Microsoft Looks to New Partners to Drive HPC, Security Offerings

By Peter Galli  |  Print this article Print


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The Redmond-based software giant is late to market with some of its latest offerings and is looking to new partners, who are already successful in those markets, even if that success was achieved on competitor platforms like Linux, to drive adoption.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles that examines Microsoft's strategy of gaining market share and driving new solutions to market through its partner base.

Microsoft is aggressively reaching out to established, successful players in the High Performance Computing and security spaces—markets that are new to it and which it is entering late—in the hope that they will become partners and drive the adoption of its new software products into those nascent markets.

But the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker, which released its Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 product to manufacturing in June, with broad availability expected in August, is late to this market, which has long been dominated by Linux-based solutions.

As such, it is looking to sign up a range of new partners, both within and outside the United States, who are already successful in the new markets it is trying to conquer—even if that success was achieved on competitor platforms, such as Linux.

Click here to read more about the release of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 to manufacturing.

Part of this process is to invite some 320 successful organizations that are not yet Microsoft partners, to attend this year's annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston from July 11 to July 14.

They also attended an all-day event, known as the Partnering Executive Summit—held on July 10 this year—prior to the start of its main partner conference, designed to show them what is involved in being a Microsoft partner.

Microsoft picks up all of the travel and business costs associated with bringing these potential partners to the show.

Click here to read more about how Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to woo new partners.

Two potential Microsoft partners—John Taylor, the CTO for Streamline Computing, and Graham Jones, the chief operating officer for Integralis—spoke to eWEEK from Europe before heading to the summit, about their businesses, why they were interested in partnering with Microsoft, and what they wanted to hear at the summit this week.

Streamline Computing, headquartered in London, which has been operating for six years delivering Linux cluster solutions, is riding the wave of the massive increase in clustering to deliver high performance computing, Taylor said.

Next Page: Tailoring to needs.

Streamline had started off delivering Red Hat-based solutions, but had chosen Novell's SuSE as its distribution of choice because it was better tailored to the company's specific needs.

"It offered us, at a particular time, better performance in SMP, multicore capabilities on some of the server technology. Some 90 percent of the clusters we now deliver are on SuSE with the rest on Red Hat or Red Hat migrating to SuSE," he said.

Click here to read more about Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.

Streamline had delivered some 300 cluster solutions over the past six years, ranging from the very small to large, even supplying one of the top 100 Linux clusters at one point.

"If you look at how high performance clusters are put together, there are a number of choices you can make, not only in terms of the operating system running on each of the servers, but also what the HPC stack on top of that that made the set of components appear like a single system," he said.

"That is a very fragmented supply chain in the sense that there is so much choice, and where we have been successful is collapsing that fragmented supply chain into something that is coherent, so that we can deliver and support it: a known entity that is well tested in the field," Taylor said.

Streamline can now deliver clusters that "hit the ground running," and this enables it to provide well supported and managed systems to small to midsize corporations and to large enterprises so that they can do their supercomputing on Linux cluster technology.

One of the attractive elements of Microsoft Compute Cluster Server offering to the user base was the fact that the self-consistency was expressed from the operating system upwards, and there were not that many alternatives to it.

To listen to more from Microsoft's Partner Conference, click here.

"In a sense that essentially beats a path through this fragmented supply chain. But, the end user, in assessing the total cost of ownership, needs to be able to determine what the performance is that he is likely to get and what the hidden costs are in supporting their cluster over three years," he said.

Streamline's user base also feels that Microsoft's offering looks disruptive and is tailored to a sweet spot of the market, and they are starting to ask the company to engage with them around this, by first providing systems that are dual-boot capable.

As such, Streamline has already started delivering the hardware that allows its customers to install Microsoft's Compute Cluster Server software.

"We are beginning to see expressions of interest from the market in looking at cluster solutions built around Microsoft rather than around Linux," he said.

With regard to becoming a Microsoft partner, Taylor said Microsoft had approached Streamline some time back "in stealth mode" prior to its entry into the HPC market.

Microsoft's solution is a good move as it now provides another alternative in that space.

"I remember 10 to 15 years ago when people were saying 'Linux over my dead body,' and now I see people handling their mission-critical businesses off that. Microsoft brings a relatively homogeneous environment and is targeted at a sweet spot in the market that provides a very real alternative," he said.

Click here to read more about the use of open-source technology in Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003.

Streamline has, in principle, decided it wants to be a Microsoft partner but is aware that the HPC space is still a market in its infancy for the Redmond software maker, Taylor said.

With regard to what he was hoping to hear at the one-day Summit on July 10, Taylor said he wants to hear a lot more about supported applications that would allow it to address some of the needs of companies in the SMB space.

"Until now, these companies have been fairly reticent to adopt Linux as they were not technology-minded and simply had an application that they wanted to use. So, there needs to be support around those ISVs," he said.

Technology is changing and will continue to change over the next two to three years, where the "frequency of process is no longer the mainstream but it is the amount of cores that will be available on these servers," he said.

There needs to be a development environment that allows them to address that, and the tools appropriate to that environment need to be put in place: from compilers to debuggers to profilers, there needs to be a consistent development environment, he said.

"In terms of the route to market, they need to engage with customers to enable them to put Microsoft into their business. It will be a joint approach that will recognize Streamline's skills in terms of technology and integration, allied to Microsoft's broad approach to owning the market," Taylor said.

Graham Jones, the chief operating officer for Integralis, a Europe-based security systems integrator, said that Microsoft has approached the company indirectly over the past year, and has started talking to them in earnest a couple of months ago.

But it is very important that the company learn more about Microsoft's future security product strategy before it builds a consulting practice around these solutions, he said.

Jones said he also wanted to hear about "truly differentiated channels. With all of our vendors, we have the highest level of accreditation and, in exchange for that, we expect the best terms and engagement that we can get."

He said he was also curious to see what the real service opportunity with Microsoft was, as he believes that the current Microsoft channel does not understand security the way companies like Integralis does.

"They can supply Exchange, Office and Windows, but we understand the environment that ISA Server is going into. We have a far wider view of security," he said.

Click here to read more about how Microsoft's rebranded its enterprise security push as "Forefront."

Microsoft has to recognize they need help translating their security story into action, and Integralis wants to work with them on this, he said.

Integralis is also looking at the costs associated with becoming a Microsoft partner, which he described as "expensive," saying a decision in principle had been made to become a Microsoft Gold partner on security.

"Microsoft is a great brand, and this is like a mice playing with an elephant. But if we both get it right, the returns could be great," he said.

Check out eWEEK.com's for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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