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Microsoft goes for the 'common' touch

When server software spending hit a low point two years ago, Microsoft quizzed its customers to see what it could do to jump start their interest in developing new IT projects. Microsoft learned from talking to IT professionals that one reason for the slump was that its current products were too complex. Customers spent so much time maintaining their installations that there was little time to develop new projects or ideas that they could sell to their managers.

The software maker set about the task of reducing some of this complexity. A year ago, Microsoft began work on its Common Engineering Criteria, a set of characteristics for new products that are delivered across the company's Windows Server System product group. A road map for these criteria was outlined in May at Microsoft's TechEd conference.

One of the TechEd speakers who addressed @4021 the criteria and its road map was Ilya Bukshteyn, a director of product management for Microsoft's Windows Server unit. In an interview, Bukshteyn discussed some of the thinking behind the initiative.

How do you define what will be a common service?
The reason we call this a road map is because we see this as something evolving. We wanted a consistent experience across servers and that's what common engineering does. We asked customers what they needed. They said they need to be able to have MOM management extensions for monitoring all the products that are released. They want a common experience for patching, and the ability to uninstall patches. So we have evolved this list of criteria [for 2005 products] over the past year.

Moving forward, the group is focused on the common services we can deliver across Windows Server systems that can meet their needs. I'll be going out and asking what [customers] potentially need from an integrated server infrastructure.

One example [stems from] the Best Practices Analyzer for SQL Server. This is something we think will be common. We will also have a Windows Server System best practices analyzer. Will Microsoft be doing anything to older products to bring them into the fold?
The criteria will apply to all products with the 2005 name, such as MOM 2005 and Virtual Server 2005. We are looking at the potential for measuring older products against the criteria. We have criteria that say the enterprise edition needs to have support for high availability and scalability. Some products, such as the speech server, can't do clustering. They are PBXs. So we let customers [view materials] on the Windows Server site and they can see how a speech server implements high availability.

So we are looking at

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2004 [products] and seeing if we can at least map them to the criteria. We haven't made a decision on that yet. So the plan is to have all server platforms support mostly the same criteria when they ship? All support 64-bit mode. All support virtualization. What else?
The essence of supporting it is to provide a consistent experience. You should expect certain things as they cut across all servers. Longer term, we want to move into common services. We want one set of reporting services, one common architecture. We see this as evolving, eventually moving more deeply into architectural changes. How hard was it to change the way the various groups within Microsoft develop their products?
We have a history where teams are driven to come up with new things. But when we talk about what customers need, everyone agrees [on one thing]. Customers have too much complexity to deal with. We have to think about that before we think up new features. Are there drawbacks to building products with common criteria? For example, won't it slow down the development process of individual products?
It's a development effort of its own. There is work that goes into meeting the criteria. For the MOM management packs, we have a small team in the management group that is good at building management packs. We can take that team and host it in different groups. We are looking to see if we can be more innovative here so we can get more efficiency out of the development process. In some cases, there will be trade-off decisions. We will have to look at shipping the 'nth' feature versus shipping common engineering.

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