Microsoft created the EEC two years ago as a way to let large customers test products in conditions that can simulate their own corporate environments. As an added benefit, during tests, Microsoft throws up a net, as it were, that catches software bugs before theyre burned into the shipping product.
"We found a tremendous amount of bugs in Windows [Server] 2003," said George Santino, who was in charge of building the center and is now the director of Windows core fundamentals testing. "The vast majority of the last bugs found were found in this facility."
Bugs typically discovered in the ".0" releases of software products were deterring many customers. "We needed to find out what we were missing," said Santino. "We needed to get a copy of the final exam before taking the test."
Once the center was authorized by Microsoft executives Brian Valentine and Jim Allchin, vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM sent equipment to populate the centers labs.
So far, customers—large ones—are pleased with the center. John Minnick, of Siemens AG, leads SWAT, the Siemens Workplace Architecture Team, which sets policies for the deployment of Microsoft products at Siemens. With 400,000 employees and $80 billion in sales, the globally federated company has plenty at stake in getting things to work right the first time.
"Microsoft just had to do something better with large corporations. The EEC is critical to our success," said Minnick, who was in Redmond last week testing delegated administration scenarios using actual Siemens data, including a sample of the 350,000 names in the corporate directory. "Were now testing a set of policies and architecture design components. This is the first place we go," he said.
"Years ago, Microsoft sold a product and that was it," added Minnick, who is based in Atlanta. "Now, you can test and learn about products before they are released. You can fix the product and see the changes built in."
Microsofts attitude has changed in other ways as well, the IT veteran said. Of the Sun-Microsoft peace treaty, Minnick said: "It sounds positive. To see them resolve their issues is a needed thing."
Siemens is one of 119 customers that have been served by the center to date, said Chris Burroughs, product unit manager at the EEC.
To satisfy the seemingly insatiable need for hardware, Burroughs said the center just finished doubling its hardware inventory—the server total is up to 1,500—and will soon receive a Hewlett-Packard Co. Superdome server and new storage area network equipment from Brocade Communications Systems Inc.
Although other vendors offer simulation and test centers, one difference that Microsoft claims with the EEC is the ability for customers to communicate directly with the people who are writing the software.
"Product teams talk directly to customers," said Burroughs. In return for their time, the developers get an average of 50 reportable items weekly, including bugs—information that is critical to improving Microsofts wares.
If someone wants to reserve time at the center, Burroughs said two weeks is the optimal lead time for an appointment. To get the most out of the experience, Siemens Minnick said, "the customer must come prepared. They [Microsoft] always are prepared whenever we come."
The EEC keeps an image of some customer installations so they can be reconstructed when customers pay return visits. At the end of June, Minnick said, Siemens people will be back for more tests on workplace deployment.
Although use of the center is free to customers, travel expenses can add up, Minnick said. It would be nice to virtualize the process," he said, suggesting that in the future he might be interested in testing configurations remotely.