Barney's Rubble

Learning To Love IO

Infrastructure optimization is more than just another way for Microsoft to pitch its products.

I first heard about IO on a trip some months back to Microsoft. They weren't talking about I/O as in input/output. No, they were talking about infrastructure optimization (IO).

This IT model is how Microsoft now positions, sells and develops products. I reckoned I'd better learn what this thing was all about.

Coming to grips with IO was a long process. I read several hundred pages worth of white papers, case studies, briefs and press releases. That was a mistake, for as I tried to absorb the whole model -- there are actually three of them -- and all its implications and product ties, I scratched my head so much my co-workers got me a flea collar.

Here's the short version of what I've learned. IO is an IT maturity model that first focuses on efficiency and driving down costs. As you move up the ladder the focus turns to technology that helps companies do new things, launching products and responding quickly to changing markets.

The first model is Core Infrastructure, meaning your basic server and PC architectures. Then comes Business Productivity Infrastructure and finally Application Platform Infrastructure.

Each model works the same way. IT goes through an elaborate questionnaire that leads to a set of goals for the shop. In the last part, Microsoft maps your business goals to products -- yes, in most cases, Microsoft products.

When I first looked at IO I fixated on the product mapping and decided the model was just a way to sell more Microsoft products. I was biased against IO from the start. The first IT pros I spoke with bashed IO for the same reason -- they just didn't trust it.

I kept going, talking to more customers, analysts, partners and a few rather persuasive Microsoft execs. IO is a way to sell more Microsoft products, and the company is not ashamed of pitching its products to fit IT goals established by IO. Once IT has those goals, it's free to seek out any product or vendor it cares to. I also found that in the first two stages of IO, the questionnaires and goal setting are almost entirely vendor neutral.

It took a lot of reading and talking and looking at other models, but now I'm convinced that IO is a good thing -- a very good thing. But good isn't perfect. Let me play analyst for a moment and humbly -- and when have you ever seen me humble? -- suggest some changes.
IO needs:

  • An "IO for Dummies"-style introduction: A document that lays the model out so the basics can be understood in about five minutes.
  • More work with third parties: When it comes to product mapping, I'd like to see as many third parties as possible represented.
  • An upfront discussion of competitive technologies and multi-vendor shops.
  • Better do-it-yourself tools for IT, such as a self-service portal so IT can do their own IO analysis.
  • Microsoft really should work with IBM, which has been an expert in infrastructure optimization for years.

Give me your take on IO by writing to dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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