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How Microsoft Eats its Own Dogfood

Every time Microsoft rolls out a major new enterprise product, the software giant claims itself as a long-running early adopter in production systems.

At MEC 2002 in Anaheim, Calif., Microsoft corporate vice president and CIO Rick Devenuti explained how his IT department reconciles its top priority of being "Microsoft's best and first customer" with its more standard role of making sure employees in this global Fortune 500 company always have access to the applications they need to do the jobs that keep the revenue flowing.

"Internally we use the term, 'Eating our own dogfood,'" Devenuti said of the company's efforts to use beta releases of its flagship software in production systems. Such dogfood eating only became a top priority for Microsoft's IT group three years ago, he says.

The scale of Microsoft's operations shows two things: how large a job rolling out software across Microsoft is and how valuable Microsoft's own IT group can be to Microsoft developers in having a real-world site handy.

The metrics, according to slides presented at MEC 2002 on Wednesday:

  • 450 sites
  • 150,000 PCs
  • 7,000 servers
  • 70,000 mailboxes for Microsoft's 50,000 employees, as well as contractors and partners.
  • 400 applications
  • 26 million voice calls per month
  • 4.5 million e-mail messages internally per day
  • About 100 Exchange servers.

    Devenuti acknowledges that being part of Microsoft has some special advantages that make it highly unlike any other customer site. There are no attempts at desktop lockdowns and few efforts at desktop management, a policy that comes from an understanding of the importance of allowing all employees to install and get familiar with new software.

    Unique advantages for Microsoft's IT group in trying to provide world-class uptime with beta code include immediate and frequent access to product development teams and few issues with platform interoperability since it is, understandably, a completely Microsoft shop.

    In deploying beta code internally, Microsoft uses three forests. A dogfood forest is run by the product team, not the IT group. The forest tends to be highly unavailable. "We require two weeks of three-nines [of uptime] before beta," Devenuti says.

    Once that two-week bar has been passed in the dogfood forest, the IT group brings the application into its Windeploy forest, a 6,000-user network. After one full week of high availability in that environment, the gradual rollout begins in Microsoft's corporate forest.

    As an example, Devenuti said that Titanium, the next version of Exchange scheduled for a mid-2003 release, has just entered the Windeploy forest. With the Beta 2 phase of Titanium, Microsoft will target about 15,000 mailboxes with Titanium in the corporate forest. By the Release Candidate stage, all 70,000 mailboxes will be on Titanium servers.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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