REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 24, 2002 — There are many products out there, but the real value of IT lies in finding the right ones, and putting them together in the right way, to overcome business challenges and build efficiency into business processes.
Microsoft has had some great products through the years — the Windows operating systems, SQL Server, ISA Server and BizTalk Server, to name a few. And now, in test labs on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, the Windows Engineering Solutions and Services group have designed a way to better help enterprise customers implement and integrate their technologies through the use of Microsoft Prescriptive Architecture Guides (PAGs).
The group has brought in engineers and experts from industry leaders such as Compaq, Cisco, EMC and Nortel to design, build, test and optimize Windows-based server configurations to be published in comprehensive architectural and services books for server implementations. The first guides were published this week. Microsoft announced the availability of three new guides for its enterprise customers, guides that go beyond mere blueprints to describe in detail how to implement and maintain a robust, scalable, manageable and reliable Internet data center (IDC) computing infrastructure. The IDC reference architecture guide (RAG) and two prescriptive architecture guides (PAGs) provide tested and proven configurations, together with detailed instructions on how to make it all work, and keep it working.
According to S. Somasegar, the Microsoft vice president overseeing the project, the effort is about providing architectural guidance, as well as support and service, to solve real-world business problems associated with server implementations. And the customer-oriented project is already garnering praise from industry observers, including leading analyst groups.
“This sort of holistic guidance has been a real need in the industry for some time, and Microsoft’s architecture guides are the first comprehensive offering to really address that need,” Somasegar says. “These guides provide real support and instruction in terms of building, implementing, maintaining and operating the datacenter. We are providing prescriptive architecture guidance and configurations that are well tested, and there is also a service offering and a support offering that go with that.”
It’s an evolution of sorts for Microsoft, Somasegar says. Where in the past the company has been concerned primarily with putting out the best possible products, leaving customers to take on the integration exercise, “Today we’re focusing on packaging the tools and services customers need to effectively implement products for a complex business scenario. The highest priority goal in my mind is to build products that work together very well, that stitch together very well, that solve a business problem for our customers.”
The prescriptive architecture guides provide detailed blueprints and instructions for building configurations that include brand-name, industry-leading components. The two IDC PAGs released this week include Compaq hardware and EMC storage components. One uses Cisco networking gear, and the other uses network hardware from Nortel. Each PAG configuration has been built and tested extensively in Somasegar’s Redmond labs, similar to the process undertaken for the release of a new software product.
“We prove each configuration through a set of load-simulation tests, stress tests, capacity tests and security tests,” Somasegar says. “We do some limited beta testing, get feedback on what we are prescribing, then work with customers to do early deployments to get our prescriptive architecture validated. By the time we get to this point, where the PAG becomes available to customers, we know we’re putting out something that works together really well for our customers.”
In contrast, the reference architecture guide (RAG) is a generic blueprint for the datacenter that is, as Somasegar says, “hardware-agnostic.” It’s a basic foundation for building a Windows data center, designed to give customers freedom of choice in building their servers.
“Each business has its own unique problems, and in the IT world, there is no one set of components that people look at or one set of vendors that people go to,” Somasegar says. “Customers need to have the ability to plug and play different components. So we’ve made the RAG as generic as possible, and then with the PAGs we’ve worked with our partners to prove the concept and provide our customers with two instances that we know will work for them.”
According to Somasegar, one of the main benefits of this approach is that any number of custom PAGs can be created from each RAG. “That’s the beauty of this,” he says. “There will be Microsoft-led PAGs and partner-led PAGs. And that process, that dialog, will be a benefit to our customers in helping them fill unique needs, and to us in helping us improve and refine our products and our configurations.”
The team plans to create three more RAGs that, together with accompanying PAGs, can be applied to various customer needs and preferences. In addition to the IDC, there are guides under development for building an enterprise data center, a hosted data center and a departmental data center. The company is actively enlisting industry-leading hardware manufacturers, software vendors and service providers to explore a host of vendor-specific configurations.
“Over time the cast of partners will grow and evolve,” Somasegar says. “We are also working with our premier systems-integrator partners to ensure top-quality implementation services and rapid deployment for our mutual customers.”
That focus aims to improve the customer experience, and as a result is the driving force behind the architecture guides concept. While the guides themselves are available to anyone for free download via the Internet Data Center Web site ( http://www.microsoft.com/systemsarchitecture/ ), the aim is to have the respective sales forces of all the vendors and consultants involved with the guides trained on how to understand, describe and sell the data-center platforms.
“We’re working with these companies both at the engineering level and at the sales-force level,” he says. “Our partners’ sales forces will be trained to sell these data-center platforms just as our own sales force will. In the end, we’ll be able to sit down with a customer and rapidly arrive at a bill of materials. The customer can source those materials however they wish, retain a systems integrator of their choice, if they choose to do so, and implement a platform that they know is going to work, in much less time than if they had started from scratch.”
Indeed, companies stand to gain a lot in terms of cutting down the Request-for- Proposal process and minimizing the risk associated with server implementations, he says. “This is something that a lot of enterprise-level organizations should be pretty excited about. It’s going to provide a lot of business value to enterprise customers, in terms of ease of deployment as well as in the cost of support and maintenance, and we’ve ironed out a lot of the cross-product issues by testing them in a lab environment. So for customers, we’re making it much easier to roll out infrastructure, get up to speed in their environment and solve business problems more quickly, at lower cost and in a way that’s flexible.”