Microsoft on Tuesday released blueprints designed to help technology managers install Windows more efficiently and at a lower cost.
The software titan issued five guides that businesses can use for a variety of tasks, including patch management or installing new desktop applications companywide. The Redmond, Wash.-based company calls the suite of guides Microsoft Solutions for Management.
Michael Emanuel, senior product manager for Microsoft's Management Group, said the guides will help large businesses with scenarios they might encounter on an ongoing basis. Truncated versions of the guides are free, while customized versions with additional services are available from systems integrator Avanade or through Microsoft Consulting.
In addition to helping businesses, Microsoft is trying to narrow their focus to Windows and other Microsoft technologies. With IT budgets shrinking, more companies are focusing on total cost of ownership. By defining some best practices to give companies a jumpstart, Microsoft wants IT managers to think of Windows as the best way to lower total costs.
In a survey released Friday of 75 U.S. and 25 European chief information officers, Merrill Lynch found that "almost two-thirds are trying to reduce their IT spending as a percent of company revenue. We think this puts a lid on improvement next year."
In theory, by working with tested scenarios for which costs already have been estimated, companies can lower the total cost of ownership by reducing mistakes or waste when deploying Microsoft software in the enterprise.
"They're trying to get the word out that their stuff can be managed," said Michael Cherry, an analyst with market researcher Directions on Microsoft. "When you buy any product, you get almost no...documentation anymore. These documents are attempts to get essential information out there."
The guides are not the first issued by Microsoft. The company has released similar blueprints for Unix and SQL Server migration, among others.
Several scenarios in the new guides may benefit Microsoft in some ways more than they do the customers.
One blueprint, Critical Path Deployment, establishes practices and means for using Microsoft System Management Server or Software Update Services to get out critical updates, bug fixes or security patches.
Some businesses, for example, have complained about problems created by the Windows XP software update feature, which can create headaches when individual PCs automatically fetch patches or security fixes. At the same time, one of Microsoft's biggest problems is widespread security breaches or virus epidemics that exploit software bugs the software giant fixed. The actual problem is that many customers fail to install the fixes. Solving this situation could help Microsoft diminish the perception that its software is not as secure as products from its rivals.
"Obviously they've picked topics that are beneficial to Microsoft and their customers," Cherry said. "And I almost can't blame them for that."
Emanuel noted that the blueprints could easily be customized for companies using products other than Windows. He also emphasized the benefits of working with pretested scenarios that reduce the risk of failure.
"These solution-based guides try to reduce the risk (on customers) doing anything wrong," he said. "These are all tested and proven in the lab."
Another blueprint, New Application Installation, is designed to help companies quickly use Systems Management Server to install Office XP and other Microsoft desktop software. Companies using the guide can benefit from a more seamless transition from older versions of the software, while Microsoft gets more companies that have paid for Office XP to actually use it.
Because of Microsoft's Licensing 6 plan, which required companies to move to the most current version of Office to qualify for discounted upgrades, a majority of businesses bought Office XP. But only a small percentage has actually deployed it. Microsoft estimates about 70 percent of customers bought Office XP licenses.
Yet another blueprint, Monitoring and Control of Windows 2000 Services and Applications, is designed to help companies manage Windows 2000 Servers using Active Directory, Exchange Server 2000 and Operations Manager 2000. Active Directory is Microsoft's software for managing computers, computer users and services on Windows networks. Given that the majority of businesses delayed Windows 2000 Server installations while they got a handle on Active Directory, the blueprint could prove a vital tool for furthering adoption of software.
Cherry said the releasing guidelines for Active Directory would be an important step forward for Microsoft and its customers.
"I think Microsoft underestimated what it would take for some companies to roll out Active Directory," Cherry said. Microsoft also "underestimated some of the geopolitical issues. The way they rolled out Active Directory, you had to have a lot of agreement within the organization because it was going to be very difficult to make changes once you were under way."
Many companies delayed deployment for "fear of doing it wrong," Cherry said. "This documentation could help remove that barrier, which benefits customers and Microsoft."
In a related move Tuesday, Microsoft also released the System Architecture for the Enterprise Data Center. The documentation offers a guide of pretested scenarios for creating and managing data centers using Windows 2000 Server and .Net Enterprise Server software.