For a number of years, Microsoft has created products that run the gamut, from supporting the SMB to the midmarket to the enterprise. In the past year or two, however, it seems exceedingly clear that Microsoft, in many ways, is eliminating much of its focus on the unique needs of the midmarket space, leaving Microsoft vulnerable to competition from others intending to fill that gap. For those in the high end SMB and midmarket, a rash of uncertainty with a number of different Microsoft products is creating angst and even anger among some customers that may have paid software assurance for upgrades.
Specifically, there are two products in Microsoft's portfolio that are used by the midmarket that have either no future or uncertain futures.
Forefront Threat Management Gateway
First introduced in early 1997, Forefront TMG, formerly called Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server has enjoyed a long history in many small and medium businesses as a way to protect them from Internet-based threats. By including antimalware capabilities, URL filtering, inspection of HTTPS packets and other protection features, this all-in-one product is relatively easy for small and medium business to implement.
Unfortunately, it's dead. Even a year ago, bloggers were writing about the untimely demise of TMG as a result of an announcement by Gartner, who indicated that Microsoft had informed them of such. Further, although Microsoft has continued to provide service packs and other updates to TMG 2010, there has been no roadmap provided beyond the current version. The same situation appears to apply to the related Unified Access Gateway (UAG) product.
CIOs running TMG can no longer be sure that these systems will fully support their needs, particularly since they don't currently support Windows Server 2012 and may not be extended to work with other products, either.
Personally, I'm stunned that Microsoft seems to have ended development on both TMG and UAG, but am even more stunned that the company has seemingly provided no guidance whatsoever in order to provide some semblance of certainty to the longtime users of this product.
System Center Essentials
Deploying every product in the System Center suite is not feasible for many small and medium sized business. The products are large and complex and require many servers for a full deployment. A number of years ago, Microsoft made the decision to combine the most compelling parts of the various System Center products into a single product with a single console. With this conglomeration, Microsoft provided SMBs and smaller midmarket companies with a single tool that can deploy software, handle Windows updates, perform backups and monitor the environment. While SCE does not provide every function from the main System Center products, the functionality subset has been used by many.
Current versions of SCE do not include support for Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012. In a forum posting, when asked about the future of SCE, this was the response:
"We have not yet provided an update or roadmap regarding SCE.
As we move forward with the development of System Center 2012, we remain committed to providing a "right-sized" set of management tools for IT in the midmarket segment that makes it easy for these customers to set up and manage Hyper-V. We anticipate that details on our midmarket strategy will be released in the months ahead. We will be sure to communicate any updates through all regional marketing leads and channels as well as this discussion group.
In the interim, Essentials 2010 remains an important and strategic management solution as part of Microsoft's System Center family of IT systems management products allowing us to compete head-to-head with VMware in the midmarket segment. SCE 2010 is easy to deploy and provides customers a unified single console solution that enables proactive IT management of more physical and virtual Windows Servers than ever before.
In FY12, SCE 2010 continues to play an important role for our customers and their Journey to the Cloud as part of the Managed Virtualization story for the mid-market segment."
This is how I read this: "We're not making another SCE. Keep using the one you have or upgrade to the full System Center suite."
I have also been told that Microsoft's future for SCE customers revolves around the Windows InTune product. If that's the case, Microsoft is doing existing SCE customers a serious disservice. Windows InTune's currently functionality is only a very small fraction of that provided by SCE.
Again, the lack of a clear roadmap-even if that's Microsoft's saying with certainty that SCE is an end of life product-leaves customers in a bind as to what to do. While there are certainly third party products on the market that customers could consider, lack of clarity results in paralysis.
There are plenty of examples of products that have died over the years and customers have adapted, but most responsible vendors eventually provide customers with specific guidance regarding upcoming plans so that customers can plan accordingly. To me, with the lack of communication and the roundabout ways by which "announcements" have leaked, it seems as if Microsoft is leaving the midmarket CIO out in the cold.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.