Dan's Take

The Golden Rules of IT and Windows Server 2003

There are often legitimate reasons why an enterprise may avoid an upgrade.

Virtualization Review recently published an article, "Many Businesses Still Using No-Longer-Supported Windows Server 2003", and I thought it would be good to add a few stray thoughts and comments. It appears that the "Golden Rules of IT" still rule the decisions of IT executives.

Interesting, but Not Representative
The article was based on findings published by Spiceworks. While interesting, these findings can not be seen as representing the entire worldwide market for Microsoft's Windows Server, Hyper-V and other supported products.

The sampling process wasn't based upon a worldwide, neutral, unbiased survey. It "used data from Spiceworks' inventory software to compile the information." In other words, Spiceworks mined data coming from its own customer base, not a neutral sample of users of Windows Server and Hyper-V.

The data, however, appears to be relatively congruent with the findings presented in other studies I've seen.

Surprise at the Surprise
The researchers appeared surprised that enterprises would hold onto software long after the supplier had declared the software products obsolete and no longer offered support. After years of conducting survey research while a member of IDC's staff, the findings of this study didn't surprise me at all.

Suppliers are so keen on making enterprises update software to the newest release and making those enterprises pay for that privilege that they often miss the fact that enterprises aren't in the business of purchasing software. No, they purchase technology to support their businesses -- not just for the fun of purchasing technology.

This means that they sometimes hold onto products that support their business requirements in a cost-effective fashion, even though the supplier wants them to update to a new version and pay for that function again.

The Golden Rules of IT
A former IDC colleague and I developed a tongue-in-cheek way to present findings from a very large, worldwide study of the decision-making processes that IT executives used to purchase software and services. We called these unwritten rules "the Golden Rules of IT." The findings of the Spiceworks study appear to still support the findings of that ancient IDC study, even though it was executed in the late 1980s.

Here are the rules we discovered during that ancient research:

1. If it's not broken, don't fix it. Most organizations simply don't have the time,  resources or funds to re-implement things that are currently working. So, for the most part, they leave them alone unless there's a very strong reason to touch anything.

2. Don't touch it, you'll break it. Most organizations of any size are using a complex mix of systems developed over several decades. These are often supported by different operating systems, hardware platforms and development tools, and the interactions are very complex. Changing working systems based on these older technologies, older architectures and older methodologies has to be done very carefully if the intended results -- and only the intended results -- are to be achieved. More often, one thing is fixed and several other things are broken.

3. If you touched it and it broke, it will take longer to fix, and in all likelihood, cost more than you think to fix. Since most of today's systems are a complex mix of technology, some having been adopted back in the 1980s and 1990s, updating one thing is likely produce unintended consequences. If the enterprise is going to update part of that tower of software, it must be prepared for unexpected consequences and honor Rule No. 2.

4. Good enough is good enough. Although it would be nice to have the luxury of unlimited amounts of time, resources and funding and be able to develop every conceivable feature, most IT executives know they're only going to be allowed the time, the resources and the funding to satisfy roughly 80 percent of requests for new capabilities. This usually also means that if they select the correct 80 percent, there will be only a low murmur of complaint from the users.

5. Don't make major changes unless people are screaming. If users aren't screaming, see Rule No. 4. If they're merely asking for changes, see Rule No. 2 and Rule No. 3. If they begin screaming, you'll have to do something to respond -- but even then, touch things as lightly as possible.

6. Embrace your "jerkdom." We all know that we have to move forward and help our organization be as efficient and successful as possible. In short, we must do the best we can with the available resources, time and funding. Then we have to accept the fact that years from now someone will look at what was done and come to the conclusion (based upon what they know at the time they do the review) that what was done was insufficient in some way, or didn't properly forecast future events and requirements. It's best if those executives are clear that they know that events or technology didn't emerge as predicted. The best thing to do is get on with addressing what needs to be done today, rather than rooting around in the past.

Dan's Take: Microsoft, Know Thy Customers
Believe it or not, most IT executives do the best they can with the knowledge and resources they have at the time. They often have to make painful choices based upon the enterprise's needs -- not the needs of their suppliers or consultants. If an IT solution is quietly doing its job, many will leave it alone and focus their attention (and their limited budget) on things that will offer the biggest return.

While at DEC, I knew of enterprises that continued to use "obsolete" systems, operating systems, development tools and even database technology because it accomplished what was needed. They told me that they'd like to always be current with what we were offering, but it didn't appear to be in their best interest to chase us around and update things just because we told them to update.

Since Microsoft is a dominant player in many software markets, it's now facing the same situations that companies such as IBM, DEC, Oracle and others faced years ago. What surprises me is that they seem to be surprised by this behavior. In some cases -- the Windows 10 rollout, for example -- they've felt it necessary to force updates onto people's systems. (They've already lost one court cause because of this behavior.)

Suppliers need to recognize that it's important to know where their customers are (from a technology standpoint), and where those customers want to go, before expecting them to make major changes. From the standpoint of the enterprise decision maker, it's far better to take the time to envision a comprehensive architecture that includes the capabilities of today's technology and makes allowances for the appearance of new technology before leaping headlong into an implementation process just to move to a new release of software.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.


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