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This Could Be a Team Foundation Server Kind of Week

Monday, September 11, 2006

A few weeks ago, the company I'm working with made an acquisition, thus becoming a slightly bigger, more distributed company. The acquisition started a chain of events that ultimately resulted in me pitching Team Foundation Server (TFS) to a group of executives and developers. The pitch was successful - at least I've been told the licenses can be purchased this week. It was an interesting (and sometimes frustrating) experience getting to this point….

The acquisition forced a reevaluation of existing tools and processes. With the exception of Visual Studio and SQL Server, all the tools used for product development are a hodgepodge of free software and custom-built applications. The build engine, for example, is a Windows service I wrote years ago, and before I heard of a tool called NAnt. Only two people on the planet are willing to write XML scripts for my build engine - which is one problem.

A solution would be to replace my build engine with NAnt, but that only solves one of the problems. Technologies like Sharepoint only get a team so far in tracking issues, projects, bugs, and customer requirements. I experimented with a trail version of TFS and decided its features, and the tight integration with Visual Studio, would be a great boon to the team's productivity.

I was also encouraged by TFS customizations I've seen. For example, take a look at Mitch Denny's "Yesterday's Weather" post.

The next step was to get a ballpark figure for licensing. I could float this figure around and see if the approach was tenable…

If you ask Microsoft how to buy Team Foundation Server, they will tell you to contact an authorized reseller, or a Microsoft partner. Well, this company is a Microsoft partner. I logged into the partner website to find information, but came up empty, so I contacted the partner program directly. I would have had more success calling the psychic hotline and asking for my tarot reading, because the people I talked to in the partner program were clueless. The experience only furthered my belief that the partner program is the dimwitted step-cousin of the marketing department.

Still trying to get an approximate cost for the retooling, I started searching reseller websites.

I thought my head was going to explode.

It turned out there were too many permutations of SKUs and licenses to make this a job I wanted to do. I read the "Software Assurance" FAQ. I looked to see what "Microsoft Open License" was. All the while, I was also trying to judge if the price I was seeing was an upgrade, or a renewal, or included an MSDN subscription, or was actually the U.S. dollar figure that resembled the price we would pay. The pain of searching through item descriptions was excruciating, so I gave up.

In the end, I contacted a reseller directly (CDW, to be exact), and talked to a sales rep. The guy was fantastic, although it still took some time to figure out the exact part numbers.

The Demo
The quotes I received for licensing met a favorable response, but no one else had seen TFS, so they were still a little edgy. I took the TFS Virtual PC image available to MSDN subscribers and worked up a 30-minute presentation on Team System. The execs liked the reports, work item visibility, and integration with Excel and Project. Developers liked the features, too - like how a completed work item contains a link to its changeset.

There is still some concern over how much administration TFS will require. Another risk is the future of TFS, which is unclear to me. Will future versions hike up the price? Will there be backward compatibility? Despite these unknowns, I think TFS is a great choice for a relatively small company. Nothing else offers this range of features in this price range.