Before and After

Microsoft looks to new partners to drive HPC and security offerings

Microsoft is aggressively reaching out to 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 into those nascent markets.

The software maker, in Redmond, Wash., released Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 to manufacturing in June. As it is, the market has long been dominated by Linux-based solutions.

As such, Microsoft is looking to sign up new partners that are already successful in the new markets—even if that success was achieved on competitor platforms, such as Linux.

Microsoft invited some 320 successful organizations that were not yet Microsoft partners to the companys Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston July 11-13. Attendees also went to an all-day event, the Partnering Executive Summit, on July 10. The summit was designed to demonstrate what is involved in being a Microsoft partner.

Streamline Computing, a London-based Linux cluster solution maker, is one potential Microsoft customer thats riding the wave of the massive increase in clustering to deliver high-performance computing, or HPC. Streamline started off delivering Red Hat-based solutions but chose Novells SUSE as its distribution of choice.

"It offered us, at a particular time, better performance in SMP [symmetric multiprocessing and] multicore capabilities on some of the server technology," said John Taylor, Streamlines chief technology officer.

Streamline delivered approximately 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.

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

One attractive element of Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 to the user base is that the self-consistency is expressed from the operating system upward, with few alternatives to it.

Streamlines user base is starting to ask the company to provide systems that are dual-boot-capable. Streamline has already started delivering hardware that lets customers install Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 software.

"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," Taylor said.

Streamline has, in principle, decided it wants to be a Microsoft partner but is aware that Microsoft is in its infancy with its entry into the HPC market, he said.

Regarding the summit, Taylor said he wanted to hear a lot more about supported applications that would allow Streamline to address the needs of SMBs. "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.

Graham Jones, chief operating officer for security systems integrator Integralis, also in London, said that its very important that the company learn more about Microsofts future security product strategy before it builds a consulting practice around these solutions.

Jones said he also wants 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 is also curious to see what the real service opportunity with Microsoft is, as he believes that the current Microsoft channel does not understand security the way companies such as Integralis do.

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

Integralis is also looking at the costs associated with becoming a Microsoft partner, which Jones 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 [mouse] playing with an elephant. But if we both get it right, the returns could be great," Jones said.

What the Wooing Better Deliver

Heres what potential HPC and security partners want from Microsoft:

* More information on supported applications that would address the needs of SMBs

* Details on how Microsoft will deliver a consistent development environment and all the tools that go along with it

* Support for ISVs looking to adopt Linux

* Details on Microsofts future security product strategy

* Channels that are differentiated by having the best terms and engagement possible

* Better understanding of security and HPC on the part of Microsofts channel

* Details on what Microsoft plans to do about certification and accreditation in the nascent HPC market

* Better ways to navigate the Microsoft system to reach the right people