This past week, I had an opportunity to use the SBS Partner Event Kit that Microsoft is making available for promoting Small Business Server at events. Our Chamber of Commerce has a Mega Mixer once or twice a year, which is basically a "vendor expo" for area Chambers and Chamber members to promote their goods and services to other area Chambers and Chamber members. This time, I knew I wanted to have a booth (not only to support the Chamber but also for promotion and name recognition, etc.) and about the time I signed up for the booth, I got notification about the Partner Event Kit and followed the simple instructions to request the kit. The rest of this post covers my experience with the kit and the entire kit process, so feel free to skip if you've got no interest in the kit or my experiences.
As per Eric's post, I e-mailed the group requesting the kit on the date of my event, and got an e-mail response asking for some additional information. I e-mailed back the response, and the next day I got confirmation that I'd been approved to use the kit and they collected other information, including shipping address. They made it very clear that they'd ship the kit two days before the event, I'd get it the day before the event, and I'd have to return it the day after the event. I also took them up on the offer to have my company logo printed on a 6'x3' banner for a fee. I had a banner made up a couple of years ago, but information changed and it's no longer usable, so being able to get another banner was a real plus. We went back and forth a bit making sure they got the image file for the banner in the right format, and they even asked to get a couple of additional updates because the first print on the banner didn't quite match up with the logo colors they were expecting, so rather than get a banner whose primary colors were purple and dark green, I got one that had the proper shade of blue and light green. Big plus on customer service on that point.
Two days before the event, I got the e-mail that the kit had shipped and I'd have it the next day. This is unfortunately where things began to get a bit interesting. Towards the end of the day I should have received the kit, I called and asked if they had a tracking number for the package. They sent me the number, and showed that the kit was still scheduled for delivery, but if I didn't get it soon, that I should call the shipper and ask. When it hadn't shown up by 4:30 local time (building closes at 5:30) I called. The shipping company (well, the specific agent I spoke with) wasn't very friendly or helpful, but told me that there was no way that a package of that size (it weighed in at 138lbs apparently) would get sent overnight. I asked when I could expect it, and was told that they should get it to me by noon on the day of the event. Since I had to start setting up no later than 2pm for the event, that was going to cut it close. I communicated this information back to the folks who shipped the kit to bring it to their attention and went home.
The next morning, I got into the office at 7:30 and checked the tracking. At least now the on-line tracking showed that it had left the original facility. It also said that it had left the facility in Ohio at 4:35 that morning. I'm guessing that was EDT, which meant it was only 3:35 my time, but I was curious to see if it really was going to get from Ohio at 3:35am CDT to Denton, Texas, by noon. I called the carrier to see if they could give me an ETA on arrival so I could make sure that someone was at the office to receive the kit, and was pretty much told "no." I had a 10am meeting that I couldn't reschedule, so I left my associate at the office to wait for the package. Not so big brownie points to the shipping company, and I've already submitted that feedback to the appropriate parties.
I got back from the meeting in time to start packing to head over to the event, and sure enough, there was the kit, in all its massively large crate glory. Yeah, I can see why it might weigh 138lbs. The case alone looked pretty heavy, but there's no doubt that the contents of the crate were well-protected.
So we cracked open the crate to look at the contents. As advertised, there was a 19" LCD flat panel display (which hadn't been used before, so the next guys that get it, we left it in really, really good condition for you), table banners for SBS 2003 and Server 2008, an SBS 2003 standing banner, and three clear holders of propaganda (propaganda included). Also present was an extra banner with the company logo.
Rather than try to manhandle the shipping crate to the event, we packed the individual components, along with a computer, extension cord, power strip, keyboards and mice, and our own marketing materials, and headed over to the event. Our booth was near the front of the setup, and we hung the company banner first thing.
Then we set up the standing banner and hung the SBS 2003 banner on the main table. We set up the LCD display on that half of the table to help hold the SBS banner in place. I opted not to use the Server 2008 banner as I didn't want to cause any confusion as to what we were hawking. Then we put up the marketing collateral and finished out the rest of the table.
Even once we put the people in the booth, it still didn't look too bad.
As for the demo, the Kit was supposed to come with a DVD of SBS demos, but didn't (I confirmed with the folks that put the kit together that the DVD wasn't missing, even though it was in the list of items that should have been in the Kit), so we improvised. We built a Vista workstation running Office 2007, and had Outlook via the Internet connected back to a test SBS box at the home office. We also had an RWW session up connected to a test workstation hung off the test network. We also had a shortcut ready to go to connect to the RWW login page on my production box to demo AuthAnvil. And all this was done with a Verizon USB wireless broadband adapter (no networking available at the facility). No huge surprise, but folks not familiar with SBS were surprised at all it could do.
Overall, the event was a success, and having the kit really polished off our appearance at the event. I for one am thrilled that MS has made this kit available, and I hope that this post about the kit and how we used it can answer some questions that others may have had about whether using the kit would be a good idea. I can say for certain that the next opportunity I have for an event like this I'll definitely check to see if I can get the kit again.