Another exciting week ahead as I travel to Orlando for the main conference of the year for myself, Microsoft Ignite, and as such time for another week in review post!
My week starts catching a flight from Gatwick at 11AM on Sunday morning after finishing a migration on Saturday night at 9PM and not getting home til nearly 11PM. I’m sitting writing this post hoping that I remembered to pack everything as it was 1AM by the time I had finished and at 7AM this morning I was in no fit state even with 3 espressos to work out everything that I might need not only for the conference but the holiday I booked with my wife for the following week also in Orlando. I’ve said on numerous occasions that running your own business has it’s up’s and down’s and this is certainly one of the up’s having the flexibility to turn work trips into holidays with my wife flying out to meet me at the end of the conference.
Landing in to Orlando I was quickly out of the airport in about 30 minutes and at my hotel in about another 10. I knew the hotel was not the best but I booked it as it was opposite the convention centre however being under the Day’s Inn brand I knew it should at least be trustworthy and was an official Microsoft hotel for the conference. What can I say when I arrived though… wow, it was more like a cheap motel you see in the movies. Luckily I wasn’t intending to spend much time there being out at the conference from 8AM to 5:30PM every day and then at various vendor events and meeting friends in the evenings so it serves a purpose and is close to the convention centre still which is the main thing.
After a quick shower and change I headed out to Disney Springs to meet some friends who were on holiday here and within 10 minutes of arriving I knew that Orlando was going to be a great location for a conference with so much to do and see outside of the event itself. With my main travel to the US being to New York I also wasn’t prepared for the size of meals and how extravagant some of the things on the menu are. Firstly, if you don’t like cheese then it seems difficult to avoid. I saw what was described as cheese soup on one menu which I can only describe as being more like melted cheeses mixed with double cream or as I think it could probably be renamed ‘heart attack soup’. Besides cheese there were milkshakes topped with sweets and pieces of cake so if anything the message I got within a few hours of being in Orlando was don’t expect to eat clean and expect to go home a bit heavier. None of this is to say I wouldn’t be open to eating them but more so just the shock at the amazing treats you can get and the size of them!
Back to what I’m really in Orlando for and that’s the Microsoft Ignite conference which kicks off on the Monday morning with the keynote speech from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. I rose early at 6AM and got into the Orange County Convention Center the minute the doors opened so I could try and get my bearings and find breakfast. Usually I would arrive a day earlier and have a walk around on the Sunday but schedules meant that was not possible this year.
Getting my bearings took a while with the sheer size of the convention centre and the conference covering 3 different buildings. Having asked for directions multiple times, several u-turns and redirections I ended up back opposite the doors I came in at for breakfast! I then had to walk all the way back from where I had been to find out what I thought was the west building was actually not and hence why I had walked in circles for so long. Heading over to the proper west building I eventually arrived at the Patch and Switch pre-show which was one of the alternative keynote viewing speeches. The past 2 years I had been in the live experience and wanted to change it up this year. Once I sat down I checked my phone as I do every few minutes and had an alert from Samsung health that I had already done my 10,000 steps for the day and it was only 8:30AM!
I won’t bore you with the majority of the details from the rest of the day as it was primarily Microsoft seminars around their various products and probably not what you came here to read about! The more exciting part anyway was the welcome drinks reception at the end of the day in the expo hall with plenty of free beer and food which were both taken advantage of!
Walking around the expo hall and talking to various people I also had a go at a few of the vendors games on their stands with my highlight being a challenge to get an electric loop attached to a buzzer along a course which I proudly did in 43 seconds even with my shaky hands which was one the best of the day. Anyone that has been to a conference like this will also know that the expo hall is where you pick up all of your ‘swag’ and for me it’s about getting vendor t-shirts for doing DIY back at home! Thanks to Zerto, Redhat and Microsoft this year for their additions! A number of beers down and a couple of hot-dogs I decided that was enough for me and went back to the hotel where I quickly fell asleep watching TV, nothing to do with the alcohol I’m sure!
Tuesday the conference was much of the same with sessions most of the day however in the evening I had a pass to attend the Veeam party at Dewey’s indoor sports bar and grill. The one thing Orlando has over other conference locations I’ve been to is plenty of unique experiences so almost all of the vendors this year had special events as opposed to the usual gathering of tech geeks in a bar. Veeam’s party was no exception with Dewey’s containing several sports simulators where it was possible to play golf, football, American football, baseball and more. Golf was by far the most popular however I wasn’t convinced by the accuracy of it with some of the swings and club face angles that people appeared to be hitting dead straight. That being said it was a great laugh and I got to know a few people and have a general chat so it was nice to get out of the hotel and conference for a little while for a bit of a social event. Food and drink was again all paid for so after a number of beers and full up on food I decided to call it a night.
Wednesday and Thursday the conference continued however by this point I was starting to flag a little so on both days changed my schedule a bit to incorporate a 90 minute gap in the middle of the day where I enjoyed sitting outside for a while until I started to feel myself burn! Heading back inside after the break it was afternoon snack time and Microsoft had some cholocate covered Oreo’s which were truly amazing! At this point in the conference and plenty of free alcohol and food I was starting to feel a bit bloated as you might imagine however that’s the general vibe I seem to have picked up about Orlando. Thursday for some is seen as the end of the conference and time for the Microsoft attendee celebration which is by far the best part of the week and this year Microsoft had really gone the extra mile booking out both Universal Studios theme parks for a private party and guess what… food and drink was free and unlimited again!
Prior to arriving at the parks I wasn’t really too fussed for theme parks and rides however within a few minutes of being there I was blown away by the sheer size of the parks and the level of detail that they go into. I don’t think any words or pictures can really do it justice and even looking back at my own pictures it’s nothing like what it seemed in person and I’m almost certain it wasn’t just the alcohol!
The first ride I found myself on was Harry Potter and for what apparently usually has a 2 hour queue I was on the ride within 5 minutes and quite taken by the experience. The theme parks I had always been too were always roller coasters or rides which swung you around however these were different with a 3D experience much more like experiencing a short film in real-life. After several similar rides I think the Terminator ride was by far my favourite however even after experiencing them I still wouldn’t want to queue any more than 30 minutes for then if I were to go to the parks again. If you know me then you will know I’d much rather walk the likes of the entire length of Heathrow terminal 5 to find a shorter queue than stand in a longer one.
With a few rides ticked off I also wanted to experience some of the other aspects of the park so watched a few live shows, went in a few shops and tried out some butter beer. I’m still not certain if butter beer actually has any alcohol in it however although tasty at first it quickly became far too sweet and I was unable to finish it so substituted for a Heineken or two! As I mentioned earlier Microsoft had also paid for all of the food and the majority of the usual bars and food outlets around the park were open for consumption to which I found a small burger bar and for what I thought would be like our UK kebab style burgers it was actually one of the best burgers I had during my visit.
The park was due to close at 12:30 so after a quick walk around the second park I embarked on a long walk back to my bus where I happened to fall asleep on the way back and ended up at the hotel after mine. Getting off there and another 20 minute walk back to my own hotel it was past 1AM and time to try and get some sleep for the final morning of the conference.
Surprisingly I woke up on the Friday feeling fairly good but definitely appreciated the free breakfast at the conference and a couple of coffee’s. The conference venues were much quieter which I’m not sure if it was because some people had already gone home or because people were still nursing their hangovers from the night before!
Heading off to my 2 final sessions I took the final pieces of information in and then decided to call a finish on what had been a very tough week with a total of 6 hours per days in seminars and a lot of information to take in. My view on how things at the company should change over the next few years have however been shaped by attending the conference which is something I didn’t see happening in the first couple of days and once again I’m glad to have attended. There are a lot of great things to come from Microsoft and although being somewhat sceptical of the use of Azure/AWS at VooServers I see a shift happening for at least some projects and more of a hybrid setup to our services coming soon. I’ll cover more of that in the company blog though in the next few weeks!
After seeing how long this post has got that’s where my week ends as it’s now time for another week in Orlando for a well needed break ahead of some big projects coming up.