Had a great conversation at Tech Ed with Barry Briggs, the Director of IT at Microsoft, about a classic Microsoft topic—eating your own dogfood. Basically, Briggs’s internal IT group runs prerelease versions of Microsoft products and files bug reports and provides other feedback. Microsoft has a history of putting prerelease software into production use at the company to work through tough problems at the enterprise level. Briggs says that the politically correct way to describe this internal testing is “the first and best” program. But everyone just calls it “eating your own dogfood” or “dogfooding.”

Currently Briggs’ IT group has 35 applications in production, including SAP, on a prerelease version of SQL Server 2008 (scheduled for final release in Q3 2008) production at Microsoft. Briggs says that “Microsoft will close its books for the fiscal year running SAP on SQL Server 2008.” At this point his information is anecdotal, but Briggs says that his team has seen a 30 percent performance improvement running SQL Server 2008.

Briggs hears comments all the time like “you don’t have to pay for your own software.” Of course the Microsoft software is free internally, but dogfooding prerelease products is actually an expensive proposition, according to Briggs. The IT department needs to devote hardware time to running and testing the software. The IT group goes through an evaluation process with each product team to determine whether its prerelease software is dogfood-ready. While the process can be arduous, it’s “a great thing for customers.” By policy, many Microsoft products can’t go into general release unless they’ve gone through dogfood testing.