Announcement: Azure “Discovery Series” Session Track

For a while, I’ve been wanting to get back into technical speaking circuit again but always seemed to be “too busy” to commit to it. After a few chance encounters (and some inner reflection), I reminded myself how fortunate I’ve been in my IT career and a lot of that fortune was a result of the help, guidance and inspiration I had received from others in the community during this time. I also recalled that while attending some conferences and other technical socials over the past year or so, I would often bump into well-known community influencers and speakers and they would all eventually get around to the same question: “Hey why aren’t you speaking anymore?”. Some were the more subtle with “We sure could use some more speakers ..”. Each time this happened, I would always cringe a little (a result of being my own worst critic, you know), put on my best face and respond with something along the lines of “Yeah, I guess I need to give back too. I’ve been so busy lately but thanks for reminding me!”. Well, I’ve promised myself that I really do need to give back and the excuses have to end, so …

I’m excited to announce that, starting with the January monthly meeting, I will be presenting a progressive collection of sessions on Azure for the Houston SharePoint User Group which will extend throughout 2017!

First, a bit of backstory. I’ve been implementing creative business solutions in the SharePoint space for many years but when it came to actually talking about it, I had always found it a bit difficult to find a really compelling scenario to present, meaning something that someone didn’t already cover in some depth. There are already so many sessions out there (especially on the web) that seem to cover practically every major aspect of the product. And anyone who has ever prepared a technical session knows the significant amount of time it takes to make a great one. And if you lean heavily on the perfectionist side (as I do), the personal effort easily doubles. And before committing to a session, I always want to assure myself that the intense effort I would put into it would result in an exceptionally compelling and unique topic of interest that was under-served in the community.

Several years ago (early in my tenure at a client), one of those unique opportunities appeared. It involved a situation where a client wanted to roll out the Foundation edition of SharePoint 2010 for a user base of ~10-15K but also wanted some (not all) of the expanded services available only in the Standard edition (namely Content Type Hub). I engaged with them to write a custom scalable service that duplicated (for the most part and custom to their needs) the functionality of CTH as well as some other common global services like logging and configuration management, and a small collection of custom query web parts and administrative pages. This effort was accomplished in about 4 months and during this journey I naturally got to know the SharePoint API quite well (including all of it’s quirks regarding Search, list performance metrics, and challenges around distributed CRUD processing at the SQL and Web Caching levels). Upon completion, I searched all over the web and found that no one else had done anything like this so I realized the uniqueness of this topic. I developed a session on it and presented it at the local user group as well as a few tech fests and SharePoint Saturday events. The response was positive, but also mixed in a way. And by “mixed” I mean that at one point I was approached by a conference planner who was contacted by a Microsoft rep (who had attended one of my sessions on this) and was asked to modify the slide deck to “de-emphasize” (e.g. – remove) where I pointed out how I had saved the client $$$$ in platform and server license fees as a result of the design I built. In retrospect, I probably should have been more sensitive to this, so a lesson learned on my part: Don’t poke the bear. Sarcastic smile

Later on, I was involved in a separate initiative that involved integrating SharePoint data with ESRI geo-location mapping services. This initiative revealed how large data sets represented in a map-based layout offered whole new ways at looking at information. I was fascinated by it but then also realized that no one else spoke about this at SharePoint technical meets. So I developed and presented several sessions on the topic, improving each one over time. These sessions went over very well and the attendees were much more engaged and fascinated by this topic than I had expected, especially those in Oil & Gas (makes sense in retrospect). It must have made a lasting impact for some because even to this day, I am occasionally approached at conferences by people who attended one of these sessions and remarked how fascinating it was and how much they gained from it. I think that any speaker will tell you that these types of encounters are really what the effort is all about.

More recently over the past few years, I became more involved with cloud technologies (specifically Azure). And the more I discovered, the more passionate I became about cloud. Additionally, as I continued to explore and implement various services of the platform, the more I realized that it encompassed a technology that is a much larger platform and promises to be much more transformative than SharePoint ever was. At the same time, I had also noticed that many in business (and within the SharePoint technical community) were a bit flummoxed (maybe a little ambivalent) as to how they might leverage this new paradigm in delivering software solutions. Even I did for a while. But then I realized that it was really all about shifting one’s mindset in order to see the transformative effect that the cloud can bring.

For years, those of us working in the SharePoint space had always approached the platform from the Infrastructure and Software perspective (“How many servers do we need?”, “Where do we install the services?”, etc.). Given how the product is designed, it was natural to think in terms of server specs, capacity planning, security controls, HA/DR, licensing, and all of the other considerations involved with planning out a robust and high-performance farm. However, to truly succeed with Azure the same exercise requires a radically different approach and thought process. Time and again in casual conversations with technical peers discussing SharePoint and software in general, I would hear the same familiar approach to app development: “OK, how many servers?”, “Where do we put the services?”, etc. You see where I’m going with this. The thought process would always start at the infrastructure level, by default. It was this (and other reasons) where I got the idea to create an Azure “Discovery Series” for the community.

Here’s How I Plan To Do It

The “Discovery Series“ collection of sessions will be progressive in nature and the intent is to provide a managed path for attendees to gain an understanding how Azure works and how to become proficient in deploying and managing Azure assets. The initial kick-off session will be 100-level and cover general aspects of the cloud platform and service collections, provide an overview of management approaches and tools, and offer guidance and next steps for attendees to prepare as they continue through the series. Subsequent sessions will be 200- and 300-level and provide deep dives and demos in specific areas of Azure, including guidance and best practices for creating and managing the resource or service along with a considerable number of technical resource links to build on the information presented during the session. In addition, woven throughout every session will be common practices applicable to the topic at hand: Security, Provisioning/Deployment, Ongoing Management, Performance, Automation & Scripting, Controlling Costs, Auditing & Reporting, and general Best Practices & Guidance. In addition, I realize that not everyone will always be able to attend every session in the series so ..

 I plan to record each session (desktop and audio) and post it here, along with the slide deck. Nerd smile Winking smile

This will also serve those who did attend the session but want to see all or part of it again to re-review the material. I’m confident that this will be a real value-add to everyone.

In closing, I hope that you will be able to join me in this journey together. Happy Azuring!

Mark Freeman


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