Over the years, Microsoft and Gartner Inc (neé Gartner Group)  have had an interesting relationship: sometimes very close partners and colleagues in research projects, sometimes taking opposite stances to a position and being criticised by the other.

I've met a lot of IT people who have a similar bias - some pay Gartner for their advice, and basically don't do anything that Gartner doesn't advocate (a favourite was always the "Wait for SP1" behaviour when looking at deploying anything new from Microsoft). Other IT directors look dimly on any analyst report, figuring that that they're all recycling the same old opinions, dusted with acronyms and supposedly cutting edge insight.

Gartner's had some cracking ideas in the past, however - my two favourite models of theirs behind the Hype Cycle (particularly the "Trough of Disillusionment") and the Magic Quadrant.

The latest Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications looked pretty favourable to Microsoft and Nortel (compared with last year, both have moved up and right) and a bit less so to a couple of other vendors who've dropped out of the "Magic Quadrant" altogether (the aforesaid being the top right quarter of the plot area, signifying the leaders who have the most complete vision and the best ability to execute on it).

I know they're rather particular about licensing of reprints etc, and although Microsoft has licensed the Magic Quadrant report to be able to distribute, I'm not sure about taking an image from the report and posting it here. As a result, I'd encourage you to go directly to Gartner to view the latest Magic Quadrant diagram...

Infrastructure Maturity Model

A couple of years ago now, Microsoft was working with Gartner to simplify its existing Infrastructure Maturity Model, a means of describing an IT infrastructure's level of advancement towards a well-managed, low-cost infrastructure. Gartner's model has 7 stages, ranging from the chaotic "Basic" to the nirvana of "Policy-based", but have estimated that 90% of customers never make it past the 3rd stage, "Standardised".

IO, IO, it's off to work we go

If you head over to http://www.microsoft.com/io you'll see the output of some of this work - Microsoft boiled the 7 stages down to just 4, describing the Infrastructure Optimization (IO) model. Infrastructure Optimization Model

Since then, they've worked with analysts to show that as an organisation moves its operations from left to right, there are many cost benefits - eg the average cost of managing a PC for a customer in the "Rationalized" segment could be as little as 1/6th the cost of one in the "Basic" stage.

The key part in this model is that it's self-measured, so you can use tools and techniques to figure out where you are in the model for any given metric - eg you could be Standardized when it comes to identity management, but Basic in what you do with it or even Rationalized in some more.

The same 4-stage model has since been applied to other areas besides core Infrastructure, such as "Business Productivity" (essentially, user-oriented communication & collaboration software & services) and "Application Platform" (ie the back-end applications which sit behind line of business systems, such as SQL Server).

There are some fantastic additional resources about these additional models, on BPIO and APIO. I tend to present this whole model to IT people, as a vocabulary with which to have the discussion around IT investment, with the finance department. It seems to work well (even though I thought it was a load of hot air when I first saw it... gaining an understanding of when it can be useful has since helped me appreciate it!)