There is a tsunami brewing in Redmond this year that is bound to disrupt every systems management company in the market today. The tsunami began several years ago when Microsoft decided a 5 year OS release cycle was not feeding the profit machines fast enough and that two year cycles would be necessary to keep the coffers hopping. Windows Microsoft Windows Vista was the first iteration of the shortened OS release cycle. While consumers had little choice to move to Microsoft Windows Vista as they purchased new hardware, businesses still recovering from the tsunami that was the “Year 2000” bug continued running older hardware and were not able to refresh hardware to handle the new requirements of the OS. The Microsoft marketing engine made a solid push to cram Microsoft Windows Vista into corporations but in hindsight few moved. While Microsoft marketing continued to push the new OS, systems management companies like Symantec, Avocent/Landesk, IBM, and HP rushed products to market that were designed to help deploy and manage Microsoft Windows Vista. Even Microsoft’s own System Center took longer than expected to support Microsoft Windows Vista rollouts. As we have learned of large organizations, government institutions, and apparently software development cycles – it takes a large effort to steer an even larger ship in a new direction.
In the next year IT’s largest boat, Microsoft, is releasing Windows 7, Server 2008 R2 (which includes a new version of Active Directory), SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Exchange Server 2010, and a new version of Windows mobile (name unknown).
The fundamental challenge for systems management products is that when the foundation shifts, in this case the underlying Operating System or the supporting infrastructure (Active Directory or E-mail), the systems management product must support both the old technology and the new technology. These technology shifts are sometimes small changes for example referencing version 6.1 instead of 5.2, or they can be cataclysmic changes such as the move from 32-bit software to 64-bit or dropping major features like a GUI from a product like Server 2008 core. The decision facing many developers today is how early do you start coding? Starting too early could be disastrous if Microsoft features that you are counting on slip. Simple code changes between Alpha, Beta, RC’s, RTM’s and Gold codes often end up biting developers where they least expect it and many times these subtle code changes are not documented. After all it’s a Beta, or a Release Candidate right? Why document something that is going to change in a day? The loser in this gamble is the customer how gets to find out the hard way when they try to use the product to manage the newly deployed Microsoft technology. The flip side is starting too late. If you wait until after the product ships, the developers have more time to understand the new platform and the changes, but customers using the solutions might not have the flexibility of waiting for your product to catch up and they end up moving to a new vendor. Microsoft has tried to help with more measured and predicable release cycles for example introducing Release Candidates which give developers a peek at the nearly final version of the code prior to shipping. As business revenues decline during the recession, the timeframes involved in the development cycle tend to get shorter – not longer. Less time for testing means more bugs, less efficient code and ultimately an inferior product.
The tsunami is not that so many products from Microsoft are being updated with new features; it is the shortened timeframe in which all of the changes are being released. Much like the impending planet killing asteroid that Bruce Willis needed to save us from in the Hollywood blockbuster Armageddon, there is not a lot of time left to code, test and QA the existing product sets to support the new OS when it ships. In the past this has been mitigated by the norm that most companies do not jump on new Microsoft technology right away – just look at your current OS – how many of you are reading this from Windows XP? However as more companies are shifting to Microsoft’s Hyper V or VMWare’s Player, or ESX or VDI, many of the traditional barriers to rolling out new products are falling away. As the tsunami crashes down on developer cubes the world over, the one silver lining that System Management developers have going for them is the recession. During a recession, companies might not be able to afford the new updates, or the consulting services to implement them. Are you ready to ride the wave?