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Sunday, October 03, 2010

MS Dominance - From an IT Professional Perspective

 Many of us who work in the corporate IT world realize that there is not ONE THING that works for all technology applications...Fanbois not withstanding.

So when a good friend of the Blog of helios wrote a comment in reply to a recent publication: Uncluttered Minds Do Not Care, I thought it was a good idea to supply the opinion of someone who does work in cross-platform environments.

Gavin uses Linux, Mac and Windows as an IT professional.  He is a TechNet Pro subscriber and has extensive experience in all platforms.  I simply thought it would be interesting to see his perspective on the MS-centric business world.

As always, your input is what we look for...

The Microsoft near-monopoly within educational institutions has a lot to do with ubiquity. This is a company that knows how to wine, dine, and make things easy for people. And by presenting such a unified and comprehensive front, where is the competition?

"Here are our desktop operating systems. Here are our server offerings. Here is a boatload of software that you can run across everything. Here are certifications that validate certain skills. Take these boxes of full-color brochures, manuals, and reference books. Take a look at these discounts we are prepared to offer you."

'Have you seen this list (careful, that list is heavy!) of servers and other hardware qualified to work with our software? Here, take this set of free media! (It will not do you any good without licenses, anyway.) We have dedicated staff standing by (see? right there in the nice clothes) to help you with all questions regarding legalities, licensing, support options, and presentations for your accountants."

"Did I mention the technology events we sponsor, with door prizes such as season tickets to your favorite sports teams? If you would like to sign the paperwork right now, I will conveniently forget my $150 pen in your hand while I bow out of the room. Oh! what a lovely signature! You know, the hologram on that COA really brings out your eyes..."

Then they follow up by stamping all the students with "made by Microsoft", flood the market with certs, drive down the costs of personnel qualified to work with their software, and make huge claims about lower TCO for large companies. After all, site licensing + Software Assurance + cheap cert-stamped IT personnel = large up-front cost + cheap year-over-year "float on a cloud" maintenance.

From a business perspective, it makes a large amount of sense to adopt their model. The CEOs and CFOs can all see the benefit in good investor relations by keeping the company in the black. Meanwhile, the CIOs and CTOs get to be the bad guys/girls that flex the IT workforce by periodically hiring and firing the cheapest low cert personnel every time the company's stock makes headlines (re-org time!).

When hardware and software are both on maintenance agreements, IT personnel salaries are merely another line item - more disposable than infrastructure, too! There is always another fresh cert-stamped college graduate who is eager to work for 15% less than a 5-year veteran who has not achieved a higher cert in the last 3 years (which is, coincidentally, the average time span for looking back at personnel "added value" in a large company).

And throughout all of this, MS looks like a friend to everyone, even the IT person who just got fired ("it is my own darn fault that I do not have a better cert by now, considering how easy MS makes it").

The people who really get the shaft through all of this are the people who have been duped into believing that the low-tier MS certs will set them up for life. And make no mistake, it is only "easy" to achieve that first-tier cert if you are in the top half of the talent pool.

By making the software ubiquitous, MS is also making the certs ubiquitous, which means that the salary you can demand with any given cert is lower (supply vs demand) regardless of how easy or difficult it is to achieve that cert. Experience still matters in the workforce, so the ones who are able to climb a few rungs up the steep cert ladder in a timely manner are the ones who are more likely to stay employed long enough to gain experience in the first place. The rest? Suffice to say I have met quite a few grey-haired MCSEs over the past year who have been forced to expand their career options. Thankfully, for their sake, none of them have yet delivered a pizza to my door, but even so...

Then there are the companies that are able to look at larger time frames. 5-10 years ahead and behind instead of 3. The companies that realize how MS can nickle and dime you as you scale up or down. The companies that KNOW you do not run Server 2008 R2 for that nuclear reactor over at Site C (BSOD = EPA visit!). Pick a UNIX/Linux variant, pay for support on production machines, run a free dev environment, extend hardware life cycles, gain real control over bug submissions and code alterations, and pay the 20% premium for IT personnel. Done.

Admittedly, there are benefits to either approach. And they become more or less important depending on the size of the company or organization as well as on other variables. I have seen a few companies that operate in such a way that I would flat-out tell them to use MS and be done with it. But I would wager that many of us have seen far more companies that should move away from MS but have not because no one has bothered to re-evaluate the situation in years.

I mean, really, $40 USD for a single SharePoint CAL w/SA for charities??

Enough said.

All-Righty Then...


JRaz said...

First off I love the post and your argument is sound as well as provoking. I am one of those who work in a practically all MS shop. We do have two items running Red Hat but do not manage them. (one of my goals is to change that) We have finally gained a director whom is open minded enough to look at other solutions. I have another goal to provide for a solution to an issue via open source Linux boxes. We spend thousands on licensing and in some ways are bound via contracts. This being because we are a segment of county government. MS hooks are deep but with budgets shrinking I see the opportunity to loosen that grip and get the doors open to Linux and other open source solutions.

I am always impressed by the efforts of the Helios Project and the commitment to the children you and the team provide.

Tucanae Services said...

Background: IT Manager from a Fortune 10 MS shop.

The post covered the mindset of a MS customer pretty well. Except for one time that I think is critical to understand. Risk.

Once a company reaches a certain size, risk mitigation becomes a critical consideration in the overall thought process. The number one tool of these firms is to off load the risk of the product to the vendor. That is done through cross linked support service contracts between the parties. Microsoft clearly understands this and has so from very early in its evolution.

Now if one is into risk mitigation then size is also a consideration. It does not benefit a $500m annual company to deal with a $5m company. You can kill your supplier the first time the fecal matter hits the rotary oscillator and as a consequence there goes your product mitigation. Large firms deal with large or larger firms for a reason. The likes of MS, IBM, Dell, Oracle and HP occupy the niches they do based on the customers they serve.

As it relates to Linux there is one and only one firm that even comes close to meeting the mitigation criteria -- Red Hat. It is their golden arrow. They will keep it polished and as a consequence will continue to dominate the data center where ever Linux shall be served.

Unknown said...

I'm working on getting into the field of IT so in another year or so I'll be the fresh college graduate looking for work.
Much to my disappointment the program I'm in is all Microsoft with a dash of Cisco. I took one 4 credit class on Linux. I was required to buy a $30 book and told to read it. Google any questions I might have since the instructor didn't run Linux and couldn't answer any questions about it...
All the MS books are over $200 because they come with student edition trial ware that can only run 6 months after activation! Please...keep your trial ware and just sell me the book so I can attend class! I'm sorry to see my community college (College of Western Idaho) doesn't have a Linux/Unix path, or even a decent Linux class that is worthy of the 4 credits I received for showing up to the one I did take.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of angles with this. I worked 7 years for a large health care company. Upper management wanted to worry about health care, not IT, so I had a free hand. We used open source software and GNU/Linux servers everywhere we could.

I now work for an IT company that provides managed services. The company has a lot of guys that love open source. But 99.9% of all the solutions we offer are Microsoft based or proprietary. I'm still learning the business side of IT which is new to me after years in health care. But from what I've seen, we want to offer a portfolio of solutions that are easy to support. We can call VMWare, Microsoft, Barracuda, Sonicwall and so on whenever we have an off the wall issue. We don't have to spend valuable billable time researching stuff. We have documentation, our product support is a phone call away and we roll out the same solutions to hundreds of customers. We pitch Microsoft SBS for a majority of our customers and when we are done they have Exchange, a file server, domain controller and so on. Basically a complete solution for small and medium sized businesses.

We fill a niche and do it well. Our customers don't have to worry about hiring IT staff. We take care of all that icky licensing stuff and provide them some slick solutions that fit into the Microsoft world that they are comfortable with.

I think we could completely switch over to open source offerings. But why? We use products that are very well supported and documented. So easy for us provide. It's easy to find Microsoft certified technicians. Our customers have a certain pain threshold when it comes to paying for IT services. We could develop an all open source portfolio but there is just no incentive in our markets to do so.

I wish an open source MSP company would come along and beat the pants off of us. I'd love to see that business model work first hand.

Scott M. said...

You cite most of the reasons I really *don't* want a M$ cert.

I just left an public organization that was a classic Microsoft shop, complete with the stereotypical MCSE types who were utterly clueless when it came to anything other than making a sales pitch for more M$ products. Their lack of foresight found them paying a large percentage of their budget for Microsoft & Kaspersky licenses. That really hurts when they're looking at having to lay-off employees to make ends meet in times when revenue is shrinking. When they're locked-in to paying the license fees and those costs just don't change much, there's not much else they can do.

I'm only interested in working with Microsoft products to a point, but beyond that point, I want the freedom to implement the best option for my end users. I don't think that Microsoft certifications would get me to such a position, because the sorts of companies and organizations who focus on Microsoft certs don't want that sort of flexibility. It basically serves as a red flag, I simply don't pursue positions that talk about Microsoft certs, unless they indicate they want someone who is able to support Mac or Linux systems, and they can convince me that it's true.

On the other end of the spectrum, in the past when I've run my own business and wanted to hire help, I'd see that "MCSE" as a red flag that the candidate was probably trying to substitute a b******* salesman cert for actual experience and knowledge. More often than not, that seemed to be exactly the case. It may be harder to quantify someone's qualifications without the baseline of certifications, but I think it's well worth the effort to do so.

Gavin said...

Tucanae Services - "Except for one time that I think is critical to understand. Risk."

Exactly! IT people are technical by nature, but most are technical to a fault. There is an almost universal disdain for the legal portion of software. Many MS-only people understand the proprietary license model and are easily confused by the GPL. And many non-MS people cannot understand why anyone would possible choose to be limited by a proprietary license.

But you hit the nail on the head here. The point is risk mitigation, the legal portion of CYA. A legal agreement, by its very nature, lays down limits. Limits for you, sure; but limits for everyone else, too. And legal limitations are what keep businesses in business. IT as a whole is a parallel to this - IT is supposed to keep businesses in business, too! If you are in IT, and you do not understand the legal portion of business - or worse, specifically avoid it - you are only doing half your job.

This extends beyond business, of course, since laws keep the world in check (for better or for worse). IT should be embracing the law, and vice versa. So get out there and make friends with the legal department! (Do not actually embrace them on the first meeting, though. Ease into it.)

Gavin said...

Brent - "Much to my disappointment the program I'm in is all Microsoft with a dash of Cisco."

My advice is to grab the non-MS certs on your own. MS certs have a tendency to be more like "click here to do this" (relative to UNIX/Linux) and Cisco is more like "we will only tell you what you can do if you commit to one of our programs". Linux certs, on the other hand, are more about learning how the system works rather than how to work the system. There are benefits either way, of course, but I think if you come from the MS side of things you will be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material. Best to do it yourself so that you can pace it to your needs. (In other words, I do not recommend that an MS cert'ed IT person should jump straight into a Linux cert program.)

The obvious places to start for Linux certs are Red Hat, LPIC, CompTIA, Novell, and Ubuntu. Do what you did before: buy a book, learn the material. You can do the whole thing for the cost of books, a second computer, the time you need to learn, and the cert test itself.

And by the way...

Brent - "All the MS books are over $200 because they come with student edition trial ware that can only run 6 months after activation! Please...keep your trial ware and just sell me the book so I can attend class!"

Have you heard of MS Press?

You can do the same thing with MS certs: buy the books, subscribe to TechNet Pro, learn the material. By all means, take the classes if you want, but to pass the test you only need to know the material. What are you getting from the classes that you cannot get at home with a virtualized test environment on a quad-core system?

Gavin said...

Anonymous #1 - "I think we could completely switch over to open source offerings. But why?"

Why, indeed? When you can pay a fee and have your problem solved? Or work it from the integration angle? And where is the downside to the tendency of Windows to crash when you are running a Windows domain forest with fail-over/HA, thin-client nodes, Terminal Services using cloud apps, and pushing virtual desktops with Citrix? Once you get into the high-end, well... do you really think IBM has no say in the price that MS charges them?

Of course, huge companies like IBM are the exception rather than the rule, but the theory holds true for companies of all sizes. Proprietary software makes just as much sense, if not more sense, as non-proprietary software from an organizational perspective. From a purely technical perspective, however, the tables are often turned. The goal of IT personnel should be to determine where the two can be effectively used. If you can fit Linux or free software into the overall solution, do it. If you cannot for whatever reason (usually lack of resources), look at what proprietary software can offer.

Unfortunately for Linux and free software, I believe they are under-utilized specifically because great strides have been made since the release of Vista, but not many managers are paying attention because... well... Vista was released. Two and a half years later, most MS shops are still wrestling with the issue of replacing WinXP and have not had time to examine/research much else. Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, for instance, was a huge stride forward AFTER Vista was released - and it has already been replaced with 10.04 LTS! And Ubuntu Server 10.04 has a free cloud solution compatible with Amazon EC2 (you can run Windows on it, too!) with pay-for support options from Canonical, and hardly anyone has heard of it. What a travesty...

Gavin said...

Scott M. - "I'm only interested in working with Microsoft products to a point, but beyond that point, I want the freedom to implement the best option for my end users."

I salute you, sir. You are doing IT the right way, in my opinion.

And yes, I agree with you about the MS certs. The ones who literally sales-pitched themselved out of a job are usually clueless about... anything missing a Start button. They have no real understanding about how computers work. But I think part of the blame should also be placed upon the industry as a whole. Where does it say that MS certs are incomplete? Oh sure, there are the Linux/etc zealots out there screaming from the mountain tops about how MS is "evil", but where is the real info that could possibly be taken seriously?

The entire WinXP/Server 2003 generation was tricked into buying the kit and putting on blindfolds. Times were good, IT positions were booming, the software was solid and long-lasting, and no one had to learn one bit of new information for years on end. Those poor fools...

Never thought to question, never had a reason to do so.

Now they are unemployed and thoroughly confused. My heart goes out to them. They deserved it, but they are not entirely to blame. The fine print was actively hidden from them, in my opinion. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Darryl C said...

I just wanted to add that the price you got for Sharepoint was actually a user cal not full blown Sharepoint server. That's so a user can access it. So you really have to add that cost in as well as the Sharepoint server, SQL Server and OS. Microsoft is really bad about listing all the things you need in order for one application to work.