Getting Ahead with Microsoft's Front Runner Program

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2006-02-26 Email Print this article Print

News Analysis: Giving ISVs a competitive edge—whether by getting applications to market faster or whether by helping to spread the word internationally with Microsoft's extensive sales reach—is what the Front Runner program is all about.

What does Microsoft's Front Runner program for SQL Server 2005 mean to channel partners, in concrete terms?

For the first time, Embarcadero Technologies is going to be big in Sao Paolo, big in Asia—big in places it could never reach before with its database management technologies.

For its part, Tenrox is on track to get the next release of its project governance and compliance technology to market a whopping six months sooner than the competition.

"That's what we anticipate," said Randy Urquhart, Tenrox director of alliances and director of product marketing.

"If everybody were to wait for release of 2005 to start analyzing and developing [database] conversions to go to 2005, it would take quite some time—we estimate six months—because of the many significant changes to the [SQL Server 2005] program."

Giving ISVs a competitive edge—whether by getting applications to market faster or whether by helping to spread the word internationally with Microsoft's extensive sales reach—is what the Front Runner program is all about.

Participants must be members of the Microsoft Partner Program to take part in the Front Runner program.

Front Runner participants receive 10 hours of BetaOne Services pre-launch technical support; a VeriTest voucher, worth $800, to take the SQL Server 2005 Platform Test; marketing offerings, including use of the Front Runner stamp and a PR kit; and 200 eligible Front Runner ISVs will receive $5,000 in marketing funds as the cherry on top of it all.

(Microsoft has had ISVs sign up for ISV Royalty Licensing, but since they are still in the process of filling out the required marketing templates, they will receive the $5,000 marketing funds at a later date.)

Embarcadero is the program's first graduate. It announced on Jan. 30 that its ER/Studio 7.0 tool for enterprise modeling and data analysis had earned the Front Runner status, meaning that the application moved through development almost in lockstep with the launch of SQL Server 2005.

"Embarcadero is excited to support SQL Server 2005 because it's a leading platform and a significant leap forward," said Greg Keller, vice president of product management at Embarcadero Technologies, in a statement.

"Achieving Front Runner status enables us to deliver applications to customers within the same timeframe as the launch of SQL Server 2005. As a result of the solution we have developed, we are uniquely positioned to help our customers get the most from their technology investment."

ISVs say that getting a head start on integration with Microsoft's next-generation platform is particularly crucial, given the leaps in technology advancement made by the next-generation SQL Server DBMS.

"Just thinking of it from the reporting perspective," said Randy Urquhart, Tenrox director of alliances and director of product marketing.

"[With SQL Server's Business Intelligence], with all these reporting and OLAP reporting engines built into SQL Server, we can use those in the product we sell. Instead of having to spend time in research and development trying to build our own engine, the SQL program allows us to do that. … The benefits we get from joining [the Front Runner] program is it allows us to stay on top of the emerging technology."

In essence, the Front Runner program allows Tenrox to get ahead of its competition by having a Microsoft-certified release that runs on the 2005 platform.

It got to the certification, of course, by having an early and profound peek into what makes SQL Server 2005 tick.

"What our competition doesn't have, what we have, is advanced knowledge of how SQL Server 2005 works, how we can work with it in our next release, and how we can go to market in our next release, with support for SQL Server 2005," Urquhart said.

Edwin Badalian, a software architect for Tenrox, said that from his point of view, one of the Front Runner program's benefits is definitely the technical support.

"You can ask any kind of questions regarding [SQL Server] 2005," he said. "I you have issues with porting the database, [for example]."

Thus far, Tenrox has only had minor issues with things such as stored procedures, Badalian said. But dealing with even small issues has been eased by the "very good technical support" afforded by the program, he said.

"If there are problems, you hit wasting your time for days trying to figure out what is wrong," Badalian said.

"These people are professionals, they know about SQL architecture, and they have probably hit the same problems we're hitting. That definitely helps."

At this point, Tenrox has gone through with migration of all stored procedures, tables, triggers and so on. Its application now runs on SQL Server 2005. What's left is to completely test the OLAP or Reporting Services capabilities—a task that it plans to finish up in the coming month.

This was the first time Tenrox participated in such a certification program, so Badalian had little point of reference to compare it to other vendors' programs, although he said the experience has been "pretty good" for Tenrox.

Standing out.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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