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Now, I know that in the past I've talked about how I'd like to see Apple come out with a more IT-focused conference than the WWDC, even with its excellent Enterprise IT track.
However, please don't take that to mean that tracks at Macworld and the WWDC are your only options here. There's a third conference, not as well-known, but solid in terms of content, focus, and presenters. The Mac Networkers Retreat, held from October 9-11th at the Seascape Resort in Monterey Bay CA, is one of the only, if not the only 100 percent IT–focused Mac conferences out there. It's also got bragging rights among all the Mac conferences for the title of "Best surroundings for a conference." The Moscone is okay, but this location is really quite gorgeous.
Aside from location, the curriculum for the Retreat is top notch. Now in its third year, the Retreat is put on by the same people who design the conference tracks for Macworld Expo, and that experience is put to good use. Designed with the sysadmin's internal clock in mind, the sessions and breakouts run from early afternoon to 10 pm.
The workshops start earlier, but when you only have two days to cover things like Introduction to Mac Forensics, Macintosh Deployment in The Enterprise and Active Directory/Open Directory Integration Including the Utilization of Synchronized Home Folders, well, you need to be up early. Two days just isn't a lot of time. (Besides, on Oct. 10th, there's a bonfire just before the breakout sessions. Any time you get a top IT conference with a bonfire, it's a good thing.)
Sessions are no good without good speakers, and the Retreat excels here as well. People like Philip Rinehart and Lance Ogletree, both sysadmins, from Yale and Rice Universities respectively, or Schoun Regan, author of quite a few Apple and Peachpit books on Mac OS X Server, and one of the top Mac OS X Server trainers in the country. These three, and the other speakers, are all some of the best Mac IT people you'll see at this or any other conference.
The total price for all of this? $995, which includes lunch and catered breaks. Compared to the cost of Macworld Expo, or the Apple WWDC, this is dirt cheap when you consider the content.
If the Mac Networkers Retreat seems a little different than most conferences, that's deliberate. It's really about the kind of learning and knowledge exchange that can happen when you have a smallish group of people in a relaxed atmosphere, without all the external distractions of places like San Francisco or New York. I've yet to ever hear any kind of negative review from anyone who's gone to one, and it's only unavoidable obligations on my part that keeps me from going this year.
If you've been wanting to get out and meet some of your peers, and pick up some solid, real-world knowledge, but don't have a huge travel and training budget, the Mac Networkers Retreat is a great way to go.