Recently, I had an opportunity to meet several of the enterprise architects from Microsoft IT. After I published my article on Enterprise Authorization Strategy, I got to talking with Aaron Hanks about some of the challenges of enterprise authorization. Aaron has weighty architectural responsibilities addressing many of these challenges at MSIT. Last week, I spoke at TechReady5 and I had the opportunity to meet Gabriel Morgan and Nick Malik while I was out there in Seattle. They are also enterprise architects, and fellow denizens in Aaron’s building. Gabriel focuses on SaaS and Nick tends to focus on SOA in MSIT.  After meeting them, I got to thinking; you have to count this pack among the big dogs in enterprise architecture. Putting aside some of the most complex enterprise requirements they face for a moment, they have to eat more Microsoft dog food than just about anybody.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, dog food comes from the expression ‘eating your own dog food’ and refers to the act of using your own software, technology and solutions in-house. Of course, at Microsoft that often means pre-released dog food, too. In the local vernacular you can use it as a verb too. As in “you should dogfood this before you release it.” As you can guess, MSIT eats a lot of dog food.

There is architectural dog food too. It’s one thing to tout the virtues of SOA, SOI, SaaS, S+S and other sibilant acronyms on the lofty pages of MSDN; it’s quite another to actually solve real-world, day-to-day problems with this architectural approach, knowing that your company’s success depends upon it—in more ways than one. To me, MSIT is one place where the rubber has to meet the road. The requirements of governance, discovery, shared data schema, scalability, master data management and application portfolio management, for example, aren’t just theoretical exercises for architects at MSIT; they’re concrete issues that have to be addressed with practical solutions that work today.  You have to respect that. I do, anyway.

Btw, if you think MSIT is just a downstream consumer in the dog food chain, you would be wrong about that. When these dogs get hungry, they have been known to aggressively bare their requirements. If an enterprise requirement cannot be fully met with an existing product or technology, MSIT is frequently first to experience the agita.  When they drive these requirements back upstream to the product groups, they are effectively acting as a proxy for many of Microsoft’s enterprise customers who are facing similar challenges as well as for those of us in the field who work with these customers.

You shouldn’t kid yourself into thinking that MSIT has it easy because they only have to deal with a single, homogeneous platform and one vendor. Microsoft has some gravitas in the software business—to be sure—but it is also part of a much larger ecosystem of ISVs, partners, hardware, software and services vendors, contractors, financial institutions, manufacturing, hosting and network companies, packaging, shipping and distribution companies, VARS, and more. Like many large enterprises, Microsoft depends upon these business partners throughout the ecosystem for its continued success.  And guess what? As a group, they probably use every platform, system, wire protocol and data format on the planet. On a daily basis that means the big dogs at MSIT face very serious, enterprise-class challenges around interoperability, identity management, authorization, scalability, availability, content management, and telephony integration. Sound familiar? All of this and more exists in a highly heterogeneous, globally distributed ecosystem. If MSIT can devise a solution or architecture that works well on our platform in this environment, there’s a pretty good chance it will work well in your enterprise, too. Are you beginning to see where I’m going with this?

Hopefully, you’re beginning to come to the same conclusion I have. When MSIT architects have something to say, it is usually worth listening to. I’ve learned a lot from Aaron Hanks. Like: Be consistent, be persistent, speak softly and carry a big set of requirements. Nick Malik and Gabriel Morgan have great blogs that range over a wide array of enterprise architectural issues. Even if you don’t always agree, you usually find them interesting and thought provoking. I think you’ll also find that they generally understand the magnitude of the challenges in distributed computing in the enterprise today. Think you’re ready to run with the big dogs? Try the MSIT pack out for size.