Sorting through the crush of information surrounding a product launch wave can be daunting. For IT pros contemplating their 2010 budgets and determining whether to include Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 7, Exchange Server 2010, and/or SQL Server 2008 R2 migrations—just to mention a few—sometimes it’s helpful to hear how other IT organizations are approaching these decisions. A recent conversation I had with Matt Becker, systems administrator for a software development company in Pennsylvania, yielded some insights into this decision-making process from the perspective of a medium-sized organization of about 150 users, predominantly developers—in other words, demanding power users.
“This is the smallest number of users I’ve ever supported,” Becker said. “Because they’re power users, they can typically take care of most small problems themselves. But when they do have problems, they’re a lot bigger. They have a lot of control over their environments—they’re always downloading and installing tools.” In his previous position at a healthcare company, Becker supported hundreds of users, which was “no big deal” because these users typically had standard configurations. His current company is primarily a Windows shop with about 30 Windows Server 2003 machines. Critical applications include Exchange Server, the e-commerce system, and SharePoint 2007, which represented a significant investment for the company that drove other IT needs further down the list.
“The key driver for SharePoint was version control for the documents shared by the business development division,” Becker said. “A lot of people touched those documents, and SharePoint put it all in one place and kept it organized.” Becker attended a three-day SharePoint training course, which added to the total cost of the deployment.
Looking ahead to the new product launch wave, Becker boiled down the various factors that will drive his adoption of new technology to include these considerations: compliance, hardware, support, and training. The archiving capabilities in Exchange 2010 might compel Becker to engage in his only real sales pitch to company executives for deploying one of Microsoft’s upcoming releases. “We don’t have compliance tools in place yet, and we’re looking at third-party products,” he said. Becker currently has to conduct machine-by-machine email searches to satisfy legal discovery requirements. “But I’m investigating whether Exchange Server 2010 can take care of this.”
The decision to upgrade to Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 is primarily a hardware consideration, and one that isn’t likely to be made across the board. Rather than launching a full-scale Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 deployment, the company will phase in these products as old hardware retires. He also said that any progress on deploying a unified messaging system was dependent on first updating the company’s PBX system to VoIP. But the reality for Becker’s company is that the SharePoint 2007 deployment pushed infrastructure investments further into the future.
Support issues weigh particularly heavy in Becker’s decisions about mobile technology. Declaring PDAs “a nightmare” to support in general, he’s rejected Windows Mobile devices outright because of the support issues and has cut support time significantly by deploying BlackBerry devices instead.
And then there’s training. Becker admits that his first thought in adopting new technology is always the dread of the learning curve. The three-day course he attended for his company’s SharePoint deployment was helpful to him, but he acknowledges that this level of training isn’t the norm. He listed some of the usual resources he turns to when he needs to bone up on new technology: books (he still prefers the printed kind), conferences, and training sessions—but only if they include lab sessions.
In the final analysis, most of Becker’s decisions will come down to the result of his conversations with executives and end users about which of the overwhelming array of emerging technologies will really make a difference to the business. “It’s really up to me to engage them and determine what makes the most sense.”
What makes the most sense for your company in this launch wave? I’d love to hear about the factors that are driving your decision-making process for 2010 IT expenditures.