Q&A: Microsoft’s New “Centro” Infrastructure Solution

REDMOND, Wash., Sept. 6, 2005 — With the gamut of products on the market to serve small businesses and large enterprises, often lost in the shuffle is the midsize business, with 25-500 PCs and usually just a few IT people on staff to keep all aspects of the business running – from phones and fax machines to PCs and servers.

To better serve the more than 1.4 million midsized businesses worldwide, and the IT professionals who keep their technology moving, Microsoft this week announced the development of “Centro” —code name for a new infrastructure solution designed to help midsize businesses save time and money, and allow IT professionals to do more with less.

Steven VanRoekel, Director, Midsize Business Solutions Strategy

“Centro” will bring together Microsoft Windows Server “Longhorn,” next-generation Microsoft Exchange and security technologies, and a new, integrated management experience. As such, “Centro” will be designed to help midsize businesses achieve greater efficiency by simplifying the management and deployment of the company’s infrastructure, while also facilitating greater integration, security and automation of specific tasks.

To discuss the development of “Centro” and what it will mean for midsize customers and the partner channels that serve them, PressPass sat down with Steven VanRoekel, director of midsize business solutions strategy at Microsoft.

PressPass: First, what is the Midsize Business Solutions Strategy group?

VanRoekel: The Midsize Business Solutions team works directly with midsize businesses to understand their unique IT requirements and aspirations. We then look across the products at Microsoft and think about how we can best bring together key technologies to directly address these needs. A great example of this type of work in the past is Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003. A solutions team took a look at Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003 and other technologies and did some thinking about how Microsoft could join these technologies to address the specific needs of the small businesses.

In our case, we’re looking at midsize businesses. Microsoft classifies “midsize” by the number of PCs that a company has – about 25–500. There are about 1.4 million entities worldwide that fit into the 25-500 PC range. So, this is a large number of customers that have been historically underserved by software companies, and our aim is to change that.

PressPass: How do the needs of these midsize companies differ from smaller or larger companies?

VanRoekel: When you cross that line at about 50 PCs and start getting into these core midsize companies, a couple things happen. One is that they have dedicated IT people. They’ve got an IT person on staff that actually manages the systems in place. They have an IT budget, so they’ve allocated money to purchase technologies such as desktop PCs, servers, and networking equipment.

But what’s unique about midsize businesses, compared to an enterprise customer, is that the IT staff tends to have very limited resources in terms of time, money and personnel. These companies tend to have one or two people that not only manage the server infrastructure, but also the desktops or the fax machines and pretty much anything with a plug or a wire.

Being so resource constrained, they have difficulty managing across these different systems, but they have the same requirements as an enterprise customer. These people are stretched thin because they have to perform tasks across all the technologies with which they are dealing. Because of this, they tend to be very reactive, and they don’t get to spend a lot of time focusing on how to move the company’s IT forward.

The other aspect is that midsize business budgets are typically very limited. Owners of these companies tend to view technology investment in a very ad-hoc way. Instead of thinking about how to invest for the long term in technology and how it can actually add to the success of their company, they think about using technology to address a need that they have today, and how much it will cost, versus how much it could save. All these factors conspire to make the midsize business segment a challenge for IT.

PressPass: How will “Centro” help address those challenges?

VanRoekel: We want to make it easier for our midsize customers to manage these technologies, and make the whole solution very easy to consume, easy to acquire, at a very attractive price. And that, in essence is what “Centro” really is.

“Centro” is the code name for an integrated IT infrastructure solution that is built on top of the Windows Server “Longhorn” technologies. It will include a next-generation e-mail system, next-generation management experience, plus next-generation security technologies, brought together into a single solution specifically designed for the IT professional in midsize businesses.

Instead of having to manage, install and maintain each individual product or technology, we’re bringing the technologies together into a single solution. So it’s integrated, which makes it much easier to install and maintain, as well as creating a new management experience. Basically, things that take hours, if not days, today, we’re going to take down to being very simple and easy to use in this integrated solution. This will really help shift IT professionals from their reactive life today to being proactive in the future, giving them more time to focus on taking their IT forward and maximizing business value.

PressPass: So it makes life easier for customers. How about partners in the sales channel?

VanRoekel: It will benefit industry partners in a couple of ways. F, partners face that same challenge with customers above that 50-computer line, where suddenly they have a variety of technology needs. Instead of offering one product, they’re selling five or six different products, talking to the customer about each of those individually and then having to bring them together.

Offering Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 is relatively easy today, because partners get to go in and say here’s one solution from Microsoft that will meet your needs, it’s built specifically for you and it’s designed in such a way that you can get great benefits almost immediately. What partners have really wanted for their midsize business customers is the same thing – something that they can wrap their arms around and say here is what Microsoft recommends, designed specifically for you, and it’s going to bring you great business and IT benefits. It’s an easier sales model.

You may recall that we recently announced the Windows Server System Midsize Business Promotion at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in July — this is intended to bring an immediate solution to the midsize market by providing customers with an opportunity to obtain products together for a discount, and partners with the chance to offer one product solution.

For partners who also offer systems management to their customers, “Centro” will include a new management experience that will allow partners to connect to the system, monitor it, and help maintain it regularly.

PressPass: How have partners and customers been involved in the development of “Centro”?

VanRoekel: At the outset of the design of this solution, really from the original concept phase, we’ve involved customers and partners very directly into the design and considerations of the solution itself. So we’ve gathered feedback and bounced ideas off them to get a real handle on things we can to do make their lives better, and we’re designing that into “Centro” from the outset. We know this is critical and we want to get it right.

To make this a more formal process going forward, we also have plans to invite customers and partners to be a part of customer and partner advisory boards, which will provide regular feedback on “Centro”.

PressPass: Since it was announced in July, how has the response been from customers and partners so far on Microsoft’s Windows Server System Midsize Business Promotion?

VanRoekel: It’s super early in the process, but the reception worldwide has exceeded our expectations in a lot of ways. Giving customers this set of technologies in an easy-to-consume and well-priced solution is something they’ve been happy with and very receptive to. From the partner side, they are excited about having one group to sell to the market. For customers, there is peace of mind in knowing that this is a set of technologies that Microsoft recommends from an infrastructure standpoint, and we’re making it very easy to consume and purchase, at a an attractive price. We’ve seen worldwide reception from the promotion and sales are reflecting that there is an immediate need in the market.

PressPass: When will customers be able to obtain “Centro”?

VanRoekel: We’re just beginning to develop this solution, but we’re aiming to make “Centro” available to customers soon after Windows Server “Longhorn” is available. And of course, as with all other products, there will be certain checkpoints where we’ll absolutely be providing information broadly to our customers, partners and the industry.

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