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Microsoft Corp. is recognizing the specific needs of the midmarket with a new infrastructure software solution under development known as Centro, which will be released in 2007 as part of the “Longhorn” wave of products.

Centro is specifically tailored to address the needs of the midmarket segment, which Microsoft defines as those customers with between 25 and 500 PCs connected to the Internet.

This is being seen as Microsoft’s pitch to the midmarket, which has often been neglected as a market of its own, having to either customize small business offerings or enterprise packages to meet their needs.

Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architect, is expected to talk about his vision for the midmarket and the key role that Centro will play in that at the Microsoft Business Summit, being held at the Redmond campus on Wednesday, said Microsoft officials familiar with the content of his speech.

Steven VanRoekel, Microsoft’s director of midmarket solutions in the Windows Server group, told that Centro—which will ship in 2007, the same timeframe as Microsoft’s WindowsLonghorn Server—will bundle together Longhorn Server, the next version of Exchange and the next generation of security technologies.

Those technologies, according to Van Roekel, include the next version of ISA Server and System Center management technologies, which includes software and patch deployment and monitoring of the desktop and server.

Click here to read more about Microsoft’s plans for Longhorn and Blackcomb, the server version that follows Longhorn.

Centro will be made available pre-installed from Microsoft OEMs and system builders as an out-of-box solution and is expected to run on between two and three servers, though that number is not final as yet.

The software will also be made available for users to install themselves, VanRoekel said.

“We are working very hard on making sure that the installation and set up is as automated and simplified as much as possible. Once it is up and running, users will have a management experience that ties the different applications together,” he said.

Citing the example of something midmarket IT managers do all the time—adding a new user—VanRoekel said that today this involves going into the directory, providing a user name, password and establishing an e-mail box.

“But it does not end there, as the new user then has to be assigned to different groups, group policies established, printers mapped, applications enabled and made available to them, and then issue the user a computer and give it a domain account.

“This takes four or five different tools that are independent of one another and have no basis or relationship,” VanRoekel said.

With Centro, users will be walked through all these stages via a user wizard, which will simplify and automate this process behind the scenes, reducing it to just a few steps.

Next Page: The aim of Centro is to keep it simple.

“We believe the automation of these mundane tasks will greatly improve our customer’s lives, give them back that lost time and help them move from being reactive to more proactive and help them push IT forward,” he said.

The Centro code name is Spanish for center, and reflects the square in the middle of the town around which the whole village revolves.

“We believe that with Centro in their core infrastructure, customers are planting the foundation in their company to enable the business benefits of IT far beyond where they are today,” VanRoekel said.

Microsoft is also currently talking to OEMs and evaluating the various hardware platforms on which Centro will run, especially around where hardware is likely to be in the 2007 timeframe.

“We are looking at both 32-bit and 64-bit as well as the hardware we have today. Some of the prototyping we are doing inside the company is on today’s hardware and things are going pretty well,” VanRoekel said.

Asked by if Centro would be 64-bit only if a decision was made to make Windows Longhorn Server 64-bit only, VanRoekel said that Microsoft was still evaluating whether Longhorn Server should be just 64-bit and if it were “that would not necessarily be the case for us.”

Microsoft is also looking at a range of licensing and pricing options for Centro, based on its goal of making it “easy to consume,” but no decisions have been made.

“We will do a model probably pretty similar to Small Business Server(SBS), which we consider part of the family. The solutions team also owns SBS and so you can think of this offering as a SBS, but for the midmarket,” he said.

Earlier this year, Microsoft offered customers a new bundle for the midsize market at 20 percent less than the open pricing for the products.

Click here to read more on Microsoft’s midmarket bundle.

VanRoekel said this pricing continuum would continue, “but we are still very much deciding on price and there are lots of considerations relative to price, all of which are being evaluated,” he said.

VanRoekel also confirmed that Microsoft was looking at offering Software Assurance-type solutions for Centro.

The team was also working with Microsoft Capital, which allows customers to finance the purchase of hardware, software and finances.

The Redmond software giant will also, in October, announce the launch of Open Licensing Value 2.0 for the midmarket segment, which will give those customers more of the benefits of Software Assurance, including spreading payments across three years and better support, Van Roekel said.

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