IT mono-culture: Benefits of infrastructure optimization

RedmondMag recently sang the song (Real Simple) of pure Microsoft-IT shops. Yes, it is more cost efficient. Just think about economies of scale, skill readiness, operational efficiency, etc. The potential flip side: Running a single-vendor monoculture might be risky, especially if the vendor is bound to falter before the end of a customer’s IT life-cycle. In addition to several customer statements, outlining the financial benefits of an IT mono-culture, the article also quotes Mike Gilpin, vice president and research director at Forrester Research Inc.:

“Interestingly, you hear a lot about the risks of mono-culture. It’s a subject on which many people tend to theorize. However, I have yet to see a business case that would demonstrate to me the sheer business value of taking a heterogeneous approach simply to avoid a mono-culture.”

I love that statement so much that I’d really like to prove the irrelevance of the theory – but my bandwidth is too limited. And Microsoft IT has already proven it anyway. An insert to the article quotes the financial benefits gained from applying Microsoft’s Infrastructure Optimization model in a large IT shop:

“Microsoft touts reduced integration hassles, improved desktop management and intrinsic simplicity from an all-Microsoft approach. The company boasts about its own internal gains as well, which include:

47 percent reduction in patch management and update time
93 percent reduction in the number of Exchange sites
30 percent reduction in infrastructure servers
200 percent increase in storage capability

In terms of return on investment, the software giant claims it has saved $3 million in support costs and driven Internet costs down $6.5 million.”

Does Microsoft IT really operate a mono-culture? Yes, concerning infrastructure and application platform.

Supporting the business needs of 100,000+ users, integrating tens of thousands of vendors with its own value chain and connecting to hundreds of millions of customers doesn’t seem feasible with a single enterprise application package. For example: In addition to leveraging the benefits of the products developed by Microsoft’s own Dynamics business unit, Microsoft is also a very large SAP ERP shop. Running mission-critical (1) business operations on its own application packages is a competitive differentiator and therefore not widely disclosed (with few exceptions). Maintaining basic business processes – non-core – by utilizing a third-party ERP applications is common sense, and the experiences gained can be publicly shared as best practices.

The event series How Microsoft does IT provides a high-level video (IT Showcase: Using SQL Server 2005 at Microsoft IT), two best practice web casts

and technical white papers, such as Using SQL Server 2005 with SAP R/3.

Limiting the application of the maturity model (which originates from MIT’ Sloan’s Center for Information Systems Research) to the infrastructure would be shortsighted. Especially for a mature IT organization which is supposed to provide significant value to the business, and not only saving cost. The technical solution brief titled Infrastructure Optimization at Microsoft contains a chapter on Application Platform IO (APIO) model that provides further assistance when aiming to aligning IT with business goals:

“Following the APIO model can help grow business through five key areas of investment. APIO efforts at Microsoft have focused on these key infrastructure capabilities that, for Microsoft, have helped align IT with business goals:

  • Business Intelligence. Describes the business intelligence infrastructure that ties information together across an organization. A single framework can remove barriers to finding and using data, which helps people throughout the organization to collaborate and make informed decisions.
  • Data Management. Describes infrastructure strategies and management processes that help companies of all sizes store (according to security guidelines) and manage ever-increasing amounts of data from disparate sources. It can also help ensure that business-critical systems and applications stay running.
  • Software Development. Describes the integrated development environment for all types of development, including Microsoft Windows®, Microsoft Office, Web, and mobile applications. Helps an organization respond to business priorities by offering the right level of visibility, collaboration, and control within the software development process.
  • Service-Oriented Architecture and Business Process Management. Provides proven best-practice guidance on how to establish and manage flexible, repeatable, and connected business and IT processes within a service-oriented architecture.
  • User Experience. Describes what organizations should consider implementing in their IT infrastructures to help guarantee superior user experiences that drive employee productivity, customer loyalty, and business growth.”

The APIO model can help grow business through focusing on these key areas of investment for adding business value beyond traditional boundaries.

(1): Like Gartner, I’m of the opinion that the term “mission-critical” has to include the component of unrecoverable losses:

“Overall lost revenues, impact on meeting customer commitments and negative impact on customer satisfaction rank as the three most important factors in determining the mission critical nature of a system.” 

A system therefore is only mission-critical if it supports, enables or drives a core business process, a process, service, or product vital  to the customers business.


About Thomas Dreller

Live is too short for unhealthy food, sour wine, stressful relationships, or unprofitable business. Bio on
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