, other events occur through the year like Connections and Techmentor, but only at the Microsoft event do you get the chance to rub shoulders directly with so many product team members.

Large events can also suffer from crowd control, information overload, and packed sessions that you get turned away from after walking a half mile to get to it (some of these venues are huge!), not to mention the fact that you tend to lose your identity in a huge crowd of developers and IT experts of varying fields. But these fields overlap at times, so having an opportunity to rub shoulders with people of varying skills and technical areas can lead to better networking opportunities.

Vendors at these events may appreciate the larger audience rather than having to pay for and attend multiple shows if their products stretch across technology domains. But others may prefer a more focused audience. There is nothing more frustrating for a vendor selling an Exchange-focused product to get lost in a sea of other tools and have to deal with leads from 10,000-plus attendees coming to your booth to get swag, only to have those leads go nowhere.

The gossip around the 2015 mega-show is that Microsoft will show off the promised next-gen versions of all of its server-side products (such as vNext Exchange and SharePoint), which is another reason Microsoft is unifying its events: as a kick-off for the new lineup.

Microsoft is making lofty claims about the event, in the bold words of Office 365 General Manager Julie White: "I know that some of you might be thinking that this new, unified conference can't possibly be as magical as the past conferences you've attended. ... I totally get that and am here to reassure you that this unified conference will be every bit as awesome, every bit as valuable, and in fact will exceed on both these measures. That is our maniacal focus and commitment to you, so hold us to it!"

The only way they can pull this mega-show off so that it maintains the charm of the smaller events is to use part of the event to serve the generalist attendees while still providing organized sections for those focused on specific products. It's essential for people who prefer the boutique-like events to feel there is enough focus on their particular technical discipline. I've seen this done at other events, so I know it can work.

This story, "Microsoft's new mega tech conference: The pros and cons," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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