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Microsoft and the midmarket


Microsoft’s licensing is a problem; for a company that makes its bread and butter on the midmarket, they sure can seem hostile to those of us who live and work in this arena.  Indeed, Microsoft’s licensing compares more accurately to other Enterprise players.  Oracle licensing is byzantine and overtly a profit-maximization approach, but it they don’t have anywhere near as many SKUs in play as Microsoft. IBM is a good comparison; they have a similarly O_o number of SKUs in play, and no incentive to make their licensing comprehensible to normal people.

Contrast VMware to Microsoft as a “complete experience.”  Microsoft’s offerings are incredibly powerful.  As this review clearly shows, the joined-up nature of the System Center suite can enable a “total package” that overwhelms anything VMware can bring to bear.   That said, VMware licensing is simple; the products  way easier to install and work with. Truly groking Microsoft’s licensing – enough to make sure you aren’t paying a dollar more than you have to – is a career. It requires the full time efforts of an intelligent, educated individual to keep on top of. 

VMware’s products are also comparative child’s play to install and administer.  It took me three weeks of concerted effort to install a test lab with enough software to test System Center Suite 2012 against its two immediate predecessors. To contrast, it takes less than an hour to do the same with VMware.

I like Microsoft’s technology. I think they make some of the best software in the world, and inarguably the best in several fields. That being said, I go out of my way to use competing products in many places because of the complexity of Microsoft licensing.  Other vendors may (or may not) be more expensive than Microsoft. That said; when an alternative vendor’s licensing is less opaque – and better tiered! – you don’t walk away from purchases wondering if you could have gotten a better deal if you had only known the ins and outs a little bit better.

Interaction with Microsoft’s licensing department always leaves me with the impression that I’ve been had; there’s a scam afoot and I’m not the one running it.

I can’t speak to how Microsoft treats their customers with over 1000 seats. My customers are all between 1 and 1000 seats. Most are between 50 and 250 seats. What I can say is that in this area, I dislike dealing with Microsoft intensely. Microsoft doesn’t want to deal with us “irrelevant” SMEs directly. They want us to use VARs.  Frankly, I don’t trust VARs at all. Not once in my experience with VARs have I been able to find one who was willing and able to optimise my licence usage. I have saves clients tens, even hundreds of thousands over VAR quotes by doing the legwork myself.

Instead, Microsoft position their products to be appealing if you have less than 25 seats, or greater than 250. If you live in the 50-250 seat range – where most of my customers do – then the licensing is not only hard to optimise, it is outright punitive. The Microsoft ecosystem between 25 and 250 seats constitutes a barrier to entry for any company; something Microsoft has no intention of addressing in their reckless bid to drive the middle of the bell curve into a subscription model that has a far higher TCO for midmarket organisations than a perpetually licensed item. Doubly so when you consider that most midmarket companies live on refresh cycles for their equipment of 5 or 6 years, not three.

NFS Client in Windows 7 Pro

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I realise this is a little late to the game, but I find Microsoft’s attitude towards end users offensive.  Take for example the statement “NFS Client isn’t something we usually support here” because the “Microsoft Answers website since Answers is directed towards consumers” is offensive.  Consumers are increasingly operating in heterogeneous environments thanks in no small part to Microsoft’s steadfast insistence on not actually listening to its customer base.  For better or worse, Mac desktops and notebooks are seeing a dramatic rise, especially within the North America.  Microsoft knows this.

This has a direct effect on the topic at hand in that consumer level devices are now increasingly being shipped not only supporting NFS, but with NFS as the default protocol.  NFS (and similar heterogeneous cohabitation technologies) quite simply are consumer-level technologies today.  Attempting to proclaim it otherwise because it doesn’t meet with the party line on the topic does nothing but further alienate the customer base.

Not that the arbitrary stratification of versioning that leaves those of us with “Windows 7 Professional” operating systems out in the cold hasn’t done that already.

That rant over and done with, let’s get around to actually helping people here!  Some NFS client information of relevance to real people, in the real world:

1) A Google Code project that brings NFS v2/3 support to Windows/ NFS 4.1 support is under active development, but not yet supported: nekodrive.  Quite frankly, this isn’t quite ready for prime time, unless you are willing to be a little nerdy about it.  It is okay for one-off work, but doesn’t operate nearly as seamlessly as a proper client.

2) The University of Michigan NFS v 4.1 client. This is the exact same client for NFS 4.1 that Microsoft included in Windows 8.  (Indeed, Microsoft funded its development.)  It is located here.  However, it does take a little bit of knowledge to install.  I have found it easily scriptable for installs on a mass scale, and certainly not a problem for installs on my home machine.

The project maintains a code regular code drop, and the binaries can be accessed here.  Alongside the install instructions above, any novice computing enthusiast who has actually typed “start, run, CMD” before will be perfectly able to get a top notch NFS 4.1 client up and running on Windows 7 Professional.

I can’t recommend the this 4.1 client enough.  If you have NAS devices supporting NFS 4 (for example, a Synology with the latest DSM), this client is great a bridging the gap between Windows and Mac.

3) There was a company called Labtam that once made a relevant product.  The website is still up, however all indications are that they ceased to exist towards he end of 2009.  It may be worth further investigation to see if they have sold the tech on to someone, as the internets claims it was reasonably reliable for NFS v3.  At $40, it’s significantly cheaper than an “anytime upgrade,” and has the additional bonus of neither condoning nor encouraging Microsoft’s arbitrary product segregation.

Will Windows 8 – presuming you can stomach Metro – be more of the same?  Or will the reduced edition count lead to an unprecedented breakout of sanity?  Somehow, I doubt it.

El Reg Blog Article: “Exchange 2010”

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I just upgraded Exchange 2010.  This article is all about my first impressions.

My Exchange conversion

Linux Routers Gone Wild (Introduction)

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I have recently embarked upon a difficult professional journey.  The larger part of this journey is in fact an attempt to secure my network and slowly, inexorably retire as much Microsoft software from service as possible.  The reasons for this lie largely in the complexity of Microsoft licensing; I am often beset by so many IT projects that it is honestly a nightmare attempting to comprehend the plethora of licensing options and caveats.  Trying to make sure our company remains in compliance is itself almost a full time job.

The solution to this is simple: cut back on as much Microsoft software as is humanely possible.  There are naturally some fairly enormous barriers to this concept.  The first being that there is simply no way we are (ever) going to be able to ditch Microsoft on the desktop.  There is simply too much industry-specific software we are totally reliant on for this to be anything but a midsummer night’s dream.  To manage these desktops, I need a directory and something that will handle group policy like templates.  After much searching and pondering the simple reality is that Microsoft’s Active Directory is the best bang for my buck in this department, and so there is no reason to abandon it.  (I should state for the record however that Novell’s offerings an unbelievably close second.)

The second obstacle is not a hardware or software limitation, but rather one of wetware.  The wetware, (which will remain nameless,) ultimately responsible for accepting or rejecting my various schemes and proposals consists of two units.  The first unit is logical, rational and driven by nothing more than sounds business rationale.  If you can make a solid business case for something, one of the two decision making wetware units will be easily won over.  Unfortunately, this wetware unit has exceptionally limited IT knowledge; when my recommendations clash with those of the second decision making wetware unit, issues can arise.

The second decision making unit in question is rather less approachable than the first.  Though remarkably intelligent, this unit remains deeply wedded to all things Microsoft and has what I consider to be an incredibly dangerous fascination with whatever happens to be the newest technology of the day.  As a born and bred technology geek, I truly understand the “gee whiz” factor shiny new kit can bring.  As someone who goes to work a loyal company man and puts aside everything except my job, I can’t and won’t let my employer risk the business on untested or questionable gear.  (Let several someone elses walk through that minefield first.)

The wetware obstacles to reducing the corporate Microsoft overhead, (and with it the licensing burdens) are thusly formidable.  An unfortunate amount of my job has devolved into simply playing the politics necessary to be allowed to implement the right solutions for our requirements and budget.  In many cases I actually have to purchase and implement first, and then inform people of it later if I feel it corporately critical that a project be accomplished without being tied up with internal political infighting and negotiations for six to eight months.

This year I am removing Microsoft’s Internet and Security Acceleration (ISA) Server from my organisation.  Like the use of LAMP webservers, LACS e-mail sanitisation servers and the slow introduction of Linux fileserver, this is the story of nibbling at the edges of a Microsoft network with tactical implementations of Linux systems.

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