Microsoft tempts data centre customers

Working to better compete in the data centre market against entrenched Unix and mainframe systems, Microsoft Corp. has launched a program to help customers build standard and tested configurations of its Windows 2000 operating system for data centres.

The Microsoft Systems Architecture (MSA) program, announced Wednesday with partners including Dell Computer Corp., Nortel Networks Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and storage vendor EMC Corp., is comparable to a cookbook for building data centres based on different scenarios. The program includes documentation about preconfigured systems that have been lab-tested by Microsoft and its hardware, software and networking partners.

For one, Microsoft said the program will reduce the cost for customers that build a Windows 2000-based data centre system from scratch. The MSA will also provide customers with a consistent development environment so that they can buy and build data-centre applications that follow uniform parameters, Don Thompson, product manager for the .NET Product Management Group., said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Customers who use MSA to build data centres will have access to reference material, which the Redmond, Washington, company is calling prescriptive architecture guides. The first guide that will be available through the program describes in detail how to build an Internet data centre.

The new program's goal is to entice customers to use the Windows 2000 operating system in place of more traditional Unix and mainframe operating systems from companies such as IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Microsoft is also battling for market share against data centre configurations based on low-cost servers running the Linux operating system.

The company has been slow to make inroads in the data centre market because its high-end operating system software is perceived as being complex and difficult to implement with hardware and networking products from other vendors, according to Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research at IDC.

"They are trying to move up the food chain to lower volume, higher value solutions," Kusnetzky said, pointing out that the data centre market requires a different sales strategy than the one Microsoft uses to sell Windows systems for low-end servers and PCs. "Customers purchasing these types of solutions usually have very different expectations."

He did note that vendors and systems integrators have tried similar programs that offered standard, pretested configurations and have run into problems, because often customers have existing infrastructure that doesn't mesh with the recommended configurations. "It is very likely that there will be few installations that will match the guidelines," Kusnetzky said.

One upside is that "once customers see a configuration that is known to work and known to be supportable," they may feel more comfortable rolling out similarly configured systems, he said.

Don Swatik, vice president of alliances and information sciences at EMC, noted similar benefits to the program during the conference call. "It's not just reducing the time for deployment, but following these guidelines is also significantly going to reduce the risk," he said.

Swatik noted that customers will have a documented shopping list to follow when purchasing hardware and software for a data centre. "Following these guidelines, cost will be much more controlled," he said. "Customers will already know the cost, they will know the time it takes to deploy a system, and they will minimize the risks of bringing this to market."

Initial customers that are making use of documented implementations of the Internet data centre include Lego.com, the online arm of Lego Co.; the Mobile Business Solutions unit at T-Mobile International AG, a division of Deutsche Telekom AG; online U.S. mortgage company IndyMac Bank Inc.; and LearningStation.com, an online content-delivery service provider for the education market.

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