Can moving to an all-Microsoft environment save your business time, money and aggravation? More and more IT departments are saying yes.
Officials at the nation's largest organ donation agency LifeNet encounter true
life-or-death decisions every day, and so view technology as simply a way to
speed connections between organ recipients and donor families. This is why IT
executives there have adopted an "all-Microsoft" approach, deciding
to skip the laborious task of concocting a heterogeneous environment to accommodate
desktop, server and mobile computing applications.
LifeNet is not alone. A growing number of organizations seem willing to run
a pure Microsoft IT shop stacked with SQL and SharePoint servers, Exchange mail
solutions, Office System packages for desktop applications and other Microsoft
products, according to some industry analysts and integrators.
It's a strategy that obviously won't work for all enterprises, especially larger
corporations bulked up through mergers and acquisitions and hence saddled with
a variety of IT assets. However, for small to midsized organizations interested
in simplicity, quick integration and reduced staff training time, an all-Microsoft
approach may be best, says Mike Gilpin, vice president and research director
at Forrester Research Inc.
"Some companies will be able to solve all or most of their IT problems
with Microsoft technology and should probably consider going with all-Microsoft
solutions," says Gilpin, though he readily acknowledges the natural reaction
among IT decision makers to balk at over-reliance on a single vendor.
"Interestingly, you hear a lot about the risks of mono-culture. It's a
subject on which many people tend to theorize. However, I have yet to see a
business case that would demonstrate to me the sheer business value of taking
a heterogeneous approach simply to avoid a mono-culture," Gilpin adds.
Sometimes Less Is More
LifeNet's business analysis favored a move away from heterogeneity. "We
have nearly completed a conversion from a mixed Mac/PC to a Microsoft environment,"
says Steve Lenz, vice president of Information Systems for the Virginia Beach,
Va.-based agency. "This has greatly reduced setup times and allowed for
greater cross-training of staff."
Eats Its Own Dog Food
In the spirit
of practicing what it preaches, Microsoft has moved its internal
operations to an environment built entirely on its own products
and adopted a strategy the company refers to as "Infrastructure
IO is a "roadmap" for simplifying heterogeneous
infrastructures that have proved complex and stand in the
way of customer efforts to align business goals with IT operations.
IO phases include the deployment of common IT standards, the
introduction of controls to manage desktops and servers, and
rationalization of desktop and server management costs.
Microsoft promotes the IO model as one that is most easily
adopted using an infrastructure built entirely on the company's
own products, since it allows apples-to-apples comparisons
to better measure the value of investments and more effectively
plan for growth.
"Microsoft applies the same benchmarks to its own corporate
infrastructure to understand and subsequently improve the
state of IT infrastructure in terms of cost, security risk
and operational agility," says Tom Ryan, a senior manager
within Microsoft IT. "Microsoft uses the concept of IO
to strategically and systematically move its capabilities
from reactive to more mature proactive modes," he says.
Microsoft touts reduced integration hassles, improved desktop
management and intrinsic simplicity from an all-Microsoft
approach. The company boasts about its own internal gains
as well, which include:
- 47 percent reduction in patch management and update time
- 93 percent reduction in the number of Exchange sites
- 30 percent reduction in infrastructure servers
- 200 percent increase in storage capability
In terms of return on investment, the software giant claims
it has saved $3 million in support costs and driven Internet
costs down $6.5 million.
Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Brittenford Systems Inc.
is also moving to an infrastructure composed almost entirely
of Microsoft products. "We've found that leveraging the
integration built into many of the applications has saved
time and licensing expenses, while delivering a solution to
our problems," explains Ryan Risley, Brittenford's CTO.
Risley used his company's foray into mobile computing as
an example. "In the typical Windows Mobile 5.0 versus
Blackberry scenario, we found that with Exchange Server 2003
SP2 already deployed, our cost associated with deploying ActiveSync
over Blackberry enterprise server was substantially less,"
New Exchange security features and e-mail push
functions have allowed functionality that rivals any gains
to be had from a move to Blackberry enterprise servers, Risley
continues. "We have similar -- if not superior -- functionality
for much less cost, which yields a much faster ROI."
LifeNet's infrastructure includes Microsoft's Dynamics GP 9.0 servers blended
with .NET and SharePoint technologies. "Information freely flows throughout
the company, improving business intelligence and enabling processes to be streamlined,"
Financial services firm MCG Capital Corp. also settled on an all-Microsoft
strategy. The company has a small staff and outsources many of its utility functions,
including backups and networking, according to Bob Grazioli, CTO of the Arlington,
"Less complexity and more substance is the philosophy we like to stick
to at MCG. Microsoft gives us that option," Grazioli says of MCG, which
provides capital to help small to mid-sized companies grow. "Having systems
that integrate with each other and that can be monitored and controlled from
a single platform is priceless," he adds.
Brittenford Systems Inc., an IT consulting services firm and Microsoft Gold
Certified Partner, steered MCG Capital through its all-Microsoft decision. "Customers
are open to solutions that achieve business objectives with stable solutions,"
says Ryan Risley, Brittenford's CTO.
Risley believes that the customers most interested in additional Microsoft
infrastructure specific to business applications tend to be those who have many
of the prerequisite requirements satisfied.
"Specifically, a pure Microsoft approach will appeal to companies running
the most current Microsoft operating system, Office Suites and Service Packs,
and those with a 'well-tuned' Active Directory, along with heavy investments
in Exchange and SQL Server 2000 or higher lines," Risley says.
Another Gold Certified Partner, Ensim Corp., which supplies automation software
for hosted IP and application services to many networking and telecommunications
companies, has also seen an uptake in interest among customers in adopting an
infrastructure composed solely of Microsoft solutions.
"There is a lot of interest in having an all-Microsoft platform -- as
long as the applications that sit on top can be from multiple solutions,"
notes Francois Depayras, vice president of sales and marketing.
Given the ability to layer new applications onto pure Microsoft platforms,
larger enterprises might even consider an all-Microsoft approach, argues Risley.
"Larger firms can benefit from business-ready licensing and application
customizations that can be made to fit their business processes," he says.
Not so, counter Microsoft competitors. "Companies that are looking to
reduce costs are often swayed by the licensing policy of Microsoft, which attempts
to convince customers that their costs will be reduced if they go with a single
vendor. This is often not the case," says Richard Bliss, vice president
of marketing at GWAVA Inc., a service provider that caters to Novell Inc.'s
GroupWise community of customers.
In fact, Microsoft customers are more likely to see price hikes after committing
to licensing agreements. "Once Microsoft has the customer's business locked
in, there is very little incentive on the part of Microsoft to keep lowering
costs to keep the business. Quite the opposite is true. Now Microsoft has the
ability to raise costs knowing that it is more expensive for the customer to
make the break than to stay," he says.
The Downside of a Lock In
Locking into staunch licensing agreements and developing dependence on any one
vendor has little appeal to mega-enterprises, says Forrester's Gilpin. There
tends to be "an interesting dynamic" among large companies that want
to avoid becoming too reliant on a single vendor and prefer to play vendors
against each other, he says.
However, over-reliance on a single vendor is typically only one part of a major
enterprise's reluctance to plunge headlong into an all-Windows environment.
Some industry observers note that large IT shops tend to have big problems that
need solving with technology, but feel Microsoft has not innovated to the level
where it can adequately solve those problems.
"Big Wall Street companies and other large enterprises often have really
complicated problems. It would prove too restrictive if there were only one
available set of tools to solve those problems," explains Gilpin. "But
a lot of companies are not like that. They don't have complicated technology
problems and are not shaping their IT operations all the time," he adds
are open to reducing the number of vendors with which they
Forrester Research Inc. recently found that 42 percent of
global 2000 IT organizations expressed a distinct interest
in reducing the number of vendors providing them with application
software. In fact, many of these mega-enterprises considered
a reduction in software vendors to be a "priority"
or even a "critical priority," according to a recent
report by Forrester Research Inc.
"Late last summer we asked the question, 'To what extent
are buyers of software motivated to reduce the number of vendors
they do business with on a recurring basis over a number of
years?' We saw a substantial desire to do this," says
Mike Gilpin, vice president and research director at Forrester.
Even so, software vendor reduction ranks far below fiscal
savings, security, integration and standardization issues,
he adds. -- J.M.
LifeNet certainly falls into the latter category. The agency is fairly unencumbered
by demands to adopt the most advanced applications and is uninterested in dedicating
IT staff to a single project. By using all Microsoft products, the company benefits
from effective cross training while also being able to rotate staff among different
jobs, preventing burn out.
Simplicity can come with some trade-offs. "One negative is that innovation
can be slower when a single environment is used. However, most new functionality
is [eventually] incorporated into Microsoft standard products," Gilpin
Indeed, competitors highlight innovation limits when a customer locks into
an exclusively Microsoft arrangement. They are quick to point out that an all-Microsoft
shop is slow to take advantage of rapid changes in the marketplace or emerging
"Linux is the perfect example. As more and more customers move to a lower-cost
product like Linux, reliance on Microsoft becomes a burden, [because] a large
amount of legacy infrastructure will not allow rapid response," says GWAVA's
In the end, Microsoft is eager to enter exclusive arrangements with as many
customers as possible but always keeps one eye on the bigger picture. "If
Microsoft can replace everything else in the stack for the smaller customer,
it will do everything in its power to do that," says Forrester's Gilpin.
"But the way Microsoft thinks about this is in terms of maximizing Windows
and Office revenues," he says, adding that this focus can often preclude
a push for customer exclusivity.
For instance, Microsoft has worked with customers to integrate its own products
with IBM's WebSphere application server infrastructure and solutions from other
competitors, such as BEA Systems Inc. "Microsoft isn't in the business
of building products to work on these platforms. But it does know that enterprise
customers need solutions that are interoperable, and it is very focused on this,"