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Microsoft’s contribution to the ‘jobless recovery’

Aug 04, 20033 mins
BudgetingData CenterMicrosoft

Historically, economists tell us, a key element and indicator of an economic recovery is a rebound in the job market – except this time around. Our current “jobless recovery,” they say, is due in part to the fact that corporations actually are gaining benefit from the technology they’ve bought over the years. Microsoft, being no small part of that, might be making an inadvertent but important contribution.

Many companies, especially those in the hardest-hit technology sector, got through “trimming the fat” a long time ago. When economics dictated further cuts, many companies had to trim essential services – such as IT departments.

For my two decades in the business, IT executives have been trying to convince senior management that the IT department was NOT a cost center but rather should be treated strategically as a profit center or at least a profit-center enabler.

Unfortunately, when times are tight, those same senior executives are quick to notice that: 1) the IT guys aren’t directly involved in selling Product X; 2) the IT guys aren’t directly involved in making Product X; and 3) the IT guys get paid a lot of money (or at least they used to get paid a lot of money). Thus, “cutting to the bone” in this downturn meant downsizing IT for many companies.

Given how quickly a small problem (bad disk) can become a big problem (corrupted database on said bad disk), most IT managers are understandably reluctant to hand pink slips to those working in the bowels of the data center. But, this time, there was often no choice but to do just that.

Remarkably, though, the press has not been filled with horror stories about data centers run amok or companies losing revenue – or even customers – because their now-understaffed IT department can’t keep systems up and online. In an echo of Y2K, reality was not nearly as bad as what people feared.

Just as massive preparation made Y2K a yawner, I believe that long-term improvements of Microsoft’s key system components – Windows 2000/2003, Internet Information Server 5/6 and Exchange 2000/2003 – made for a soft landing for companies that found themselves short-handed in the IT department.

Whereas products such as NT 3.51 and NT 4, and especially Exchange 5.5, required excessive care and feeding, the current products (though far from perfect) can run for weeks – or months – without a reboot and, assuming you’ve got automated backup, with little or no human intervention.

Anyone who’s followed my column over the years knows that I’ve taken Microsoft to task many times over various shortcomings in its Enterprise product offerings. But, to be fair to the company, I certainly can’t just ignore it has made improvements that, ultimately, translate into higher quality and lower cost-of-ownership for Enterprise customers.

Many of the facilities that Microsoft offers for managing its Enterprise products are not all that new. Scripting, Windows Management Infrastructure and terminal services have been around for a while – if not part of the base operating system then as downloadable add-ons.

When IT staff was abundant, many shops chose not to invest time and effort to learn and configure these management tools. After all, you always had someone in the data center or on call to walk over to a machine and perform whatever restarts, reboots or reloads that were needed.

Today, many companies are learning that using the new-generation products in conjunction with remote access and automatic scripting facilities can allow one IT professional to do the work that, in the past, took several to accomplish.