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Jack of No Trades

Now that Definitely Not Sir William Gates has made his contribution to the Empire, I would expect to see the realities of his work more clearly being a United Kingdommer myself. However, as I perused the latest delivery of my MSDN subscription, I felt that I was sporting a confused look on my face like I’d been sent twenty-four tins of low-calorie baked beans instead of the discs I was expecting. Puzzled, I looked up and asked my colleague, “What’s Microsoft Identity Integration Server?”
“Er.. No idea.”
“Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005?”
“Nope”
“Microsoft Enterprise Instrumentation Framework?”
“Sounds developer-y”
“Windows XP Professional?”
“Ah, now that rings a bell.”

Ok, MSDN is the acronym for Microsoft Developer Network and as such you would obviously expect there to be the odd application or two dedicated to writing software around their products. However, there is still a large bunch of Red Discs (Servers) of which I have absolutely no idea as to their purpose. True, many software companies produce a healthy selection of either custom, bespoke or downright bizarre applications within their suite of offerings and obviously Microsoft being one of biggest peddlers of enterprise applications should be no different.

"However, there is still a large bunch of Red Discs (Servers) of which I have absolutely no idea as to their purpose."

Unfortunately the dilemma I find myself in, with Microsoft specifically, is the fact that I have absolutely no idea if I actually need this software or not. Yes, I obviously don’t need it right now as my network is running smoother than the cream in a Twinkie (word up), however how much benefit could I be gaining from Microsoft Identity Integration server? Is it the perfect app for ensuring the credentials of all our employees and digitally signing their movements into the ether for all eternity, or is it simply an HR orientation presentation for new starters to find out where the coffee machine is? The real question of course, do I even care? Is it so genitallia-expandingly good that my business has been clearly running at ten percent efficiency without it?

So, whilst I consider myself a relatively techie and up to date kind of guy, I’m already blissfully unaware of several products within our biggest supplier’s portfolio and whether their usefulness is a akin to a chocolate fireguard, or conversely something I’ve been missing all this time which would turn us into a technical dynamo. However, I’m resourceful and plodded off to their homepage to take a look. Here’s what it has to say about MIIS:

“Microsoft Identity Integration Server (MIIS) 2003 is a centralized service that stores and integrates identity information for organizations with multiple directories. The goal of MIIS 2003 is to provide organizations with a unified view of all known identity information about users, applications, and network resources.”

So far so good, it then mentions:

“MIIS 2003 is the third major release of our identity management and integration product—encompassing more than four years of experience solving complex identity management problems for customers. In answer to customer requests for a product that helps reduce the cost of managing identity information spread throughout their enterprise, MIIS 2003 enables you to:
• Synchronize identity information.
• Provision and de-provision accounts.
• Synchronize and manage passwords.

The THIRD release? You mean people not only already have this product, but are three revisions down the line and are feeding you back information? Ok, there must be a small install base of clients on first name terms with the developers, because they seem to have actually listened to the guys using it, but could I really have been out of the loop so badly that I didn’t even know the thing existed, let alone was on its third incarnation?

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Chris Caines


Now, you might be questioning why I don’t know about all these products if I’m in a position where I can effectively direct the momentum of our IS infrastructure? I’ll tell you, because I’m not a consultant. It’s not my job to stay on top of this kind of thing all day or go to seminars to listen to buzzwords spouted out by the overenthusiastic Microsoft PR patrol, if I did I’d have no time to do the real work and might as well go off and use my knowledge to sell it into companies like me who don’t have the time. However, it does raise an important point that it almost seems like guys like me are the ones in the wrong for not knowing these products, especially when highly paid consultants know about it from the day they’ve seen it drop out of the brain of a MS developer.

Microsoft expanding their portfolio like this is causing regular IS departments in SME companies to ‘lose touch’ with the necessities of what is needed to ensure their network is up to scratch. There was a time when you needed a File Server, an Operating System and maybe an Email Server in order to have a complete, effective, secure Client/Server based infrastructure for your company. However now it seems that you clearly have great gaping holes in areas of your business if you’re not running Microsoft Wallpaper and Icon Distribution Server 2005 on your network.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this concoction of bizarre business interoperability software all has its place, but why are these features not being bolted on as standard to its default Server Software? Are they truly that massive a piece of innovation that they require their own CD and licence key? It all HAS to run on a Windows backend, so why not just plonk these great pieces of software on as options during install and if the machine isn’t up to it, why isn’t the OS ‘multi-server’ aware, so I just buy another copy of Server, plug it in and select the options I need or want to spread out? If it’s integrated into the OS, it’d be even easier for the poor Admins who could say “Hey look, this bit of software will let us store and integrate identity information for our organisation, with multiple directories. That’s useful, let’s install that.” Yes, I know no-one ever got rich by giving things away for free, however in the end my money isn’t truly going to Microsoft, it’s going to consultants who want to be paid just to tell me about applications I could probably suss out and install myself, if only I was given the option in the first place to know they existed and what they might do for my business.

"..my money isn’t truly going to Microsoft, it’s going to consultants who want to be paid just to tell me about applications I could probably suss out and install myself, if only I was given the option in the first place to know they existed and what they might do for my business."

The irony is, of course, Microsoft probably would do this a lot more had they not been sued by all and sundry over monopolising the software industry. People want choice, but I think handled a little better Microsoft could have come out of this with a healthy share of the market, yet not have had to turn all their products into bolt on modules. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that due to people insisting that MS do not bundle everything into one package, they have unleased a torrent of cruel and unusual products onto the market which would be better simply integrated into the OS. No score draw... everyone loses.

My final thought, is this. What do you need to run your network? You need a File & Print server, an Email Server, Client Operating systems and maybe a Database server; that’s it. That will do anything you need it to do, with the exception of any bespoke application work tailored to your needs. Businesses have run absolutely fine for generations without a server specifically designed to ensure your printer can talk to the watercooler and then convert the results to XML to display it on your PDA.

Simplicity is efficiency and clever software often leads to more problems than it solves. You don’t need to be sold products which you’ve had no need for up until now, and don’t let yourself think you need products you don’t.