The Dangers of Giving Vendors too much Power

Back in the 90’s I worked for Sonoco. The capital project I was on was to install a new maintenance management software in an entire division of the company in order to, mostly, bring down the cost of spare parts inventory. During this project, many ideas for costs savings came up. One of them was that vendor reps should maintain parts usage history and stock the parts we bought for them in the parts room for us. I voice my concerns but since I was just a kid in my 20’s at the time with no college degree, I was promptly ignored and told to shut up.

This turned out to be a monumentally horrible idea as I predicted. Here’s why:

  • Let’s assume your vendor is a good guy. He’s only out for the benefit of you, the client and he wants to keep you as a client. Well, obviously, the last thing he wants is for you to run out of parts otherwise your machines will go down and you’ll yell at him. So the vendor may decide that, just to be on the safe side, he may need to stock a few extra bearings here and a few extra sprockets there because “you never know when they might have a spike in parts usage and we need to be careful and plan for those things.”
  • Let’s assume your vendor is a bad guy. He’s about $600 behind on his sales quota for the month and right now he’s not necessarily out to benefit you. So the vendor may decide that, since he’s the one stocking your parts room and you’ll most likely never notice, he may need to stock a few extra bearings here and a few extra sprockets there.

This is the danger of giving vendors too much power over your stuff. It doesn’t matter whether the vendor is a good guy or a bad guy, you’re screwed either way.

JamesNT

My Second Thoughts on the Retirement of TechNet

Previously, I wrote about the retirement of the TechNet Subscription and voiced some disagreement about Microsoft’s decision. However, I have begun to rethink my disagreement because of two reasons:

  • There really was a lot of piracy out there.

In thinking back over the years to all the different small offices I’ve been in – offices running Windows XP, Office, SBS 2003, etc. – I begin to remember all the times I would ask people where the license keys for their software was and how I could never get a straight answer. Or no one knew at all. I’ve been in some offices where I knew for a fact that the software came from a TechNet subscription – literally thousands of dollars of MS software installed on production equipment. And those are the ones I know about. But what about all the others where, when I asked for CD keys, shoulders were just shrugged? $400 a year for all that software is pretty tempting.

Microsoft doesn’t like the little mom-and-pop IT Pro or the individual who owns his own business. In fact, calling these people “IT Pro” gives them way too much credit. I cannot begin to count the times I have seen utterly hosed Small Business Server installations. Or backups of virtual machines that don’t work because the person who set up the virtual machines didn’t leave enough space for the volume shadow copy. And, of course, the person would not know how to solve that problem. I cannot begin to count the servers I’ve seen that had all kinds of anti-spyware and other utilities installed all over them – completely useless utilities. And, of course, when you question the “IT Pro” as to what kind of problems they are having, the first thing they do is BLAME MICROSOFT FOR EVERYTHING all the while they are racking up billable hours for the client. While this sounds great for the “IT Pro” in question, MS has been for quite some time getting tired of all the blame. And don’t get me started on the small DIY office that doesn’t even have an “IT Pro” on hand – employee or contract.

These small IT Pros are also the ones who are abusing the TechNet Subscription the most. They install $800 copies of Windows Server everywhere, bill the client for the full cost of the software, and have a mere $400/year tied up in expenses. And, I dare say, these small IT Pros are also the ones complaining the most about the retirement of TechNet – they are losing a very valuable revenue stream.

Microsoft has responded in what I consider to be the best way they can. Keep in mind that some of the stuff listed below I did mention in my previous post. Yes, I am backtracking. But then again, things like the retirement of the TechNet Subscription are what happens when you bite the hand that feeds you. Also, do note that some extra options have been added that MS has pointed out on their TechNet page since my last post:

  1. TechNet Evaluation Center: This option allows anyone to download free versions of MS software that is time-bombed for either 30, 90, or 180 days depending on the software. For small IT shops or individuals, I would consider this to be a viable option especially now that MS has added older versions of software to the list. I’m an IT Pro and I can certainly go through Mark Minasi’s books Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 with probably one or two installs. Testing some client software for compatibility might require another reinstall or two, but again, no big deal. I would do this all in VM’s so the one real inconvenience would be backing up VM’s and reinstalling the host (or maybe I should just use Hyper-V Server.) This obviously isn’t a perfect solution and I would expect to waste a certain amount of time reinstalling and adding patches/service packs, but it’s not the end of the world, either. I do, however, recommend that Microsoft extend any software that is time-bombed for 30 days out to 90 days. Thirty days is just too short.
  2. TechNet Virtual Labs: My original opinion of this option stands. Great for the 5 cent tour, but not for deep dives.
  3. MSDN Subscriptions: To be honest, some IT Pros should consider this option. In fact, a lot should consider this option. For many of the small shops, as the cloud begins to take hold they are going to start finding themselves squeezed out. That’s all there is to it. Moving over to software development, including Azure and mobile, would be a great way to maintain their jobs. Moving over to software development of some sort might be the natural order for the IT Pro who finds the demand for his current skillset going down. Remember back in the 80’s and 90’s when all those tobacco farmers starting losing their farms because the tobacco industry started getting sued and the demand for tobacco went down? Have you noticed how all those wineries suddenly popped up in your area that weren’t there 20-30 years ago? Might be a connection there.
  4. Microsoft Partner Network: By becoming a registered Microsoft partner, you gain access to the Action Pack. The Action Pack is a lot like the TechNet subscription (and even costs about the same) only you can use the software in production (there are some other caveats as well). For the small IT Pro that has enough clients, this might truly be the way to go.

Of course, what about those of us who need to migrate clients off of Windows XP/Server 2003 and we need installation copies for testing? Microsoft did extend the TechNet Subscription for 90 days and you did have until the end of August to renew one last time. That means you have 1 year and 3 months of your subscription remaining that will allow you access to all that older software. I highly recommend beginning your migrations now. Big companies that have SA don’t care about the TechNet subscription as they have other agreements for testing in place.

In conclusion, what Microsoft is doing is very simple. They are trying to stop piracy and get rid of the small IT Pros who are a big chunk of their support call costs. Does that mean moving small business to the cloud? Perhaps so.

I’m not saying all the small IT Pros out there are bad, but I am saying too many of them are. And the good ones, like me, know that to be true.

JamesNT