Microsoft Corp. announced last week it has extended its Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Program to AIPs, the first such certification for application infrastructure providers, officials said.
The first AIPs certified under the program include Digex Inc., Divine Inc., Genuity Inc., Intel Online Services Inc. and Loudcloud Inc.
The program, which builds on the application service provider gold certification program that Microsoft launched about a year ago, covers AIPs that provide managed Web hosting, managed Web applications and Microsoft .Net services for service providers and end users.
To achieve certification, AIPs go through a series of steps that include an audit of their operations by a third-party assessment company, according to Enrique Fernandez-Laguilhoat, director of certified partner programs for the Redmond, Wash., company.
"Basically, three things are important to us: that their processes are reliable and solid, then we look at customer satisfaction—we talk to them—and then check on scalability of the infrastructure; then partners are required to have a direct line of support with Microsoft and use additional tools," Fernandez-Laguilhoat said.
The benefit to customers is some level of assurance that a certified AIP has implemented an adequate methodology and achieved a certain level of customer satisfaction, said Sunny Vanderbeck, president of Divines Managed Services unit, in Dallas.
"There are a thousand different flavors of hosting and companies providing it," Vanderbeck said. "Its unclear what you get and hard for customers to do the due diligence—especially if they dont run a mission-critical infrastructure themselves. These [gold-certified AIPs] are the companies that have the operational procedures and policies, and they know the customer experience will be consistent."
Vanderbeck said the on-site audit includes "all the operations of the business to ensure theres a good data center, good security practices, good code fix and hot rollout. It covers the product of what our business is—from electrical connections up to how do we support the customer and do escalations."
AIPs benefit not only from the vote of confidence from Microsoft, they also get help with business development, sales support training, priority lead referrals, and other joint market and sales activities.
AIPs seeking certification can contact Microsoft to receive a readiness benchmark survey from an authorized assessor. Once an AIP passes preliminary muster, Microsoft representatives will perform an on-site assessment and personnel interviews prior to certification, officials said.