PolarConf 2018 in Retrospect

2018-10-16, 08:31 Posted by: Antti Poutiainen

What? Who? Why?

PolarConf – the 2nd coolest Azure conference in Finland was held for the first time here in Helsinki last week. And what a great conference it was! Cybercom was one of the sponsors and our folks were present at the event. I’m going to start with breaking down the basics and explaining what PolarConf is about.

Finland Azure UG is the force that does a great job in spreading all things Azure, around Finland. They host the FAUG meetups several times a year, as well as a conference called IglooConf – which will be held for the 3rd time in January. IglooConf used to be a two day single-track conference that mixed sessions for both IT pros and developers a like. This year, the whole thing grew and PolarConf was created to be THE place for IT pro content. This was a very welcome addition since a single track event might not always cater the needs and interests of all Azure professionals.

Ok, so why is PolarConf the 2nd coolest Azure conference then? Well, because IglooConf is being hosted like 2 kilometers to north from where PolarConf was.

FAUG Masterminds setting the stage for day one

Ok, sounds good, let’s go!

Here comes a personal confession. I always tend to favor all community arranged and focused events, for the sheer reason of not involving marketing and sales pitching. The speakers are world class professionals, consisting mostly of Microsoft MVP’s, and the opinions are honest. The name tags don’t include a company name for a reason. You will obviously realize where I work at if I’m wearing a Cybercom hoodie, but these kinds of events are meant mostly for professionals to network and change ideas. Selling isn’t the big deal here.

The first day kicked off with Mike Martin giving an overview of what Azure has to offer today from an infrastructure perspective. The amount of services and their capabilities is growing exponentially, and it has already been extremely hard to keep track of all new features for quite some time. Mike also touched down some of the coolest new features announced at Ignite, which was a valuable recap for people who weren’t up to date of everything announced at Orlando.

The biggest takeaway – in my opinion – was to understand that you, as the person responsible for your Azure deployments, are at the center of everything.

Right after a coffee break, Mike got back on the stage with Rik Hepworth to rock out a great presentation about the security controls available in Azure. If you are not completely up to date on the existing tools and their synergies, this session most likely provided some serious value to neatly explain the security controls and their function in the stack. The biggest takeaway – in my opinion – was to understand that you, as the person responsible for your Azure deployments, are at the center of everything. All the security controls are available for use, but you need to take advantage of them and ensure that they are used properly. Well said!

Best lunch I've ever had!

After the lunch we had two more sessions to go. Sjoukje Zaal gave a great speech about Azure AD B2B and all the collaborative possibilities that it enables organizations to use. After a coffee break, Matty Stratton had a great session about  how to manage through outages and create a perfect incident response. For someone who has done on-call duty for several years in the past, Matty’s session raised some flashbacks from the past! Being in the middle of the situation where stuff hits the fan and all systems are down can be quite a stressful experience. Nevertheless, for a lot of people that’s part of the job and being able to manage through it is something that one should truly chase to be able to sleep better at night. Last but not least, Jeff Wouters gave an excellent pep talk on how to make your PowerShell scripts great again by using PSScriptAnalyzer.

Matty Stratton using The Four Agreements (book by Don Miguel Ruiz) as principles for proper incident response

For the past IglooConf events, attendees have requested a community social hour or a similar networking event after the sessions are wrapped and it’s time to relax a bit. Well, your voice has been heard! We had a great couple of hours after the session, getting to know each other better over a pint of beer or a glass of soda.

Day 2

The morning session of day 2 was Rob Sewell – aka SQL DBA with a beard – talking about continuous delivery around Azure DevOps. Rob has done some amazing work around PowerShell, related to SQL Server and other products. He gave us a pretty demo heavy session on how he authors his code and scripts further with properly with testing frameworks in place, making sure that nothing breaks down!

Rob Sewell being 100% spot on with his morning routines

Rob and his beard was able to get most of the audience awake from their morning slumber, so it was time to move on to the next session! Sam Cogan stepped on to the stage to talk about Active Directory Domain Services, and the deployment options when you need ADDS in the cloud. We definitely do agree on one thing, Azure Active Directory still seems to cause some people confusion because of how the service is named! Sam’s session was valuable to folks who might not have been familiar with the subject in the past. You don’t always have to rely on manually installed ADDS running on virtual machines. If you don’t have much of a legacy payload on your infrastructure, using the PaaS solution called Azure Active Directory Domain Services (confused already?) might prove to be a valuable option.

During the lunch we were entertained by the next speaker, who was clearly anxious to get is session rolling! Aleksandar Nikolic worked as a DJ, to provide some background music for people enjoying their lunch at the venue. He did eventually get his actual show rolling and he showed the audience some professional tips on building your infrastructure to Azure. ARM templates are a familiar concept with most of the people working around Azure, but its easy to forget the existence of Powershell, Azure Automation and especially DSC. All of these tools are pretty easy to get started with, and getting to know them well will pay off in the future. Less manual work, more time to focus on the important stuff!

Aleksandar Nikolic with his post-lunch show, providing some good vibes

Before the ever so great and exciting panel discussion – which has become a tradition on IglooConf – Rik Hepworth closed the session with his presentation on Azure Stack and some real life lessons he has learned around it. I have had some experience with Azure Stack in the past but Rik had such an information packed, valuable session with great examples that I couldn’t stop listening to him for one second. Good times! If you ever need an isolated version of Azure, don’t forget the existence of Azure Stack. It does come with an upfront cost – which is not exactly very “cloudy” – but it enables you to bring Azure close to where you are.

Wrapping up

Overall PolarConf was a great experience from someone who has a sysadmin background and has always been more involved with the system architecture and infrastructure components, even on Azure. Spreading the word on Azure is a good thing itself, but getting the community to gather around to share experiences and listen to great sessions is something that I can’t speak too highly of. Personally, I hope that PolarConf will be arranged again next year, and I’m sure to be present if that happens. Fingers crossed! Up next: IglooConf in January 2019! Make sure to book your tickets for IglooConf - THE coolest Azure conference there is.

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