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Channel Q&A: IT shops worried about Microsoft deals, upgrades, data centers

A system architect uncovers dark IT trends, including erosion of confidence in Microsoft's products, decaying data centers and sorry security practices. The good news: open source is helping.

Working in the field with IT shops, systems engineer and architect Matthew Parker is seeing some interesting and disturbing trends. For one thing, he says, many data centers are a physical mess, and IT security practices are dangerously shortsighted. Also, confidence in Microsoft's products is at an all-time low, and that confidence shortage is increasing, not decreasing, by Redmond's Linux-friendly moves. Thankfully, open source software helps IT shops gain control of their heterogeneous environments.

This is the first in's series of interviews with IT channel professionals who provide services to corporate IT shops. Like his peers, Parker, who works with IT services company Keta Group LLC in the Colorado Springs, Colo., division, sees firsthand the day-to-day problems that IT organizations face.

"My interest is in the best technology for tomorrow," said Parker. In this Q&A, he shared insights and information gleaned from the field. What are your customers' reactions to Microsoft's friendly deals with Novell and commercial open source software vendors like SugarCRM?

Matthew Parker: That Microsoft is starting to realize that open source is a threat to their business model. Microsoft is trying to change people's perceptions without really doing anything meaningful. I really have a hard time thinking that Microsoft wants to change its business model. [In any partnerships] I see Linux having to adapt to Microsoft, rather than the reverse.

What are your reactions to the Novell/Microsoft alliance?

Parker: I see these moves as a smart way for Microsoft to try to engulf Linux. I think Microsoft's execs realize they are way behind the technology ball, and they better catch up quickly or their operating system and office suite may get cut out of the platform equation. Apparently, in the past, Microsoft has been in the habit of nudging small developer companies to develop a product for them and then, when the product is near completion, Microsoft buys the company. My understanding is that Microsoft tried yet again to use this technique with Citrix, but the government stepped in and told Microsoft this practice is unacceptable and didn't 'OK' the sale. So, now Microsoft is way behind the ball in virtualization.

From your discussions with IT managers, have you found great interest in adopting Vista when it is released?

Parker: Some analysts say that Microsoft Vista is going to have an 80% adoption rate, but I find that really hard to believe, considering what my customers are saying. Customers are looking at having to upgrade everything on the systems, because so much power and memory will be needed to run the operating system. Customers are not very happy about that.

The Windows operating system has only been around since 1991 -- not that long ago. Its proprietary licensing model is not going to hold on. Microsoft recently changed its stance on the one license transfer from machine-to-machine to unlimited. To me, this signifies how they cannot even control their software distribution. So, they try taking the reactionary stance. One has to question how secure the operating system itself is if they can't even protect their licensing better!

Are there other issues that cause concerns over the coming Microsoft product introductions?

Parker: There's no confidence that these products will work. Like, their calendar updates didn't port properly from Outlook 2000 to 2003 (and vice versa). Customers who bought Windows Small Business Edition (OS, firewall and virus protection bundled inside) found that their system, for no apparent reason, reboots every few days. They call Microsoft with the problem and then a month or two later, with no meaningful fix [delivered], Microsoft told customers that the error 'fix' is to buy Microsoft Vista.

The funniest part about this is Vista will be like XP, an end user edition, not server edition! Microsoft can't even properly identify their products.

Nowadays, what other concerns are keeping IT managers up at night?

Parker: Environmentals have been often greatly overlooked, even disregarded, to the point where many data centers are in crisis mode.

Buying commodity servers has also led to environmental problems. Customers will figure out sooner or later that they aren't really saving ROI when the servers run extremely hot and are mounted in cheap, inferior 'thermal-dissipating' racks that torque horribly with any weight put on them. It is very worrisome, for instance, when customers call Dell to fix a server rack that is vibrating badly, and Dell's 'fix' is to stick a business card between the blade and the rack, instead of actually fixing the design problem. That's a true story.

Could you offer other examples of data centers' physical woes?

Parker: I've seen bad situations, for example, where tiles from a certain manufacturing period develop zinc whiskers. These threaded crystals become airborne and settle on motherboards and power supplies. Often this is attributed to poorly manufactured hardware, but the problem continues with replacement hardware.

Also, specified hardware-safe temperature and humidity ratings do not mean 'safe for extended periods of time.' Humidity and temperature that are not optimal have a high probability of significantly lowering hardware life.

IT managers tell me that configuration management is eating up too much time. Are you hearing that?

Parker: In the IT world, configuration management is a prevailing major concern. Today, administrators are [fewer] in number and having to control and configure more enterprise applications and services than ever before. The open source model is gaining momentum because it addresses disparate, proprietary software and hardware models that complicate this process dramatically.

Service-oriented architecture addresses this issue through a software architecture that's only concerned about process-oriented services instead of the underlying platform implementation. This helps simplify the integration of disparate applications and hardware.

An example of this concept is Solaris 10. Solaris 10 is endian independent. Intel x86 is little-endian (smallest order decimal numbering first), while SPARC, for example, is big-endian (largest order decimal numbering first). That means interoperability can be achieved because it is no longer like English versus Arabic (reading left to right versus right to left).

Is security ever going to be a non-issue in businesses' IT environments?

Parker: Not with Microsoft's security holes around. There is something wrong when you have something called Patch Tuesday.

It's not going to get better. Microsoft is going back and forth with McAfee and Symantec about Microsoft's claim that Vista's security is complete, that users can get in and adjust it to work with the operating system and they won't need third-party security. Obviously, Microsoft wants to take over security with Vista to get that security software dollar. I think that would be a big mistake.

What about IT shops' security practices? Are they up to par?

Parker: Until companies, and American society as a whole, stop viewing security in a reactionary frame of mind, hackers will always be a step ahead. Once again, the long-term gains need to be the focus. Certainly, a well-secured enterprise is going to cost more in hardware, software and certainly in skilled man-hours, but the return will far outweigh the costs. How can an accountant possibly measure revenue lost to an insecure environment when lack of knowledge is at the heart of poor security?

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