A look back at 2011, and a look forward to 2012

Happy new year to all my readers – I sincerely hope you’ve had a great Christmas holiday season and a fantastic 2011. This month marks the end of the second year I’ve been blogging and this year has certainly flown by like a whirlwind.

Career Changes

I started off 2011 going into my 30th year and my new years resolution was first and foremost to take my career to the next level. I’d been managing the server team at a University in the UK for a number of years, and although it was a great role with lots of opportunities, such as participation in the Exchange TAP, I felt it was time to move on. Through engaging with many of you via the blog and other avenues, I found I was passionate about helping others get the most of of IT, in particular Exchange, and in 2011 I finally made the move to one of the UK’s leading IT services companies where I now enjoy working as a Technical Architect.

Although an emotional move, so far it’s been everything I hoped for and more; there really is nothing like the satisfaction of implementing a great solution for a customer and getting to know the IT teams at various companies across the UK. One humbling aspect of the role is that you gain a greater understanding of just how many passionate, hard working systems admins there are out there who pour their heart and soul into managing brilliant systems for their end-users; having done the same for many years myself I make it a personal mission of mine to at least try and make sure that when I leave, their lives are a little bit easier.

Writing

Last year also turned out to be a little bit busier than I expected after Packt Publishing got in touch and asked if I’d consider writing for them as an author. This began a stressful, but rewarding six months of writing my first book, iPhone and Exchange 2010 – Business Integration and Deployment, which is currently in it’s final stages of technical review by three of the most brilliant Exchange minds out there. The experience of writing a book was definitely something new to me; I’d written technical documentation and blog articles in the past, but nothing on this scale. Picking up the metaphorical pen and paper, starting with a blank sheet, was a daunting task to put it mildly and there were many times along the road that I wasn’t sure if I’d ever complete it, especially after spending an entire evening working out how to start the next chapter. The writing encompassed late nights whilst away on holiday, train journeys, evenings in a hotel bar whilst away for business and of course sitting alone late on a Saturday evening typing away with only Spotify, Twitter and Facebook for distraction/company. Would I do it again? Maybe.. We’ll have to see what the finished product looks like :-)

Here on the Blog

Here on the blog I’m also happy to report that I’ve been able to fulfil my new years resolutions for 2011. Perhaps I haven’t written as many articles as I’d hoped (though as you can see I’ve been busy with some other stuff!) but I think quality trumps quantity every time.

As I said this time last year, this blog isn’t about regurgitating the Exchange-related news, and instead it’s about giving you something you won’t find in many other places. In particular I’ve been glad to deliver the following:

Exchange Environment Report. One of my most popular releases, this script is literally used the world over by Exchange admins and consultants alike. Whilst not perfect yet, I’m glad to see it used by so many people and love hearing about how you use it and what I can do to improve it. One of my favourite moment of 2011 was reading this article by someone I truly respect, Tony Redmond – a seasoned Exchange guru whose latest book, Exchange 2010 Inside Out is my Exchange “bible”. I was also lucky enough to for Henrik Walther to feature it in the June 2011 MSExchange.org newsletter. Like Tony, Henrik is someone I’ve respected long before I started blogging and his encouragement meant a great deal.

Exchange 2010 HAProxy Virtual Load Balancer. One thing that’s irked me somewhat is the advise that Windows Network Load Balancing isn’t recommended by Microsoft for Exchange, yet no free alternative exists, and for two-server, multi-role DAGs there isn’t any free option for load balancing apart from round-robin DNS. HAProxy is a great solution but for most Exchange admins it’s a little out of their comfort zone. So, as a start I put together a pre-packaged Virtual Load Balancer with a friendly web-based user interface. Whilst still in it’s early days, my free load balancer has been well received for test, dev or lab usage. There’s been an article on SearchExchange promoting it and I’ve also heard from some of you who’ve chosen to demonstrate it at user groups and to students taking Exchange courses.

Traffic-wise, the blog has went from strength to strength and continues to do so. I started the year lucky enough to have approximately 15,000 visitors a month. 12 months later, on average I see around 50,000 visitors a month; more than three times the visitors of twelve months ago and around 700 feed subscribers.

Without you, the readers, I wouldn’t have any reason to write, so thank you for frequenting my blog and making it all worthwhile. And if you’ve emailed me, as many of you have done – thank you. I might take a little while to reply sometimes but I appreciate you taking the time to get in touch.

Family

On the family front it’s been a busy, busy year. I’m very lucky to have a very supportive wife who has been my rock with the career change, subsequent working away and putting up with me whilst I’ve been writing. My daughter, who’s 2 and a half, is growing up fast and it the last year turned from a little girl who had just started talking into a lively chatterbox with an answer for everything – invariably “no”! Watching her grow up and spending time with her and my rock, Lisa, make every day worth living and I feel blessed to have both of them in my life.

Sadly on the home front it wasn’t all positive; late in 2011 my grandmother, Olga Alma Goodman, passed away from natural causes at the grand old age of 91.

Olga was a hard working woman who spent her life helping others, as a nurse and a midwife. Originally from Poland, she escaped to Britain through Germany during the war and on that journey went through many things that many of us only hope to avoid, but a few notable moments included standing up to Nazi soldiers, pretending a stick under her coat was a gun, to travelling across Germany clinging to the roof of a train with her young daughter, my aunty Karin, at her side.

In Britain she faced racism for her Polish origins but that never got in the way of her passion in life, helping others. As a midwife in the UK she performed hundreds, if not thousands, of home births and after retiring spent nearly the next 20 years working as a nurse at a GP practice, delivering home meals to elderly people (many younger than herself) and helping raise my brother and I, after our mother left. She instilled her hard working ethic and passion to help others on all of her children, and grandchildren, and she’ll be greatly missed.

Looking Ahead

As I begin my third year of writing this blog I’ll be making a few changes in the new year, really to reflect how my work has changed and how the industry is changing. I’ll also be revisiting some popular posts over the last few years to re-invent or improve them.

First – the changes. Office 365 arrived and it’s slowly making it’s mark. I’ve been working with the Exchange 2010 part of Office 365 since summer 2009 and a recurring topic on this blog has been either Live@EDU or Office 365. Over the last year I’ve also learnt a lot about Lync and over the coming year will have more professional focus on it as well.

So, you’ll begin to see more posts on these subjects and a move to rename the blog to something that encompasses these technologies.

Exchange-wise, well – that remains my passion and will remain the primary focus of this blog. As I said above, I’m looking to improve some of my past work as I’ve got a list as long as my arm of requested improvements for some scripts, along with a bag of ideas for some re-writes of past scripts.

So, which ones?

  • Exchange Environment Report – a full re-write to improve the provide the following:
    • Improve the speed by at least 2 times.
    • Provide compatibility for Exchange 2003-only environments.
    • Add reporting information about client access, hub transport roles.
    • Add public folder database information and improve accuracy of reporting in legacy environments.
    • Provide a variety of reporting options.
    • Provide better targeting/filtering options.
  • Virtual Load Balancer – improvements to provide the following:
    • Multi-load balancer deployments to provide HA at the load balancer layer.
    • Split services for Client access and Hub transport.
    • Add the ability to add services for Lync and ADFS.
    • Ability to remove and re-add nodes for maintenance.
  • Replace my Exchange 2010 mass-export/backup script with a GUI-driven replacement – ExMerge for the Exchange 2010 generation.
  • Re-write my mailbox balancing script to balance on a number of different values, namely:
    • Actual mailbox size
    • Mailbox quota
    • Mailbox profile
    • And the ability to do the same for personal archives.

And in terms of completely new stuff.. Well a subject that I’ve not written about in the past, but have a growing amount of content is Exchange problems. I’ve written a few Reader’s Problems posts in the last year but I’ll be expanding on this a bit more with sanitised versions of some of the issues I come across.

Naturally you’ll see the usual Powershell scripts to help with administration woes and one thing I’d like to find time to do (If I’m first.. and have the time) is to get my hands dirty with the Kinect SDK and write a Metro UI-inspired, motion controlled email client for Exchange. How, I’m not quite sure yet, but I’ll be pretty disappointed if I don’t have a stab at it!

Before I set myself up for even more things to try and achieve for 2012, I think I’d better sign off. Have a great new year, any may you achieve all your great resolutions!

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