Friday, July 4, 2008

A company that dumped Nitix for Windows

In February 2007 Western Materials dumped Nitix and installed Microsoft Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003. What prompted this organisation to move back to the Dark Side? My source material for this story is a document downloaded from Microsoft's web site and you can decide for yourself the ratio of substance to spin. If you think I'm ready too closely between the lines of Microsoft's story then feel free to add your own interpretation.

According to this document the prime mover in this migration was Matt Martinkus, Chief Financial Officer at Western Materials. In times past Western Materials "... had an internal employee who handled IT. He was bright and did a good job but the reliance on one person left us too vulnerable."

Matt moved into the CFO role a few months previous to the February 2007 migration to Windows Server and " of my first acts as CFO was to find a good Microsoft partner to support us".

He picked Parsec Computer, a Gold Certified Microsoft partner who took over supporting the Nitix infrastructure for Western Materials. Matt didn't look for help from the dealer who had sold them Nitix since "...they had been acquired and were moving away from Nitix".

Matt goes on to say that "Nitix seemed to be lukewarm about helping us" , but if he had taken the job and immediately introduced a Microsoft Partner to support their Nitix servers I'm not sure what room there was for Nitix to get any technical traction with the client.

Matt listed a number of reasons for the move to Microsoft. Some of them are impossible to review from this distance eg. Were the server crashes and the delay in opening files a failure of Nitix or of some other technology? However we can look a bit deeper into some of the other reasons that Matt listed:

1. Microsoft Office: The first issue is lack of compatibility with Microsoft Office programs, especially Outlook. At the time Nitix only supported the Outlook 2000 client and Western Materials were using Outlook 2003. The installation of Nitix had apparently fixed the original business problem of paying 'tens of thousands of dollars a year' to maintain frame-relay connections but now there was a new issue of maintaining compatibility with the Microsoft email client.

2. Speed of accessing files: This was another problem. Western Materials didn't rely on their existing Nitix vendor to resolve these issues because "... you could tell [Nitix] wasn't their core competency." but I don't see where they bought in another Nitix partner to help.

3. Mobile Devices: "[Nitix] didn't adequately support mobile devices" is a valid comment. Nitix doesn't support mobile devices but they have their best people working on it and I'm not allowed to tell you that an answer might be available towards the end of 2008.

4. Server Crashes: "A few times per month the server would crash..." Hang on a minute Matt! You're having regular server crashes and your VPN is slow and you aren't impressed with your current dealer so the best answer is to bring in some Nitix-illiterate Microsoft consultants? How about bringing in some Nitix-qualified experts to reconfigure the software and look for performance improvements that way? Sounds like the Cadillac buyer from Texas who always buys a new car when the ashtrays on the old one are full. It's difficult to argue with that kind of logic.

5. IT Maintenance: Western Materials had to pay Parsec for everyday tasks such as managing employee e-mail accounts."We were paying thousands of dollars per month in support costs just to keep existing IT services running." I'm curious about the size of Western Materials support bill before Parsec Computer came into the picture. If you ask someone to support a server technology they hadn't seen before then a spike in your support costs is inevitable while they come to grips with the different software. Strangely enough there's no mention of what happened to their bright, hard-working IT guy. Isn't 'managing employee e-mail accounts' one of the reasons why you have full-time IT employees, or is Matt suggesting that Nitix should have automatically added a new email account whenever a new employee walks through the door?

In the end Matt wanted server software which supported Outlook 2003 and mobile devices and in early 2007 Nitix couldn't do that. It is worth noting that Western Materials bought 'three custom-built server computers' while 'Nitix firewall and VPN services were replaced with dedicated hardware devices.' It would be interesting to see what the total investment in hardware was for this exercise and whether Western Materials will need to invest in another round of servers if they want to migrate to Windows Server 2008 and Exchange 2007.

'Now that the company is running Microsoft software, Parsec computer is able to better support Western Materials.'

Well that's a no-brainer. Parsec is a Gold Certified Microsoft partner so of course they can support Microsoft products better than they can support Nitix. I'm sure Parsec Computer is a fine and ethical computer services organisation and I see nothing wrong with them trying to sell their chosen products into a potential customer but note the weasal words in this paragraph - the objective is to get better support from Parsec so the answer is to switch to Microsoft software.

It seems to me that Matt Martinkus chose to standardise on Microsoft products mainly to support Outlook 2003. Whether he had that agenda before he came into the job is a question everyone has to decide for themselves.

We've all heard the story before.

NOTE: Lotus Foundations includes IBM Lotus Notes® and Domino® (v8.0) and provides IBM Lotus® Domino® Access for Microsoft® Outlook 2003 and 2007.


brianc said...

"In the end Matt wanted server software which supported Outlook 2003 and mobile devices and in early 2007 Nitix couldn't do that."

Many carriers will host the server parts, Verizon & AT&T will host the Blackberry server and Treo will connect to most POP3 servers.

Seems like another case of someone not qualified to make technical decisions, interjecting ego in place of good technical judgment.

Anywhere I have seen a customer switch from Nitix (this would be the 2nd in 5 years) it has been a question of religion rather than sound logical judgment.

Pay more money for a system that delivers less functionality, reliability, and performance? Let me think about that?

Just say NO!

Byron Martin said...

Unfortunately, the case study doesn’t give all the juicy details about what was going on and why certain decisions were made. Bottom line regardless of server application, the servers and network infrastructure was a mess. There were constant outages and performance issues, something had to be done. Hardware was junk, the network design was poor and everything was a literal rats nest.. (I have pictures to prove it, network loops all over the place etc).

If they could have found someone that could have adequately supported their Nitix solution they may have stuck with it… but as it goes, they’re located in Eastern Washington where you’re hard pressed just to find good local support for anything.

Parsec has been in business for 26 years and could provide that stability they were looking for. It also cut their IT operating costs significantly. Instead of a full time employee, they now only pay for help when needed which is once every few weeks… Other than that things are working as they should.

Together with Parsec’s expertise and Microsoft’s Server products they were able to find the peace of mind they were looking for.

Anyway, just thought I’d throw in my bit…

Byron Martin said...

Here's the case study

Graham Dodge said...

Thanks Byron.

It seems we agree on the basic story and the points you add seem to reinforce my original premise - Nitix was removed from Western Materials because it wasn't being correctly configured and adequately supported rather than any intrinsic failing in the functionality of the software.

Unfortunately the Microsoft article places a different spin on the story and countering the MS spin was the intention of my article.

The link you provided is already in the story (hyperlinked under the word 'document' in the first paragraph).