Foley on Microsoft

Are the Days of the Microsoft IT Pro Numbered?

Mary Jo Foley discusses how recent Microsoft executive and service pricing changes may not be sitting well with many on-premises experts.

During the past few months, there's been growing unrest among a number of Microsoft IT pros about their future. Their concern is understandable. And it doesn't have to do solely with Microsoft's organizational and management changes. A number of recent decisions by Microsoft execs that affect the IT pro community haven't gone over well.

In early July, Microsoft announced plans to discontinue its TechNet subscription program. With no warning, officials said they'd be dropping the Microsoft Certified Masters certification program. Then the company pulled the plug on the Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) conference, announcing that TechEd will "absorb" MMS. Rumor has it TechEd isn't long for this world, either.

On top of all this, a number of Microsoft-issued patches for key products such as Windows Server, System Center, Exchange and Office have been buggy, leading to major headaches for IT shops that had come to trust the `Softies' quality-control processes around Patch Tuesday. If all that weren't enough, Microsoft has been beating the cloud-computing drum increasingly loudly. Some IT pros feel their choice is to go with the Microsoft cloud... or else.

Change is inevitable in technology and practitioners need to continue to hone their skills to keep up with the ever-changing landscape. The Microsoft platform changes have already tipped upside down the worlds of its channel partners and longtime .NET developers. I remember when CEO Steve Ballmer first told Microsoft partners it was going to be selling cloud-computing solutions directly to customers. His message wasn't well-received, to say the least. Ditto when Microsoft put Silverlight on ice and started extolling the virtues of HTML and JavaScript in a way that seemed to trump .NET. Loyal Microsoft coders were and remain none-too-happy.

Over the past year, the Microsoft IT community has found itself in the midst of similarly shifting sands. Microsoft's public message is: IT shops can have it all and continue to run and manage Microsoft software in their own datacenters. But Microsoft is definitely putting the pressure on to wean enterprise and small to midsize business (SMB) customers to go all in with the cloud.

In some cases, Microsoft is doing this with its pricing. Starting this month, Microsoft is pricing Windows Azure in a way meant to incent enterprise customers to put more of their apps and data in the cloud. They're also using the "cloud first" feature approach to lure those who want the latest new features. To be fair, not all IT shops want more and faster updates. For some, yearly updates are already too much to handle.

Microsoft also is repositioning Windows Azure as the centerpiece of its enterprise and services business. Gone are the days when Microsoft execs touted Windows Azure as being built on Windows Server. Now the message is: Everything Microsoft is building in the enterprise space powers Windows Azure. I've even heard Microsoft execs using "hosters" as the way they're describing those IT pros who are still running their own on-premises datacenters. The message seems to be you can have it your way, as long as your way revolves around Microsoft's cloud deliverables.

Technical Fellow and Windows Azure Architect Mark Russinovich tells me there are still 10 to 15 years left before Microsoft is actually positioned in the cloud first-and-foremost, as some IT pros fear is imminent. "We need on-premises experts to help" with the transition, he says.

Microsoft is not, contrary to some beliefs, going to stop supporting hybrid on-premises/cloud scenarios in the near term, Russinovich adds. In fact, the Windows Azure Pack, a collection of Windows Azure technologies Microsoft is making available on Windows Server, is the fundamental piece of Microsoft. This will let you move cloud applications back on-premises if and when you need to, he says. IT pros will be instrumental in those scenarios.

With all the hoopla around the Microsoft consumer business these days, it's sometimes easy to forget 58 percent of the company's revenue comes from enterprise customers. Many IT pros are still involved in recommending, buying and obviously supporting Microsoft enterprise products. Hopefully, the `Softies will remember that reality isn't going to change any time soon.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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