Microsoft Unveils State-of-the-Art Partner Solutions Center

MPSC Senior Group Mgr. Michael Sandoval stands at the entry to the new MPSC on Microsoft’s main campus.

REDMOND, Wash., March 13, 2000 — The fusion of computing with communications services has raised customers’ expectations about what they can get from technology. Consumers and businesses of all types and sizes are demanding more in the way of new services such as wireless Internet access, interactive TV and Web-hosted applications. Wireless Internet access, for example, has only recently become a reality, yet an estimated 15 million wireless subscribers will be using their cell phones to access the Web by the end of the year, according to the Yankee Group, a Boston-based consulting firm.

Keeping up with the demand for these and other new services is a formidable challenge for telecommunications carriers, Internet service providers, application services providers and cable operators. While rapid deployment is absolutely critical to the success of these network service providers, many of these solutions and services are extremely complex, involving multiple platforms and applications from a host of different vendors, which often makes it next to impossible to get them out the door quickly.

“Time to market is a significant business challenge in this industry,”
said Bob Cruickshank, vice president of systems and network analysis at Road Runner, a high-speed Internet access company based in Herndon, Va.
“The complexity of these new services can really slow you down. You have to figure out which vendors to work with, how to package the service and how to pull together all the operational components.”

As part of its commitment to help network service providers maintain their edge in an increasingly competitive industry, Microsoft today unveiled the new and expanded Microsoft Partner Solutions Center (MPSC). With an extensive collection of Microsoft resources and the expertise and equipment of more than 40 participating technology partners in one location, the MPSC provides the kind of environment that is crucial for network service providers to build and test secure, end-to-end network solutions that can be quickly customized and rolled out to their customers.

Now housed in a state-of-the-art, 21,000 square-foot facility, the MPSC maintains the same charter it adopted in 1997 — to help partners develop specific end-to-end network solutions. The new facility takes that mission a step further by helping partners take full advantage of new business opportunities, such as Web-based application hosting, voiceover IP, wireless Internet access, e-commerce and numerous other areas.

Complete Solutions You Can Touch and Feel

When the CEOs, CTOs, CIOs and vice presidents of network service companies tour the facility, they are greeted immediately by a large video wall that uses streaming media to convey what the center is all about. The wall reveals glimpses of the facility and features discussions with Microsoft technology partners that illustrate how the solution center enables the development and deployment of comprehensive solutions, and how the MPSC process drastically reduces business risk and time-to-market for these new services.

Alongside the video wall and throughout the facility, interactive kiosks provide both the consumer perspective and the service provider perspective of what the center is all about — viewers can hold and use cell phones and other handheld devices to get a feel for what kind of solutions the MPSC helps to design, test and deploy. There is also a “living room” that features a hands-on glimpse of the services being tested inside the facility. Wired with DSL technology, cable modems and other home devices, the living room gives visitors a feel for the variety of services enabled by MPSC efforts, such as the ability to stream media through a PC or television, or the ability to send and receive email from a cell phone.

The long corridors of the MPSC, punctuated by interactive exhibits and demos, are designed to showcase the data centers that are the guts of the facility. Tall glass viewing windows allow visitors to watch customers as they work with experts from Microsoft and other technology companies to develop complete solutions in record time. Nothing is left to the imagination — visitors are able to see the whole solution in progress, including the collaboration, as well as the actual fiber optics, cable trays, command centers and workstations that make up the various solutions.

“The most exciting thing about this facility is that it’s the only place where multiple vendors concentrate their efforts, including their resources, people, equipment, software and hardware, to develop end-to-end solutions, from the data center all the way out to the consumer device,”
said Michael Sandoval, manager of the MPSC.
“And the solutions are real. Customers can see them, touch them, and follow the wires down the hall right to the servers.”

Partner Involvement Makes MPSC the First Center of Its Kind

In 1999 alone, more than 4,000 executives toured the MPSC. Sandoval expects that number to increase significantly now that the new facility has opened. For those who return for a repeat performance, they’re likely to see a dramatically transformed MPSC.

First launched as a one-room facility in 1997, the MPSC was inspired by a customer need to touch the equipment and build out prototypes alongside Microsoft experts. But from the very beginning, Microsoft was committed to approaching the solutions from a comprehensive systems perspective, which meant bringing together the combined expertise, resources, best-of-breed products and services of Microsoft as well as its technology partners.

As the program evolved, Microsoft added independent software and hardware vendors to its mix of technology partners, followed later by systems integrators, backbone providers and access providers. As a result, the MPSC now includes an array of platforms and equipment needed to help develop and test world-class carrier solutions, including wireless services, TV services, and multiple application-hosting solutions.

Road Runner, for example, turned to MPSC last year to get help in designing and deploying a broadband data center in New York City. The company runs a high-speed online service delivered to the PC over the cable television infrastructure. Already a Microsoft technology partner and customer, Road Runner knew it could get the help it needed at the MPSC to design, develop and implement the service quickly.

The company sent a team of people who would be operating Road Runner’s new data center to the MPSC for four weeks’ training. Named Road Runner University, the data center boot camp enabled the staff to hit the ground running when they got back to New York. As a result, Road Runner was able to design, install and deploy the broadband service within 5 months. According to Cruickshank, it would have taken a lot longer to deploy the service without the help of the MPSC.

The MPSC environment allows companies to come together and very quickly deploy and learn about a solution so that they can go off and do it on their own. An incubator-like environment such as this, where you can get up to speed quickly and be close to the experts, is a tremendous strategic advantage,”
Cruickshank said.

Sandoval said customers often come to the center and tell him they’ve been told it will take a year or more to pull together the right mix of partners to build their data centers, yet they need to launch these solutions as soon as possible.

“Most of our deployments happen within a few months rather than the usual eight months or more,”
Sandoval said.
“We ensure by the weight of our partners that the best minds are involved in this think-tank environment, putting together highly scalable and reliable end-to-end solutions.”

Unprecedented Demand: No End in Sight

It turns out that many other network service providers also believe in the strategic advantage MPSC has to offer. Since 1997, the center has helped nearly 500 network service providers design, develop, test and integrate the resources needed to create end-to-end solutions.

In the first year alone, the number of customers who worked with the MPSC far exceeded expectations, and the center has been expanding ever since. What began as a 6,700 square-foot facility in 1997 expanded to 12,000 square feet and then 15,000 square feet in 1998. The new MPSC facility that is opening this week is much larger — 21,000 square feet of space dedicated to the collaboration between Microsoft, its technology partners and their joint customers.

Located on the Microsoft campus, the new MPSC includes areas such as a high-availability lab, expanded workshop capacity, new network services and specialty training rooms. One of the unique aspects of the center is that it is the only facility that operates outside of Microsoft’s network firewall and has OC3 access to the Internet. This enables the MPSC to run live pilots out of the facility for its customers.

Today, more than 40 leading original equipment manufacturers, systems integrators, independent software vendors, independent hardware providers, and Internet service providers are participating in the MPSC.

“The new MPSC enables customers to conveniently test several cutting-edge technologies all under one roof,” said Jason Dudek, Alliance Manager at American Power Conversion (APC), a West Kingston, R.I., manufacturer of power protection equipment and a Microsoft technology partner. “From APC’s perspective, it enables us to work on joint customer engagements with Microsoft and other Microsoft partners allowing us to get closer to the customers to better understand the challenges they face in building out large-scale networks. Working directly with the customers and the system providers from the start also allows us to immediately identify the right power protection solutions needed to enhance the availability of the customer’s key business processes.”

As consumers and businesses continue to demand more in the way of new technology solutions, and as service providers increasingly turn to the MPSC for help in bringing those services to fruition as quickly as possible, it seems it will be only a matter of time before Microsoft and its technology partners begin setting their sights on an even bigger and better facility to house those efforts.

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