Q&A: Enterprise Customers Praise the Integrated Microsoft Application Platform

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 7, 2005 – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today kicked off the “Ready to Launch Tour 2005” with a keynote speech announcing three new product releases that provide key benefits for enterprise customers: Microsoft SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006.

Over the next few months, the tour will visit 200 cities in 90 countries, where Microsoft officials will meet with customers to demonstrate how the tight integration of and synergy between these three new products optimally supports mission-critical applications and provides core functionality encompassed in the Microsoft application platform. Prior to the launch event, PressPass caught up with Ilya Bukshteyn, Microsoft director of communications for SQL Server, to discuss how these new application platform offerings enable organizations to gain better business insight and deliver faster results by easily connecting people, processes and information.

Bukshteyn was joined by representatives from three Microsoft enterprise customers who implemented pre-release versions of SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005, and BizTalk 2006, and were eager to share their successful experiences with these new products:

  • Tom Buse, Project Manager, Siemens IT Operations. Siemens is one of the world’s leading electrical engineering and electronics companies, with 2004 sales of more than US$91 billion. The IT Operations group provides comprehensive IT services for all 13 of Siemens’ operating companies as well as more than 20 external customers worldwide.

  • David Cameron, Head of Software Development, HMV. HMV is the largest music retailer in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with more than 200 stores and a successful online company store. HMV also operates in Canada, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In the U.K., HMV has 25 percent of the market share for audio and DVD sales, with annual revenues of approximately US$1.77 billion.

  • John Henninger, IT Director, Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Fidelity National Information Services a leading provider of core financial institution processing, mortgage loan processing and related information products and outsourcing services to financial institutions, mortgage lenders and real estate professionals. Its parent company, Fidelity National Financial, is ranked number 261 on the Fortune 500 and had annual revenues of nearly US$8.3 billion in 2004.

PressPass: What are the specific business needs that Microsoft addresses with the launch of SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005, and BizTalk Server 2006?

Bukshteyn: These three products expand the Microsoft application platform into more mission-critical applications, and that is driven by our goal of meeting customer needs. In the past, “mission-critical” meant the availability of certain data and how many users an application could support. And it still does. But today’s companies are really pushing the envelope on the meaning of mission-critical. Now it means high performance, on-demand availability anywhere in the world, developer agility to respond to changing markets and customer expectations, and the ability to manage business processes more efficiently. SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 all work together to help companies meet these increasingly complex demands.

Cameron: That’s certainly true for HMV. Once we decided to expand into the online digital market, we wanted to be up and running in a few months. And any time a customer wants to download music or a video, our service has to be available.

Buse: We have all experienced the pressure that market demands can create. At Siemens, our goal is to streamline the business processes of IT, but that means much more than getting a machine up and running or creating a new account. We have to go much further than that because we offer a portfolio of services that customers choose from, and within those choices are service level agreements (SLAs) that promise a level of quality. We measure our SLAs all the time so we can demonstrate to our customers that we are providing the level of quality they expect. Being able to automate those processes is extremely important to us.

Henninger: At Fidelity National Information Services, our mission-critical needs focus on standardizing multiple plant platforms and applications, which span mainframe, AS400, and Windows-based environments into a single Windows server-based environment. We believe that standardizing the platform and upgrading our technology will help us increase our efficiency while it reduces the costs of maintenance and expansion.

PressPass: Let’s talk about some of the benefits you see in these new products. How has Visual Studio 2005 helped you meet your company’s mission-critical demands?

Buse: Visual Studio 2005 is absolutely crucial to our operation because we use XML code to generate the .NET-based solutions that are necessary for process orchestration. Visual Studio is one of the pieces in the chain that allows us to make these predefined code generators graphically available to our developers, and that increases their productivity.

Cameron: HMV was a Java-based software house, so Windows technology was new to us. We relied on Microsoft to help us determine what we should be using, and how to make the new technology work with our existing Java-based technology. We needed something built, and Microsoft recommended Visual Studio 2005 with ASP.NET 2.0, running on SQL Server 2005. This solution is working very well.

Another benefit we’ve seen already is increased developer productivity. I can’t compare our experience with previous versions, but we began this project in January 2005 and we launched it in September 2005. We’re very pleased with how it is working in so short a time, and that speaks for itself.

PressPass: How has SQL Server 2005 changed from the earlier version of the product, and what benefits does it offer now?

Bukshteyn: SQL Server 2005 includes new functionality called SQL Server Integration Services, which replaces Data Transformation Services in SQL Server 2000. Integration Services allows customers to connect multiple heterogeneous data sources, take data from those sources, and transform it in very sophisticated ways. An example of this has been used to provide rapid help to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Let’s say Fred Smith walks into a shelter looking for other Smiths, including his sister, Sally. She may be listed as “S. Smith” or “Sally Smith,” so special features like Fuzzy Grouping and Fuzzy Lookup transformation are used to make potential matches with a certain degree of probability. This type of advanced capability has been built into SQL Server 2005 Integration Services.

Henninger: We like SQL Server Integration Services because it reduces the time it has taken us to develop conversion and batch upload functionality by 50 percent, and it will enhance our manageability of batch upload going forward. We also found that the technologies of table partitioning and XML data types have simplified our database schema and improved our ability to manage country-specific data.

Bukshteyn: The ability to extract, transform and load a very large volume of data very quickly with SQL Server Integration Services, which a lot of our competitors charge extra for, is integrated into the product.

Cameron: We like the scalability and reliability of SQL Server 2005. Like any e-commerce business, we have peaks and lows, and our peak time is the evening, when people are home and want to download music. We have engineers on call but we don’t keep full-time staff overnight, so server reliability, and automatic messaging and alerting are important. We had a beta launch in August 2005, and we went live in early September. Despite the short time to market, we haven’t experienced any problems.

Henninger: We have also seen good reliability with SQL Server 2005. Many of our plant databases were on SQL Server 2000, and there have been no backward compatibility issues in our research and development with SQL Server 2005. The big improvements we foresee are with new technologies: integrated .Net support, XML data types, and table partitioning are welcome additions, and SQL Server Integration Services position us well for data conversions and future upgrades.

Buse: So SQL Server 2005 is easier to use, it costs less, and you can do more with it.

Bukshteyn: I couldn’t have said that better myself.

PressPass: Let’s talk about how Siemens uses BizTalk Server 2006. What’s new, and how does BizTalk integrate with Visual Studio and SQL Server to improve your IT management?

Buse: We installed BizTalk Server 2006 as the core of our service delivery concept and we use it to drive our entire business solution. When a customer orders a service, BizTalk manages all the steps that are necessary to get the service set up.

We appreciate the new 64-bit support for SQL Server and BizTalk, which allows us to install larger RAM for better performance. It’s very important for us to be able to extend our capabilities.

Deployment is much easier and faster with BizTalk Server 2006. With BizTalk Server 2004 it took 30 minutes or more to get an orchestration deployed in our production environment. We wrote some scripts to help with this, but in general it was a very manual process. With Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006, the ability to deploy orchestrations and applications is much better, more optimized, and more efficient. Our deployment speed dropped to just a few minutes, an 83-percent gain in productivity.

Bukshteyn: Siemens’ use of BizTalk Server 2006 is a great example of how business process automation is becoming mission-critical.

PressPass: As you installed the pre-release versions of these products, what kind of support did you receive from Microsoft?

Buse: From day one, we had the best support from Microsoft. They gave us access to the solution, which helped us to understand the application and get up and running more quickly. We were able to understand the philosophy of the product and how to use it correctly.

Cameron: We traveled the U.S. for a year and a half, looking at various technology options. We talked to a lot of companies in the marketplace and we decided that Microsoft was the company we should be working with in this arena. We have music now, and we are looking at video and games in the future. We sat down with Microsoft, explained what we wanted to do, and together we developed our digital service.

PressPass: You’ve all made it pretty clear that Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 work well together. What are the benefits of an integrated application platform?

Henninger: We started with multiple plant platforms and applications which span mainframe, AS400, and windows environments. Standardizing on the Window Server platform and modernizing our technology will provide increased efficiency along with cost reductions for our maintenance and expansion efforts.

We get tremendous benefits from .NET and SQL Server 2005 integration by having our existing C# programmers compile their knowledge and methods into an object that will run server-side, and that can be called from the database engine. As an example, we were able to quickly port legacy name search logic and put it into a .dll format that the database can access faster. Standardizing on one platform enables Fidelity Information Services to deliver new products and services to our customer more quickly.

Bukshteyn: We’re hearing more of this from our customers. The demand for business intelligence and reporting—which in the past would have not been mission-critical—has increased as companies need more information, faster.

Cameron: Microsoft’s integrated platform was a key factor in our decision process. We now have a solution in which all the components work together extremely well, and they also integrate with our existing infrastructure. That’s extremely important to us. We had never used Microsoft technology within our corporate strategic sphere, and it integrates well with Web services and other technology that we already use. For us, this is one of greatest benefits of Microsoft’s integrated platform.

Buse: There are so many areas of our company where we use SQL Server 2005, and Visual Studio 2005 is heavily used by our developers, so we are very familiar with this Microsoft technology. Integrating BizTalk Server 2006, for us, became the link between these two products, and we expect that will continue in the future.

PressPass: It sounds like your companies have had positive experiences with these new Microsoft products. How has this success influenced your future plans?

Henninger: Now that Fidelity National Information Services is standardized on the Windows Server-based platform, we plan to migrate to Visual Studio 2005 after the first of the year and we are looking forward to increased developer productivity. The integrated platform that Microsoft offers helps us to reduce our costs while enabling the delivery of new products and services. This will help us stay ahead of the competition.

Cameron: I would add that we don’t want to reengineer this architecture in six months. The ability to add extra services or upgrade memory is immensely important, not just to provide optimum service for our customers, but from a cost standpoint to our company.

With Microsoft technology we were able to get to market very quickly, and the integration of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 gives our developers increased productivity, which in turn gives us flexibility. We want to expand our solution into other content areas such as books, games and video, and Microsoft technology gives us the confidence to believe we can evolve those applications very quickly.

Buse: We have customers all over the world, and we have the challenge of providing information in different time zones. This puts pressure on our system to perform. Clustering and load balancing are part of our daily business here at Siemens, so the scalability and reliability of these Microsoft products are very important to us. We will continue to build on the high availability of Microsoft architecture to make sure our customers get the highest level of performance.

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