Are Microsoft Losing Friends and Alienating IT Pros?

Regular readers of my blog will know I’m a big fan of Microsoft products. As well as being an Exchange MVP, I’m very much a cloud fan – you’ll find me at Exchange Connections in a few weeks time talking about migrating to Exchange Online amongst other subjects. What I’m about to write doesn’t change any of that, and I hope the right people will read this and have a serious re-think.

Microsoft’s “Devices and Services” strategy is leaving many in the industry very confused at the moment.

If you’ve been living under a rock – I’ll give you an overview. They’ve dropped MCSM, the leading certification for their Server products. They’ve dropped TechNet subscriptions, the benchmark for how a vendor lets its IT pros evaluate and learn about their range of products. And they’ve been very lax with the quality of updates for their on-premises range of products, Exchange included, whilst at the same time releasing features only in their cloud products.

A range of MCMs and MCSMs – Microsoft employees included – have been expressing their opinions here, here, here, here, here and in numerous other places. We’ve discussed the TechNet Subscriptions on The UC Architects’ podcast.

One thing is key – this kind of behaviour absolutely destroys trust in Microsoft. After the last round of anti-trust issues, it took a long time for Microsoft to gain a position of trust along with many years of incrementally releasing better and better products. A few years ago Microsoft was just about “good enough” to let into your datacentre; now it’s beginning to lead the way, especially with Hyper-V, Exchange and Lync.

Before I get started on Microsoft’s cloud strategy, let’s take a jovial look at what (from my experience) is Google’s strategy:

  • Tell the customer their internal IT sucks (tactfully), ideally without IT present so they can talk about the brilliance of being “all in” the cloud without a dose of reality getting in the way.
  • Class all line of business apps as irrelevant – the sales person was probably still in nursery when they were deployed. Because those apps are old, they must be shit.
  • Show a picture of something old and irrelevant – like a mill generating it’s own energy. Tell them that’s what their IT is! You, the customer, don’t run a power station, so why would you run your own IT? If you do run your own IT you are irrelevant and getting left behind.
  • Make out the customer’s own IT is actually less reliable than it is. Don’t mention that recent on-premises products cost less, are easy for the right people to implement and from a user perspective are often more reliable than an overseas cloud service.
  • Only provide your products in the cloud so once you’re in… you’re in.
  • Don’t let anyone from the outside be a real expert on the technology. You don’t need a Google “MVP”, because 99% of Google server products can only be provided by one company.
  • Once you’ve signed up a customer remember, you don’t need to give them good support. They can’t go anyway without spending money on a third party solution to get their data out.

From a Microsoft MVP point of view, Google’s strategy is brilliant. It means that although we like a lot of their products, it drives away customers in their droves. Microsoft’s traditional approach to the cloud – and partner ecosystem would be a breath of fresh air to someone who’s been though the Google machine.

Unfortunately, based on recent experiences by myself and others – the above is actually looking pretty similar to Microsoft’s new strategy. Naturally this worries me a lot.

In my eyes, Microsoft’s cloud strategy should be (and I thought was) more akin to VMware’s – where we are looking at a four pronged attack on traditional, expensive IT:

  • Microsoft’s cloud – great for a LOT of stuff. Makes sense for many customers. They may take some or all of the services on offer. A bit of email? Sure! Run a few servers in Azure? No problem! Want just Lync IM/Presence? Go get it, tiger!
  • Third-party cloud providers – Office 365 and Azure do not fit the needs of all customers, but many are looking to save the hassle of running commodity services. The customer might have regulations they need to abide by, need an in-country provider, need flexibility that Microsoft can’t provide, or more likely need a range of cloud services that involve a number of vendors.
  • Private cloud – When internal IT departments are highly skilled (and can get help from specialists in a range of areas) private cloud can be very compelling. I’m not talking about mopping up a rack of servers and P2Ving them onto a couple of hosts – but a truly flexible internal private cloud that for some, works out cheaper than a third party provider.
  • Hybrid Cloud – mixing two or more of the above – for example, buying SharePoint Online for low-risk cloud storage and collaboration via Office 365; using a third party for Exchange hosting in-country (or using Exchange Hybrid), and running Lync on-premises alongside mission critical applications on the customer’s private cloud.

The above encompasses “the cloud on your terms”, and from a customer and partner point of view means that you get the choice of how to buy it; how to implement it, and you aren’t locked into a single vendor. Yes, your email might be in Exchange – but you can take it with you to another provider, or run it on-premises if it suits you better at a later date. It also de-risks the move to Office 365 or another provider as you can get your data out quickly and easily.

By attempting to de-skill IT professionals within customers and partners by dropping TechNet Subs and top-level certifications, and apparently de-skill Microsoft itself (remember half the attendees to MCM/MCSM were MS employees!) suddenly the game gets a lot scarier.

Next, add in recent support issues. It’s no secret support for Office 365 and Azure isn’t experiencing it’s finest hour. If your case can’t be solved immediately, welcome to Google-like support or the feeling your problem has dropped down a black hole.

Finally, and as if to add insult to injury – just when Microsoft is making massive inroads with Hyper-V, System Center and Windows Server 2012 – Microsoft seem to de-emphasize it’s on premise / hoster offerings. Exchange Server 2010 was (and still is!) a roaring success with many happy customers, many of whom will (once it’s stable) gladly upgrade to Exchange 2013 and reduce costs further. Although Microsoft dropped /hosting mode from Exchange, there is still got a great offering for hosters. The same applies, if not more so, to Lync, which can only be deployed on-premise or via a hosting partner if you want to enjoy it’s full Enterprise Voice capabilities.

What Microsoft must do, if they plan on a) continuing to be relevant in the datacentre – wherever that may be and b) looking to avoid IT professionals and decision makers jumping ship and avoiding them where they can, is to reverse the unwritten policy of “get them onto our cloud then lock them in”.

To do this, I think they need to:

  • Ensure certifications for MCSM/MCM still exist, even if the training is unsustainable in it’s current form.
  • Restore TechNet subscriptions, or at least make available long-term trials of products you want to migrate to – and crucially migrate from.
  • Focus on product quality. This benefits everyone – after all it’s the same code whether on-prem or in the cloud.
  • Put the customer first – not Microsoft, not the MS cloud partner! Just because the sales rep or partner stands to make a ton of recurring revenue from an Office 365 subscription doesn’t mean it’s going to work out well for the customer.
  • Finally, concentrate on what Microsoft has proved over the last ten years it’s great at – making great software. This article explains the final point better than I possibly could.

Anyway.. that’s my two cents. Let me know if you do – or don’t – agree in the comments below. We’ll be discussing the subject of MCSM certifications on this week’s The UC Architects podcast. If you want to vote for Microsoft to bring back MCSM, vote here.

Update – Microsoft have responded, and you can read the text here and MCM Devin Ganger’s take on the matter. You can also listen to the latest episode of The UC Architect’s podcast where MCMs and MCSMs express their views.

72 thoughts on “Are Microsoft Losing Friends and Alienating IT Pros?

  1. Well said.

    For me its like Microsoft has multiple personality disorder. On the one hand, it is easy to see the hard work developers are doing with the success of their recent product releases. Oh the other hand, their management is clueless as to what drives success by alienating engineers and giving deaf ears to developers. To add, it is like their executives seems to figure to lead the innovation race is to be like the Jones (Google’s Vision) rather than listening to their customers and the community that implements their products.

    I know it is easier to criticize than to praise but the fact is, I am very disappointed with the way the handled the TechNet ordeal. Even if the reason is to reduce piracy, why not require each subscriber to become an MCM before they can subscribe? That way they would at least get some of their money back by forcing people to certify and be privy to subscribe to what they are certified for?

    The bitter fact remains its a capitalist nation and corporation only cares about their bottom line. One take away I know still stands is that IT as we know it may someday go away, but I and those that are truly passionate will always have a job because people hate to learn new things and technology is not going anywhere.

    Thank you,
    Prince

  2. While I like what Tony has to say, I am one of those long time MS types who is jumping. I need another 10 years out of IT before I can retire. I am not going to play Russian roulette with my career. I think the damage has been done. Adapt or die. I am moving on. Its not easy been it will be harder for those who wait,.

  3. Steve,
    Thank you for your article. It makes total sense to me. Hopefully articles like yours will be a light to help Microsoft find their way back, making the I.T. community a priority again. It seems that someone at Microsoft has become so focused on brand diversification that they have forgotten the lesson learned with the launch and failure of “New Coke.” http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7209828/ns/us_news/t/it-seemed-good-idea-time/
    In the little article linked above, this line to me is worthy of note…
    “On July 11, Coca-Cola yanked New Coke from store shelves. “We did not understand the deep emotions of so many of our customers for Coca-Cola,” said company President Donald R. Keough.”
    Hopefully Microsoft will one day say, “We underestimated the importance of supporting the professional I.T. community, and we aim to set that straight.”

  4. Totally on point…Microsoft seems to be heading down a road with their take for granted the cloud concept. They want recurring revenue, and will eventually be enticing enterprises to switch from a standard EA agreement to a 100% Azure/licensing agreement. I am sure the plans for that are already in the works. The BIG problem with that is that that is the OPPOSITE of the open PC/software concept that Microsoft was a part of that started the PC revolution! Putting everything into Azure…then you have vendor lock-in…and in 10 years, none of the Azure products will be anything but a black box to the outside and everything will be proprietary.

    Microsoft – if you are listening…you need to remain an open standards, open platform company. You need to discuss that publicly in light of these recent decisions. You need to commit to it, and commit to Azure continuing to run the same on-premise software that enterprises can deploy privately. There are many use cases which still and will continue to forever require on-premise technology. If you leave that market, expect the Linux train to really gain massive momentum – since IT is still an open platform that can run on any hardware.

    IT Professionals perform bottom-up management, you can believe that or not. A CIO knows that…they are not going to outsource their entire infrastructure AND app platform to one company…that is insanity. They will see the direction Microsoft is going, ask the internal IT engineers for viable options to remain flexible and open, and then execute a strategy to migrate to a combined on-prem/cloud approach that retools engineers with OPEN systems…

    This is absolutely frustrating…because I, too, have used Microsoft my entire career. I think since Gates left that the company has really struggled, and they should ask him to come back for 5 years to right the ship.

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