Ken Pan is The Man behind the Configuration Manager product group. Ken is the Product Unit Manager (PUM) for the System Center Configuration Manager product group, and is responsible for all engineering and product development functions associated with the Configuration Manager and SMS products. Ken talks about his background and his role, and his early involvement with the product since 1992. Learn about his vision for the product, and why he thinks customer focus is so important to the product’s future success.
Question: Tell me a little about your role and what you do.
I’m responsible for the engineering side of Configuration Manager – the product group and sustained engineering. I set direction and priorities for the team, lead the engineering team in executing the product plan, and help to sell and support the product. I attend MMS (Microsoft Management Summit) every year and look forward to spending that time in face-to-face discussions with customers – what they love (and hate!) about the product, and the challenges that they face in their unique business environments.
Question: How did you get where you are you today?
I came to Microsoft as an intern from UW (University of Washington) in the summer of 1992 – in between college and Graduate school. I loved it – both the people that I worked with and the experience of working at Microsoft. That very first job was with SMS just as it was getting going as a new product- with the codename of Hermes. I first worked on the despooler, which is responsible for compressing and decompressing files so that data for source packages and site information can be more efficiently sent over the network. Then I went on to work on many of the server components that do the behind-the-scenes work.
When I was hired as a developer, there was just a handful of people on the team working on the product. From those early days I’ve gone from developer, to lead developer, to developer manager, to PUM – always working with the same product and always finding new potential in each new version.
Question: What kept you working on the same product for all these years?
It’s a mixture of people and technology. The great people that I’ve worked with over the years, and work with today, have a huge impact on how I feel about continuing to work on this product. Despite the large increase in the number of people that are now needed to code, test, support, and manage the product, somehow it still feels like we’re working in a small group with all the benefits that affords. For example, the potential for innovation is limitless. Enterprise networks and business requirements continue to evolve at a rapid race, yet we can adapt and embrace new technologies and find new solutions to help with the challenges that these changes bring. The potential of this product is vast, and the excitement of being involved with its evolution never goes away. Configuration Manager is on a fast trajectory, and it’s great being a part of that.
Question: Can you give me an example of a good day, and a bad day at work?
A good day at work is the countdown to a release when we know that the software has had thorough testing from our TAP (technology adapter programs) customers. Despite the myriad of test cases we put our pre-release software through, nothing beats the rigors of testing on a production network with all the unexpected variations that this brings to the environment. We highly value our TAP customers and their ability to put the software through its paces. It’s not just the bugs that they find, but also their feedback generally for improvements and DCRs (Design Change Requests). Conversely, a bad day at work is in the countdown to a release when we haven’t been able to get as much feedback from our TAP customers as we would like – maybe they ran out of time, or couldn’t meet a dependency, or couldn’t deploy a sufficiently high number of clients to provide good coverage. It happens, and it’s unfortunate because we know from experience that the features that have the best coverage from TAP customers are less likely to have problems after release. For me personally, I am most satisfied when at the end of a day I can say I have made a contribution to building great software.
Question: What do you consider to offer the most compelling business value in Configuration Manager?
Anything that significantly lowers TCO (total cost of ownership) and gives control back to administrators. The ratio of computers to administrators in today’s network makes it a continual challenge to simply find out what’s out there that they should be managing. So discovering computers and their configuration, what software they are running, and whether they are compliant is the first step. Then, manage them in a controlled way with scheduling and reporting, and without saturating the network.
If you’re upgrading to Vista (or planning on upgrading to Windows 7), then OSD (Operating System Deployment) is the way to roll out these new operation systems.
Question: What’s your own favorite feature in Configuration Manager?
Actually, it’s the behind the scenes stuff that supports highly distributed content across the network – such as binary differential replication that’s used to package source files with a minimum of additional network traffic, and the site-to-site replication within the hierarchy. I’m also quite fond of the policy provider, although I might be biased because I worked on that in the past! However, if you’re asking me to name a single product feature, I’m most excited about DCM (Desired Configuration Management) – because it’s laying the groundwork for the future of self-healing systems.
Question: What areas do you think need most attention in future versions of Configuration Manager?
I would like to see us being better able to support deploying software to users, rather than today’s model of administrators deploying software to computers. Gone are the days when most users ran the same software on a single computer, on a fast network. Today’s environments need to be more adaptive so that users can easily get the applications they need to do their job, while the administrators retain control over the software and network. Configuration Manager in the future is well placed to deliver user-centric management.
And for DCM to fulfill its potential, it needs to support automatic remediation. Although administrators can today manually remediate computers that report noncompliance, automating this is the natural progression and would be a big win for our customers.
Question: Looking into the future, how do you see Configuration Manager?
The one-stop client management solution for enterprises.
Question: What is your favorite movie and why?
My favorite movie is
The Shawshank Redemption because it exemplifies that a strong will can overcome many obstacles.
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