Designing Infrastructure Management for the New Era of IT


May 2014

To meet the changing needs of IT at Microsoft, the infrastructure management function underwent a service model redesign that shifted the focus from technology-focused teams to teams that are aligned to IT services and disciplines.


Executive Overview

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Microsoft IT runs the global technologies that support IT services at Microsoft, including identity, SharePoint services, email, and Lync. As we move into a new era of IT, more of these technologies are provided as services, causing a shift in responsibilities and requirements.
To succeed in this new era, Microsoft IT redesigned its service model. Implementation of the model has optimized resource allocation, increased operational efficiency, and improved service availability.


Historically, the management of the Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) infrastructure was divided across core technology areas, including identity, Microsoft SharePoint services, email, and Microsoft Lync communications software. Each technology area evolved separately as new technology was introduced to the environment, building upon the capabilities it needed to design, deliver and assure performance. This resulted in each area operating at differing levels of business maturity, having different priorities, and not offering many growth opportunities for employees, aside from increasing their technology expertise.

There was an imbalance of workloads within Microsoft IT that forced a focus on operational metrics rather than user experience. With the rise in mobile working styles and increased reliance on these services, user experience became critical to the success of the group. Because the entire IT organization was already in a process of transformation to meet the needs of the modern enterprise, the time was right to make a major change.


Microsoft IT decided to address its organizational challenges by creating a new service model for its infrastructure management function. It developed the following goals to serve as guiding principles in the design:

  • Optimize and organize around people and career development.
  • Reduce organizational barriers to facilitate cross-team collaboration.
  • Define and manage to a single set of priorities that are shared by the entire organization at the same time.

Designing the New Service Model

Microsoft IT recategorized its service lines as follows to focus on clear actions:

  • Enabling. Personalized services that enable users to sign in to, join, or access specific Microsoft resources.
  • Connecting. Services that enable applications, devices, systems, and users to connect to Microsoft networks and necessary resources no matter where users are.
  • Communicating. Services that enable users to communicate internally and externally through instant messaging and presence capabilities on a variety of form factors from any location.
  • Sharing. Services that use Microsoft social media platforms and applications to engage users in a community forum for sharing information (including business-critical information) and collaborating from any device.
  • Creating. New services that will be created as a result of successful enabling, connecting, communicating, and sharing.

Implementing the New Service Model

The new service model enables process improvement throughout the organization, independent of service or technology design. This greatly simplifies roles and responsibilities and provides the mechanisms that are used to run the business and measure success.

Microsoft IT devised the following teams to support the service lines:

  • Service design
  • Service availability
  • Service quality and planning
  • Service area architecture

These teams are responsible for specific parts of the operational model and are aligned by function. Each team contains the roles that are necessary to accomplish each phase of the life cycle of infrastructure management. Segmenting teams based on roles rather than technologies strengthens proficiency in each role.

The following figure depicts the life cycle of infrastructure management in Microsoft IT. The processes are adaptations of the industry-standard Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) fundamentals, tailored for the specific roles that each team fulfils.

Figure 1. Infrastructure management life cycle

Figure 1. Infrastructure management life cycle

Service Design Team

The primary function of the service design team is engineering new technologies. The team is responsible for information security management, risk management, and architecture management. The roles within the team are service engineers and architects who collectively improve the technical designs of the services.

Table 1. Business processes and core functions of the service design team.

Key business processesCore functions
  • Governance
  • Proof of concept, pilots
  • Design and review
  • Engineering excellence
  • Technology life cycle
  • Service line architecture
  • Design, test, and labs
  • Service standards

Service Availability Team

The primary function of the service availability team is to support and run the technologies and IT services while also designing for availability and capacity. This team is the operational center of the Microsoft IT organization, monitoring and identifying technology issues, and implementing technology changes in the environment. Primary roles within the team include service engineers.

Table 2. Business processes and core functions of the service availability team.

Key business processesCore functions
  • Governance
  • Service release and readiness
  • Technical deployment
  • Issue and problem management
  • Service operations
  • Maximization of availability
  • Service insight and health
  • Predictive management
  • Release and readiness
  • Communication with operations
  • Problem management

Service Quality and Planning Team

The service quality and planning team is responsible for planning service improvements and managing the service portfolio. This team is the service owner for each technology area, defining the roadmaps and service improvement plans that focus on the user experience. Roles within the team include service managers and program managers.

Table 3. Business processes and and core functions of the service quality and planning team.

Key business processesCore functions
  • Governance
  • Project management
  • Service management and improvement
  • Planning
  • End-to-end service excellence
  • Strategic and tactical planning
  • Project management office/governance
  • Communications
  • Community champion

Service Area Architecture Team

Service area architects are responsible for identifying how the technical solutions work together to provide core services.

Table 4. Business processes and and core functions of the service area architecture team.

Key business processesCore functions
  • Research
  • Roadmaps
  • Architecture of the service areas
  • Architecture outreach
  • Leadership and documentation of vision


Introducing the new methodology into existing operations and processes took several months to implement. All work that was in progress during the design and implementation phases was completed as originally planned, with resources allocated based on the old service model. New projects or change requests were vetted and approved through the new model, with resources allocated based on the new service model. This transition added some operational complexity until existing projects were finished.

With such a broad redesign of an organization, there were some additional challenges. In the old service model, a technology change could be implemented entirely within a team, without the involvement of outside resources. With the new model, teams depend on each other to perform some of the critical steps that are required in introducing a new technology or configuration.

There was some resistance to change based on the initial perception that teams were losing ownership of their traditional roles. The expansion of some roles, the contraction of others, and the reliance on other teams for delivery were new concepts. Encouraging a "we're all in" commitment from all of the service teams was key in establishing a high level of trust and overcoming some of the initial resistance.


The new organizational structure has demonstrated many benefits in the 12 months since Microsoft IT implemented it. Although there are still some minor changes to be released, the program met its goals. In some cases, results exceeded the defined expectations. The areas that saw the greatest level of improvement were career development, operational efficiency, and service availability.

Career Development

Career development was the primary focus of the design, and consequently, the most improved aspect of the new organization. Benefits across teams include the following:

  • Increased opportunity to own processes
  • Increased opportunity to learn new technologies
  • Additional room for growth into more senior and influential roles
  • A more distributed workload to help ensure that certain roles are not constantly overloaded

Combining disciplines into groups has introduced positive changes for specific roles:

  • Engineers are exposed to new technologies and are provided with senior-level oversight and mentoring.
  • Program managers can focus more on leading larger and more successful programs and less on resource allocation and relationship management.
  • Service managers can focus more on the end-user experience and less on operational oversight.
  • Architects are exposed to a broader scope of technologies and interdependencies.

Operational Efficiency

The new team structure has collectively improved the maturity of the service model. Clear delineation of responsibilities has helped each team improve on its core capabilities and function. Benefits in operational efficiency include the following:

  • Aligned priorities have contributed toward more collective success across the organization.
  • Resource management improvements have increased overall visibility into workloads for each discipline.
  • Defined processes, consistent documentation, and a systematic release process have increased service quality.
  • Improved accountability through process checkpoints and handoffs between the teams has fostered role ownership.
  • Maturation of the operating model has helped to ensure that all services are governed by the same expectations.

Service Availability

Service availability has remained at high levels since the reorganization of the teams. Combining disciplines has helped ensure that resources are always available for outages and disruptions, regardless of the service that is affected. Operational team members are more evenly distributed, reducing the response time for issues.

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