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Microsoft's First, Best Customer

Welcome to the world's largest beta program. Microsoft is the ultimate "dogfood" company, testing its products on its own network, a global information system encompassing approximately 300,000 devices, 104,000 e-mail accounts and 89,000 end users spread out over 83 countries.

Responsibility for the smooth running of this enterprise falls on the shoulders of Microsoft IT, which bills itself as "Microsoft's first and best customer." This has advantages and disadvantages; the advantage is that Microsoft products are tried out in a huge environment before they're released to the public. The disadvantage, at least from the point of view of Microsoft IT, is that many of the products it relies on for day-to-day operations are, by definition, unfinished and still buggy -- yes, even buggier than the 1.0 version products many companies instinctively avoid.

Although you might think this would lead to huge amounts of help desk calls, that's not the case. It's true that much of the software used isn't as stable as the typical program running on a corporate network, leading to more problems. But Microsoft IT security architect Jared Pfost says it balances out because "we have a very technically-oriented user base." In other words, Microsoft employees are much less likely to open that e-mail attachment and launch a server-killing virus.

The flip side of using beta software is getting to play with all the cool new toys. Take 64-bit computing, for instance. Active Directory architect and senior systems engineer Brian Puhl said he recently got 12 AMD64 servers and has been using them on a number of domain controllers. "The performance increases for domain controllers for query-intensive applications has been wonderful. It's a big win," Puhl commented.

Similar machines will be replacing some of Microsoft's 97 Exchange servers, said senior systems engineer and Exchange specialist Konstantin Ryvkin. He's especially excited about seeing the performance benefits of 64-bit computing on the next version of the e-mail server, code-named Exchange 12.

Although 64-bit power isn't a requirement to run Microsoft's next-generation desktop operating system, code-named Longhorn, beefier PCs than the ones in most typical companies will be needed. This being Microsoft, however, "Longhorn-ready" PCs have been arriving for some time. Tomas Vetrovsky, the lead product manager for mobile devices, said he's been using Longhorn for awhile, and is impressed. He said that although the new GUI (code-named Avalon) is a radical departure from the Windows XP interface, he likes it and thinks average users won't have trouble getting the hang of it.

Having not entered the beta phase yet, Longhorn hasn't been deployed or tested on end user desktops, Puhl said. When that happens, though, Microsoft IT will be in the powerful position of having to approve it before it gets released to the public. It's a little taste of what it's like to be Bill Gates.

"Before we ever start dogfooding, [Microsoft IT] and the product teams get together and establish shared goals," Puhl explained. If we can't meet those shared goals, IT won't sign off." That authority lies with Microsoft CIO Ron Markezich. Some of the products on which IT input has had a dramatic impact include the security technology known as IPSec (short for IP security), the Windows Firewall and group policy functionality, according to Pfost.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.