I had a lengthy briefing last week with Microsoft's Security, Access, and Solutions Division, which is responsible for Intelligent Application Gateway (IAG) 2007, a remote-application-access appliance that's based on the Whale Communications technology Microsoft purchased in 2006. IAG 2007 is the first version of this software to be sold under the Microsoft name, and future versions will sport Microsoft Forefront branding and, presumably, more of a Microsoft look and feel. I'll discuss IAG 2007 in a future Windows IT Pro UPDATE, but for the record, it looks like a solid, well-designed product. But this week I want to focus on what appears to be a trend toward software specialization in the enterprise.
IAG certainly isn't the first Microsoft enterprise product to be sold only with associated server hardware from the company's partners. It joins well-known products such as Windows Storage Server and ISA Server as solutions that are typically sold in appliance form (although the latter can be purchased software-only as well). Hardware appliances offer a sort of Plug-and-Play (PnP) functionality in the sense that they're typically added to a rack, fired up, and integrated quickly into existing environments. My question, however, is whether this type of increasingly common deployment is wise.
Consider how Windows has evolved on both the client and the server. Early Windows versions were virtual jack-of-all-trades, aimed not so much at the middle of the market as at the entire market. The same version of Windows XP, for example, is as likely to be run by your Great Aunt Betsy as it is by a road-warrior CTO, and one might make the argument that maybe this isn't the best way to sell software. Microsoft, in fact, is making just that argument: Windows Vista, XP's successor, is available in several different product versions, each of which targets a very specific market. And the company is doing the same thing with Windows Server 2008, which adds specialized Server Core installs to the mix.
Ironically, specialization brings with it some complexity, but the hope is that users of these systems will derive more benefit from a highly specialized solution--be it firewall, application access, storage, or whatever--than they'll derive pain from having to administer so many different servers. And of course Microsoft is concurrently pushing its virtualization solutions as a way to consolidate, and thus simplify, a business's IT assets. I'm worried that we're simply trading one bit of complexity for another. Hey, at least your job is secure.
I think it's clear that the future of IT is indeed one of specialized solutions and not the general-purpose servers of the past, which are often running unnecessary services and taking up resources they don't need. In addition to virtualizing what can and should be virtualized--a list that grows longer each year--we also need management tools that can handle all these specialized solutions from one central location, and, no surprise here, Microsoft is working on that as well. Security, too, is another obvious concern, but Microsoft has you covered with its ever-evolving suite of Forefront tools.
Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about this trend. Certainly, enterprise servers and services need to evolve to meet changing needs and expose new technologies. But are we simply trading one kind of complexity for another? Let me know what you think.
But Wait, There's More...
You'd think this kind of thing would no longer phase me, but I'm often impressed by how much new information is generated each week, and finding a suitable topic for the newsletter often comes down to choosing between several excellent choices. This week, there are a few other concerns I think you should be aware of, but since we're out of space, I'll direct your attention to articles you can read if you're interested. First, Microsoft has published data showing that Vista has suffered from fewer security flaws in its first six months on the market than XP, various Linux versions, or Mac OS X. Also, Microsoft is changing the Instant Search feature in Vista to address an antitrust complaint that Google made to the US Department of Justice (DOJ). You can find links to articles about both concerns below.
Microsoft: Vista More Secure than OS X, Linux
Instant Search Changes to Windows Vista Service Pack 1