For over 13 years, I've made a living off of Microsoft products. However, Microsoft has always been only a portion of what I've made my living off of. Throughout my career, every place I've worked has used Microsoft solutions for some areas, but chose products from other vendors in other areas. In most cases where a Microsoft product was not used when one was available , I was not a decision maker. In fact I may not have even been with the company at all when the decision was made, so I didn't even have a chance to influence it. Often I've often wondered why use Microsoft in some areas, but not others?
Microsoft's recent "Why Microsoft" campaign, which has been all over Twitter, has a website, and even a TechNet Blog, has got me thinking about this even more. Why do companies choose Microsoft for some solutions, but not others? To understand this, lets first take a moment to think about the most commonly chosen Microsoft products, and why they are chosen.
What is Microsoft most known for? Their Operating System, Windows. If you know the history of Windows, you should know why it is the operating system of choice for most businesses out there. There are a lot of people out there who love to hate Windows (or just Microsoft in general for that matter) for any number of reasons, but no matter how anti-Windows they are, they can't seem to get rid of it. Even the most hard core Windows haters I've met still run Windows somewhere, because something they can't live without either for business or for pleasure, requires Windows to run. While I've seen different Operating Systems used for different things on servers back in the Datacenter at many companies, I've never worked at a company that did NOT run Windows on the Desktop.
Sure there are alternatives to Active Directory, but if you're running Windows on all your Desktops, I dare you to try and find a good reason NOT to use Active Directory. Every place I've worked has used Active Directory, in my early days, it was NT4 Domains that were eventually migrated to Active Directory. The dominance of Windows on the desktop leads to the dominance of Active Directory in the Datacenter.
In the business world, Microsoft Office dominates the desktop much like Windows. The "Why Microsoft?" website gives some good examples of why it is chosen over the competition, so I won't repeat what they say there. I will however add, that in my own opinion, one of the biggest reasons I've seen Microsoft Office used on the desktop everywhere I've worked, is Outlook. I've had to sit in several meetings where the company I was working for at the time wanted to discuss the possability of using something other than Microsoft Office. The biggest reason to stick with Microsoft Office was always Outlook. Alternative products often don't even include an e-mail clients. I've yet to see an alternative e-mail client that can even come close to matching the power and features that the Outlook + Exchange combo provides.
Exchange dominates when it comes to on-premises e-mail solutions. If it didn't, this blog would have a different name, and I wouldn't have the job I have today. It is very common to see companies moving from competing products too Exchange, but how often do you see it the other way around? Not very. Many places I've worked have been running Exchange since before it was called Exchange, remember Microsoft Mail? Each new version just gets better. Nothing else out there can really compare.
So those 4 areas are probably where you're most likely to see Microsoft products in use. Now let's look into some areas where you're more likely to see another vendor's offering chosen over Microsoft's, and think about "why?".
First I've thought of a few reasons why someone might choose any alternative over a Microsoft product. Some of these I've been guilty of myself.
- Ignorance. You may not even know Microsoft offers a solution that fits your needs. If you don't know about it, how can you choose it?
- Misconceptions. Maybe you've heard a particular Microsoft product isn't any good. This can often be a misconception spread by that crowd that just loves to hate Microsoft, often for no real reason. If you don't try it for yourself, how will know?
- Cost. A lot of cost concerns probably fall under #2 on this list. A "Free" product isn't always free, and could end up costing you more in the long run.
Now let's look at a few of those other areas…
When someone says Virtualization, VMware is probably the 1st company that comes to mind. You can't be blamed for thinking that, after all they did invent virtualization for the x86 platform, and they do currently dominate this market. If you're like me, you may have been guilty of the miconception that those 2 facts make them the logical and/or best choice for virtualization. A few years ago that may have been true, but Microsoft has come a very long way with Hyper-V. Very soon Hyper-V will meet or exceed VMware's offerings in pretty much every area. System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 is the big vCenter killer. A FREE bare metal hypervisor is available with Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 and coming soon Hyper-V Server 8.
On the desktop side, Windows 8 will have Hyper-V on it, at no extra cost. You probably noticed I use VMware Workstation 8 on Windows 7 right now. As soon as Windows 8 comes out, I'll be making the switch to Hyper-V as part of my drive to "Do IT the MIcrosoft way". Besides, why should I spend the money on Workstation when I'll now be able to run VMs at no extra cost with Windows 8's built in Hyper-V features?
Microsoft has had a Firewall & Proxy solution for a very long time now. Originally known as Internet Security and Acceleration Server, now sold as Forefront Threat Management Gateway. These are excellent products, and actually used by quite a few companies. The strange thing I've seen here at places I've worked that did use ISA or now TMG, is that they often only used the Firewall feature of it, and used a 3rd party solution as a proxy. This is one area where ignorance may be the main factor, people may just not realize this product has an excellent proxy built into it.
Another misconception that really hits this area hard, is the age old farce of "Windows isn't as secure." People falsely think that if "Windows isn't secure, you'd have to be insane to protect your network with a Firewall that runs on Windows wouldn't you?" All systems are only as secure as the people maintaining them.
Cost may be another reason in this area, but not so much in larger environments. I personally chose pfSense for my home network, because it is free, has some nice features, and seems pretty powerful. It doesn't make sense to buy an Enterprise class firewall for a home network. Being an IT guy and an Information Security nut, I wanted something more than what you get from the Windows Firewall and the firewall on my consumer grade wireless router. pfSense fit the bill, until now. Now that I have access to Microsoft products for my own personal use at no cost to me, I've decided to replace my pfSense firewall with a Forefront TMG gateway. In fact, I made the switch a few days ago, and I'm loving it.
Poor old IIS has gotten a bad rap. Misconceptions that IIS isn't secure, or that isn't as good as an alternative. Cost, while IIS is technically "free", Windows isn't. Apache is "free" and can run on Linux (which is where you'll usually find it) which is also "free", but what about the cost to run it and maintain it?
I had my own misconception and a bit of ignorance here. When I decided to start this website, I looked at several Content Management Systems, Durpal, Joomla, and WordPress, to name a few, before deciding to go with Drupal. I've fallen in love with Drupal. I thought in order to use it, I needed a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, and PHP) server. I briefly considered a WAMP (Windows, Apache, MySql, and PHP) server, but have had better luck going the LAMP route. Notice that I didn't even give IIS consideration. Why? Because I wasn't sure PHP would even run on IIS, let alone Drupal. I recently found out just how wrong I was. I discovered WebMatrix, a great FREE tool from Microsoft. All of the Content Management Systems I had looked at are available through WebMatrix. Not only that, they are much easier to setup with WebMatrix vs building a LAMP server and trying to get it to run!
I'm sure you've heard of Microsoft SQL. I'm not a database guy, but I've had to administer it off and on as far back as SQL 7. I have noticed that SQL isn't used for everything. Oracle of course is huge in this market, then you have others like IBM, Sybase, Postgre, MySQL, etc. It seems pretty common to have a mix of databases. In fact I can't think of one place I've worked that only used a single vendor for databases.
Going along with my LAMP story in the Web Server section above, I chose MySQL over SQL simply because I wrongly assumed I needed a LAMP server to run Drupal. I will be migrating this site to a Windows with IIS and SQL in the near future, again as part of my drive to "Do IT the Microsoft way".
That's all the time I have for today. I'll come back and add more to this article later. If this topic interest you, be sure to subscribe to it. By subscribing to this article, you'll receive notifications whenever it is updated. In the mean time, I hope you've started thinking more about not only "Why Microsoft" but "Why not Microsoft?" as well. I'll be publishing several more articles demonstrating my switch from competing products to doing everything "the Microsoft way".
Josh M. Bryant is currently a Director of Technical Product Management at Tanium where he builds products that help customers overcome the challenges of managing very large scale computing environments. Prior to joining Tanium, he was a Premier Field Engineer at Microsoft specializing in Microsoft Exchange Server, and then later a Cybersecurity Architect specializing in Compromise Recovery.