On May 11th, Debra Shinder made a blog post titled “IT Pros are not feeling the love from Microsoft”. Needless to say, this has gotten the attention of quite a few folks (me included). After taking some time to read through the post a few times and digest the points made by Debra in her post, I have decided to post my own thoughts regarding that topic here on my blog.
Initially, I was going to list each key point that Debra made and then “respond” to it. But, I have decided that is not the proper way to go about this. Instead, I will make some key points myself regarding the evolution of IT and where I see the IT Pro fitting in. Following that, I will put down my thoughts on Microsoft’s “love” for the IT Pro.
A little background
Over the last 15 years, IT shops have been responsible for about the same kinds of things – help desk (end user support), server management
In most companies, there are groups of IT Professionals who perform the following tasks:
· Install and Configure Servers
· Install and Configure Workstations
· Provide End User Support
· Architect and Design network topologies
· Manage Servers
· Deploy Software (including patches)
· Manage and Configure Networking gear (Routers, Switches, etc.)
· Manage communications hardware
I’m sure I left off a few tasks, but I think the above lists covers the majority of it. Depending on the company, these tasks may be performed by the same group of people or different groups.
In the “early” days, most of the installation and configuration was very manual and performed via the command line interface (CLI). I still remember installing NetWare 2.x and 3.1x where the installation program was definitely not GUI driven. On top of that, the client side configuration was all done via the command line and editing text files. Routers, Firewalls and PBXs were definitely configured via the CLI (a lot of these are still that way today).
With the advent of Windows NT Server, the GUI became the preferred method for management for those who were new to the industry and who didn’t have the years of experience doing things from the CLI. The GUI definitely made it a lot easier for people to learn how to manage the Microsoft servers. Like many Windows administrators, I learned to love the GUI and the nice Wizards that were put out to make management easier. At the same time, the “Power tools” I still relied on for troubleshooting and advanced management were CLI utilities. I would use the GUI or CLI tools as they made sense and made me productive. I admit, I love the ease of use that the GUI tools provide me. At the same time, I get frustrated with the inefficiencies of these tools under certain circumstances. I learned to write batch files and simple scripts to help automate tasks (just like the Excel macros I wrote to make life simpler).
Why am I bringing this stuff up? I hear grumblings (and Debra points this out) that the Microsoft is going backwards with the PowerShell and that we are abandoning the GUI. I have to call BS on this. The PowerShell is just another tool in my tool belt that I can use to supplement the things I do today in the GUI. I consider the PowerShell to be one of the Power Tools I mentioned earlier. This provides me the capability of automating certain tasks and gaining access to information in an easier way than through the GUI. I do not believe the GUI management tools will ever go away. However, I do see that the PowerShell will become more instrumental in the way servers are managed in the future. This is especially true with servers that sit in the “Cloud”. I may not be an expert at using the PowerShell, but I have taken a little time to understand the basics. If you haven’t, I would encourage you to take a look at Don Jones’ book (Learn Windows PowerShell in a Month of Lunches) as he does a great job of breaking it down so that you can get from beginner to novice real fast.
Does Microsoft Care more about Developers or IT Pros?
Debra brings up multiple instances where Microsoft is spending a lot of time and money to attract more Developers to our platform and she doesn’t see Microsoft doing this for the IT Pro.
I want to make it clear that without IT Pros, Developers wouldn’t have a job and without Developers, IT Pros wouldn’t have a job. Think about it. If the developers aren’t writing the applications and servers that us IT Pros use what would we be supporting? If the IT Pros didn’t run and support the servers, infrastructures and desktops that the developer’s applications run on, who would use their stuff? This is one of those love / hate relationships, but we can’t have one without the other.
Let’s take a look at the current landscape of smart phone devices and slates / tablets. Why was Apple so successful with their iPhone? It’s because of all the developers who saw a way to make money by writing great (and stupid / worthless) applications that people were willing to buy. You see this with Android devices as well. One of the reasons I see the Windows Mobile platform not really take off is the lack of this appeal. With the Windows Phone 7, we are using the same strategy. So, if there are no good apps for the WP7, will people buy them? I would say no. Hence there is a big need to have more WP7 apps in the Marketplace so that Microsoft can have better success in the smartphone (and tablet / slate) space.
Cloud (Windows Azure / Office 365 specifically)
I still remember when the Internet started taking off and Microsoft was not even a player. However, Microsoft was quick (reasonably) to respond and started focusing on TCP/IP, a web browser and other components to be competitive in this area. When you think about the “Cloud”, lots of people were / are already using public cloud based services from many providers, Microsoft included. Just think about Hotmail, Live ID, Messenger, Xbox Live, etc. In the early 2000’s, I heard again and again the request that Microsoft go to a software subscription model. We came out with Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) based on this feedback and those same people who asked for subscription based software complained about it. Yet, Google was applauded for offering their Google Docs solution. I just don’t get it.
Does the availability of these solutions mean that every company has to go with this model? Absolutely not! There will be many companies that will continue to run their own datacenters and have servers in house. Some of these will supplement with Office 365 where it makes sense. I still see the IT Pro’s role in this new model to be very key. Someone has to be responsible for architecting the Hybrid connectivity and managing the configurations.
Windows Azure is a different scenario. Organizations that have spikes or unpredictable workloads are able to have a solution that is affordable. This is also a great solution for startups that don’t have the infrastructure built up yet. The last thing I would do is use Windows Azure to host a simple web site or run my File Servers and Domain Controllers. Despite what you may hear, Windows Azure is not for everyone.
Ultimately, the “Cloud” is not a Microsoft “thing”. The industry as a whole is moving in this direction. Microsoft happens to have some pretty good offerings in the Public Cloud (and Internal Cloud) space.
Harold’s thoughts on Microsoft and the IT Pro
Microsoft has a lot of developers that work for the company. These developers happen to write a lot of code that goes into products that are heavily dependent upon IT Pros to architect, install, configure and manage. These products are heavily used by Microsoft and the internal IT staff consists of a boat load of IT Pros. Microsoft knows the importance of both communities (Developers and IT Pros) in order for us to be successful. We produce many IT Pro focused tools – some are GUI based and some are CLI (PowerShell) based. Why does the fact that we are doing more around PowerShell mean we (Microsoft) don’t love the IT Pros anymore? I think that Microsoft cares deeply for the IT Pro community and wants to provide better tools for all scenarios. As more and more companies need better automation capabilities, the PowerShell becomes more and more important to achieve that goal. I may not be the most knowledgeable on PowerShell, but I have taken the time to understand the basics and am comfortable using the tool. At the same time, I admit that I like the GUI environment because it is easier to click through a wizard (except when I have to do something over and over). Yes, I do work for Microsoft and have for almost 12 years now, but that doesn’t mean I am not an IT Pro myself and never use the tools. I happen to depend on them quite a bit and am allowed to be critical of the company so that I can help Microsoft be better.
I know this is long winded and I probably rambled a bit, but I hope it makes sense. I also welcome your thoughts on my thoughts and encourage you to post as many comments as you’d like. I will respond (respectfully and honestly).