Category Archives: 15404

There’s a new MCM in town

I just learned this morning that I passed the qualification lab and I am now an Exchange Microsoft Certified Master!

I have the rare distinction of being both an Exchange MCM and MVP in an already rare group.  I can only think of two others worldwide.

This has been the most challenging, humbling, and intense experience I’ve ever had in my career.  If you are interested in entering this program, I
strongly recommend it.  I’ll be happy to share information about the
program that doesn’t violate my NDA.

It’s great to work at a company that differentiates itself in the marketplace with highly qualified technology professionals. Our Microsoft practice has four MCMs on staff, three for Exchange (one double for OCS) and one for Lync. It stands to reason with all this experience you are in good hands with us.

Now to update my Outlook signature with some more alphabet soup…

If it was easy, everyone would do it

Well, I got the results of the Exchange MCM qualification lab today, and I didn’t pass this time.  As I mentioned to David Bjurman-Birr, the Exchange MCM Program Manager, I almost would have felt disappointed if I DID pass, given my self-evaluated performance on the lab.  The fact that I didn’t just get a pass is a testimate to the difficulty and value of the program. 

This program was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and you have to be 100% all the way to the end.  For some reason, my mind went blank soon after we received our first “two hours done, four and a half to go” notification and that was my undoing.

I’ve already confirmed that I will retake the lab next Thursday.  I’ll be spending my evenings and weekend reviewing PowerPoint slides, notes, and labs to ensure a much better outcome on Thursday.

I’d like to congratulate Markus Hengstler (Switzerland) and Kashif Awan (Pakistan) on becoming two of the newest Exchange Microsoft Certified Masters!!  I hope to join your ranks next week!

Exchange MCM Training Comes to an End

My work area

My 21 day straight Exchange MCM training ended yesterday with the infamous qualification lab.  The lab is 6 and a half hours where each of us is given a complex virtual environment and we have multiple scenarios that we must accomplish.  The environment is full of all sorts of problems that Microsoft has seen in actual customer engagements.
I’ll find out the results of the qual lab sometime next week (fingers crossed).  I did find out that I passed the written exam that was given the day before, so that was a relief!

During my three weeks here in Redmond my schedule was pretty much the same every day.  I would arrive about 7:30AM and review notes or work on labs until instruction began at 8:00AM.  Instructors would teach until usually about 6:00PM, but nights went as late as 8:30PM.  After instruction we would work on hands-on labs until about 11:00PM (one night we worked until 2:30AM), and then we’d head back to inn for some sleep, a quick shower, and start all over again.  For 20 days straight – no weekends or time off.  It was quite intense.

Microsoft Building 40

The instructors were all really great and gave fabulous presentations.  They are comprised of product team managers, senior escalation engineers, and consultants.  They are the best of the best on their topic and it was amazing to have subject matter experts at your disposal for questions and clarifications.  The general topics covered over the three weeks were transport, client access, unified messaging, mailbox, high availability, operations, RBAC, and Office365.  The Exchange Online and Office 365 content was a new addition to this rotation.  We covered O365 in detail for three days and did some really awesome labs.  David Bjurman-Birr is the Exchange MCM PM and says this training will probably be a future add-on for existing Exchange MCMs.

We each had a host computer with two nice size monitors connected side-by-side with a fully articulated arm.  For labs you would use one monitor for the decks or lab materials, and the other for access to your virtual lab environment.  Each of us had our own forests and domains, and both the host machine and labs had Internet access through TMG so we could do real world access testing.

One of the many drink coolers in Building 40

For those interested in logistics, there is a cafeteria between buildings 40 and 41 which serves a number of lunch options.  The options change day to day, but repeat every week.  A couple of days we walked over to the commons near building 92 where there were more (and different) lunch options.  David stocked out training room with Cliff Bars, Kashi bars and packages of nuts.  Drinks are free and plentiful all over the Microsoft campus.  Markus Hengstler, one of my rotation colleagues from Switzerland, was introduced to diet root beer and became quite a fan.  Of course, coffee was always popular throughout the day.  I know I drank several gallons myself.

My best friend

The entire experience was quite humbling. I thought I knew Exchange pretty well, having worked on all versions since MS Mail.  I think I’ve increased my knowledge of Exchange by orders of magnitude.  I’ve met new friends and have a new community to bounce ideas off of.

Microsoft gardeners replaced some trees with these pretty pink ones overnight early this week

I’m looking forward to coming home now that it’s over.  I barely had time to call my family during my time here.  Still, I’m so happy that I was able to do this.  I can’t stress enough how much knowledge you will get if you are able to attend.  Please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below if you have any questions.  Obviously, I can’t tell you any more about the content than what I’ve said above (we’re all under strict NDA), but I’ll be happy to give you any help I can.

My plane is here, so it’s time to back away from the computer for a while.

Exchange MCM Update #1

It’s the end of my first week of Exchange MCM training and it has been just amazing.  We’ve covered Hub Transport with Brian Reid, Client Access Server with Dirk Buntinx and Greg Taylor, and Unified Messaging with Paul Robichaux.

The schedule has changed beginning with this rotation.  Instead of five days on, two days off, as in previous rotations, Rotation 10 will have no days off until the very end of the training.  In theory, the days will be shorter and we’ll have time off in the evenings to review, study, maybe eat something and get some laundry done.  In practice, the days are still very long and you don’t have time for ANYTHING else.  After Paul’s UM presentation today (Sunday), one of my colleagues and I walked to the grocery store and then decided to come back to the lab to do some more studying.

Hub Transport with Brian Reid. The clock could be AM or PM, I’m not sure.

The test schedule has changed, as well.  In previous rotations an exam was held every Monday mornings to cover the previous week’s training.  Now the exams will be combined and administered the final Friday of the rotation, covering all the content learned during the previous three weeks.

One of Greg Taylor’s more enthusiastic whiteboard drawings for CAS. You can tell it’s Greg’s drawing because of the horns on the user.

R10 is a small rotation. There are only four of us along with an entourage of Lync attendees, all of whom are current MCMs. This is a benefit offered to MCMs, who may be gearing up for a refresh cycle.  This rotation will also include Office365 content, which is new to any rotation.

Tomorrow we begin mailbox training.  My brain hurts.

MCM Update and The EXPTA {blog} Reaches 1,000,000 Hits!

The EXPTA {blog} will have its one millionth page hit today!  I never thought my blog would be this popular when I started it on April 16, 2007.  On average, I’m getting about 1,271 hits per day, 7 days a week from over 65 countries around the world.

Dot sizes: = 1,000+ = 100 – 999 = 10 – 99 = 1 – 9 visits

It took a year and a half to reach 100,000 hits and double that time to reach 1,000,000.

Thank you to all my readers, comment contributors, and all those who follow me on Twitter!  This is most rewarding and I look forward to future growth.

MCM Update

So today is my last day of freedom before I embark to Redmond for three weeks of Exchange MCM training.  And what am I doing?  Writing this quick update and more STUDYING.  I’ve been working and studying around the clock for almost three weeks.  The more I read, the more I realize I don’t know.  My colleagues who have taken the same course say it’s a truly humbling experience.

I’m packing my bags with a week’s worth of clothes, sundries, and essentials.  There won’t be any time for anything more than class and studying, but I will be taking speakers for my iPod just for to keep my sanity.  The hotel has a washer/dryer onsite, so some evenings will be spent doing that and shopping for groceries.

I’ve heard that there will be some big changes in the schedule for my rotation.  I don’t have the particulars yet, but it seems that the course will now run 7 days a week (no weekends off) with shorter days.  This is designed to balance out the workload a bit more evenly.

Wish me luck!

Tips for Attending Exchange MCM Training

I’ve gotten the following tips about attending the Exchange Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) training in Redmond from previous attendees.  I plan to update this list after my own experience.


  • Stay at the Homestead Suites – Redmond.  It’s supposed to be pretty bad (paper thin walls, sparse rooms, terrible Internet access), but it’s within walking distance of Building 41 and offers a basic kitchen and full size refrigerator.  It also has coin operated laundry on site.
  • Arrive at least a day before training starts and scope out where the grocery stores, convenience stores, and restaurants are.  Stock up the refrigerator with food and drinks.  There will be plenty of snack food and caffeinated beverages in the training room, so you won’t need that.
  • Bring two or three canvas grocery bags for hauling groceries back to your room and for shuttling clothes back and forth to the laundry.
  • Bring lots of quarters for laundry.  The front desk won’t make much change for you.


  • Study the Exchange 2010 SP1 CHM file, which contains the offline version of the Exchange 2010 SP1 documentation available on TechNet.  Just as importantly, understand it’s layout so you can quickly access it for reference.
  • Study the Hub Transport pipline diagram.  Know all its pieces and parts.
  • Learn to use OneNote for note taking.

Words of Wisdom

  • If you don’t pass any of the three exams that lead up to the qualification lab, shrug it off and move on.  You will have the opportunity to retake the exam.  Don’t get hung up on it.
  • There is no such thing as a stupid question.  If you don’t understand something as well as you’d like, ask the trainers.
  • Listen closely to the trainers for hints about the Qual Lab.
  • Work as a team to create a huge OneNote for the Qual Lab (which is open book).
  • Figure out your study style.  Some like to join study groups with their classmates.  Others prefer to study alone.  Find out what works for you.
  • If you stay at the Homestead Suites, head back to the training room to study.  It’s a lot more comfortable.  And walk everywhere you need to go – it’ll help clear your head.
  • Don’t plan on doing ANY other work while you’re there.  It’s not possible.
  • Try to get out on a Saturday evening to maintain your sanity.
  • There’s no real guideline for attire.  Be comfortable – you’ll be in a classroom for 11-12 hours a day.  Be aware this is Redmond and it can rain at anytime.

Exchange MCM Update

I’m happy to say that I definitely will be entering into the next Exchange MCM rotation in September.  My three week training begins September 12, 2010 and ends October 1st.

I’m really excited to be entering this exclusive program.  If I pass (and survive) the course I will be ExtraTeam’s fourth MCM on staff, along with Mike Sneeringer, Tom Pacyk, and Keif Machado.  I have a lot of studying to do before September!

Are you an Exchange Maestro?

Register to become an Exchange 2010 Maestro!
Exchange superstarts Tony Redmond and Paul Robichaux will focus on the key “gotchas” and hurdles experienced by IT professionals in the real world. The workshop will cover Exchange 2010 Service Pack 1 as well as the RTM version released by Microsoft in October 2009.
Paul writes,

The Exchange Maestro program is a 300/400-level blitz of all the major features of Exchange 2010. We assume good knowledge of Exchange 2003/2007, and we have enough new material so that even people with some 2010 experience will learn something useful.  In addition to the lecture material, attendees get a full set of Exchange 2010 lab VMs on a take-home disk drive. That frees attendees to focus on learning because they can work on the labs during scheduled lab times, in the evenings, or once they return home.
On the third day we have a sort of capstone exercise where the attendees form teams and design an Exchange 2010 organization, then present their design proposal to Tony, playing the role of a hard-nosed customer CIO.
I have a discount registration code for you to share with your readers: “PAUL” will net $250 off for the US events, and “PAUL100” will net 100 pounds off the London event.

If you administer Exchange 2010, this is a worthwhile opportunity to learn from some of the best! 

Use the discount codes above to save $250 in the US or £100 in Europe off regular registration.  Read more at the Become an Exchange 2010 Maestro website.

MVP Global Summit 2011

Today, I’m leaving for the Microsoft MVP Global Summit 2011 at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA.

This is one of the benefits of being an MVP and is held every year about this time.  This will be my first time attending the Summit, and I’m really looking forward to it.  Last year I was on vacation in Hawaii during the Summit, so I don’t think I made out too bad.  MVPs from around the world will be flying in to meet with fellow MVPs, Microsoft product teams, and Steve Balmer and other Microsoft executives.

Most (all?) of the sessions that occur during the three day Summit are NDA, so I won’t be able to talk, write, or tweet much (any?) about the information shared with us at the Summit.  I do expect to hear a lot about Microsoft’s cloud vision and direction.

Let me know if you’re attending and maybe we can meet up for drinks.