Building Cohesion

Microsoft to bank on Windows server system integration.

As more than 9,000 people descended on Dallas last week for Microsoft Corp.s annual Tech Ed conference, Paul Flessner, senior vice president of Microsofts Server Platform Division, took time after his keynote address to talk with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli about the Redmond, Wash., companys product road map, the challenges he faces and his vision for the server platform.

How will the products to be released over the next three years fit into Microsofts vision?

You are going to hear us talk a lot about integration around Windows Server System. A great way to think about it is that between 1992 and 1996 we got in the game in terms of servers and established ourselves. Between 1996 and 2002 was the second generation of products, where we became more mission-critical and scalable. From 2003 is the wave of better together—better integration, more simplicity, lower total cost of ownership and a great platform for Web services. Windows Server System really is about making that real.

Weve seen conflicting statements about whether there will be a server release in the "Longhorn" time frame. What is your position on that?

The reason we have been a little muddle-mouthed around this is that the server group has just launched a product. Theyve been a little busy. We are now trying to firm up our Longhorn planning, and, as I referred to in my keynote address, we plan another Windows Server release in the 2006 time frame. I dont think youll see another release before that because it takes us about three years to make a turn there. We are also delivering a lot of functionality off-cycle now, and we will start to do more and more. In terms of a big release, you probably wont see this for about three years.

Do you see a smaller release in the Longhorn time frame, perhaps a Longhorn Server Limited Edition?

Stay tuned. Well make that clear when we know. Were so new in the planning process it would be irresponsible to say anything now. No decision has been taken on that as yet.

You have pushed back the release of the next version of SQL Server, "Yukon." Do you think that the current shipping product, SQL Server 2000, is still competitive?

We have just done a 64-bit version of the product, which was a big update. Were going to add Reporting Services later this year. I dont mean to sound arrogant, but I think the market is playing catch-up to it. In terms of total cost of ownership and ease-of-use features, IBM and Oracle [Corp.] are just now getting there. I feel Microsoft is in a leadership position in that space in a lot of ways. This doesnt mean you get complacent, but I dont have the same level of urgency I had in 1997 when we were trying to get in the game.

The open-source community and many customers continue to criticize Microsoft for developing proprietary products that lock them in. How do you respond to that criticism?

The argument around proprietary systems versus open ones is changing, as with Web services there is nothing proprietary. Customers really care about the lowest TCO and the best value around Web services. I think I have a good chance of winning that. I think the gap grows the more you go up the stack and do the integration comparison.

Many customers are complaining that the innovation and technological advances usually require them to upgrade a number of products simultaneously to get the new experience, which is tough in the current economic climate. How do you address that?

I want to take the customer out of the cost of integrating our own technology, and I mean that. But it is just not true that we require simultaneous upgrades. There may be some features you are going to miss. For instance, if you use Exchange 2003 with Outlook 2000, you are going to have a good experience; you just wont get offline cache mode. Im not going to jam people to upgrade everything at once; its just not practical.

Given the current economic situation and the resultant cuts in IT spending budgets, how are you convincing customers to upgrade to Windows Server 2003, Office 2003 and all the other new products due for release over the next two years?

Its always been a cost-conscious world, and were the biggest server software company in the world today outside IBM and their mainframe stuff because weve had a lower-TCO value proposition all along. Customers are asking hard questions about value, and they should. I love those conversations.