REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 26, 2001 — Tracking information on 250,000 students, processing US$2.5 billion in financial transactions and handling 1 million salary payments each year recently got easier for TIES, a St. Paul, Minn.-based consortium of 36 school districts.
In April, TIES, which has been delivering technology solutions to educators for more than 30 years, switched to Microsoft’s Windows Datacenter Server and Unisys ES7000 to help ease administration workloads, increase access to TIES services and cut costs.
“Our primary motivation in shifting from a mainframe-based environment to a Windows-based one was to reduce the total cost of ownership,” explains Lee Whitcraft, co-executive director of TIES. “We believe that we can reduce our long-term hardware, software and maintenance costs by running our core business by using the Windows Datacenter Program.”
Whitcraft calls the streamlining measure a success after five months. More and more organizations are following in TIES footsteps by taking part in the Windows Datacenter Program, which marks its one-year anniversary today. Technology industry leaders such as Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Unisys have teamed with Microsoft in the past 12 months to provide enterprise customers with cutting-edge technology and comprehensive alternatives to costly proprietary systems. The benefits include reliability, scalability and supportability.
“When we launched a year ago, we knew we needed more than technology,” explains Bob Ellsworth, Microsoft’s lead product manager for Windows .NET Server Solutions group and the person responsible for the Windows Datacenter Program and Microsoft Windows 2000 Datacenter Server product. “We knew we needed more than a phenomenal operating system. For a successful Datacenter program, we needed a combination of people, process and technology. It’s this impressive combination of hardware partners, storage vendors and the software providers that allows us to offer solutions to the enterprise space. When you’re deploying a business-critical application, you’ve got to have very high levels of support.”
The Windows Datacenter Program addresses the demanding requirements of enterprise customers who require reliable software for high-traffic networks and the ability to support a large number of applications and users on fewer servers. The program includes a joint support team, coupling Microsoft resources with those of server-hardware vendors for the ease of one-stop guidance, Ellsworth says.
“Nobody likes a system crash, and Microsoft and its partners are going to great lengths to ensure a smooth and reliable operation,” Ellsworth says. “Mission-critical customers can’t be rebooting all the time or holding for someone on a 1-800 number. We know those types of hassles and delays just don’t make good business sense for anyone. That’s why we have studied extensively the reasons operating systems go down. And that’s how the extensive stress test came into being.”
Testing Simulates a Year’s Workload at 99.999 percent
Everything a vendor places on a Windows Datacenter Server-based system undergoes rigorous testing and certification before acceptance in the Datacenter Program. New servers get a 14-day series of tests designed to simulate one year of actual corporate activity.
“Enterprise customers had been conducting comprehensive pre-deployment testing for themselves for many years,” says Robin Hensley, Compaq’s Datacenter Program director. “Compaq and Microsoft are providing value on Datacenter platforms by delivering a rapidly deployable, highly available, integrated solution that customers can implement with confidence for their mission-critical business operations.”
The Windows Datacenter Program requires each hardware provider to provide 99.9 percent guaranteed system availability. The program provides 24-7 support by each hardware vendor, who routes problems to the joint support team staffed by both hardware vendor and Microsoft representatives.
The furniture maker La-Z-Boy came on board the Windows Datacenter Program in August. The firm’s goal is to better handle larger workloads without increasing the administrative complexities and costs of deploying a cluster of new servers.
“In keeping up with increasing demands on our IT resources, we wanted to avoid adding server after server to our growing infrastructure,” says Gary Clark, director of La-Z-Boy’s corporate IT services. “We selected the Unisys ES7000 to help manage our rapidly increasing server population and to reduce our administration costs and lower our resource requirements. With its tight Windows 2000 Datacenter Server integration and powerful partitioning abilities, the ES7000 allows us to consolidate intensive workloads and maintain a more granular level of control over both the hardware and software environments. The joint Unisys/Microsoft support structure and the strong relationship that Unisys maintains with Microsoft, and the development of the Windows 2000 Datacenter product, was a key selection criteria for us.”
FreeMarkets, a business-to-business e-marketplace, chose the Windows Datacenter Program on Compaq platforms over proprietary systems to ensure its global e-marketplace would scale up and out, in addition to boosting its system uptime from 99.9 percent to 99.999 percent, according to Bill Blair, senior vice president and CTO. As a result, FreeMarkets says buyers and suppliers are assured the system won’t fail, and the company anticipates a six-month payback on investment.
Microsoft’s Ellsworth reports the number of Windows Datacenter Program customers has increased approximately 50 percent each quarter in the last year.
“Awareness is ever-increasing in terms of the Datacenter product. As we’ve proven the technology, people are saying they like the Datacenter features, like a high level of availability and high level of support,” says Mark Feverston, vice president of program management enterprise servers for Unisys. “And as time moves on, more and more people are aware of those offerings and are demanding those things.”
Ellsworth says customers can look for general improvements to the overall Datacenter customer-support experience.
“In the year to come, Microsoft and its ever-expanding list of partners will continue to serve customers asking for choice and flexibility,” Ellsworth says. “We believe no one should be locked into expensive, proprietary systems to get acceptable levels of reliability. Our efforts to meet those goals continue to evolve and expand.”