Sowing the Seeds
Microsoft's new server products are supposed to sprout early in 2008. Partners prepared for those launches can expect a bumper crop of business later in the year.
Last July, Allison Watson told attendees at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Denver that "the full slate of new server products due to ship next year creates a wealth of opportunity for Microsoft partners." Watson, corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group, could have just as easily flipped that phrase around to call the server releases "an opportunity for wealth."
Partners who plan early for the releases of Microsoft's three major new server products will be the ones most likely to share in that potential windfall of profits. That's "early," as in right now. Or yesterday.
The three products to be introduced at Microsoft's "2008 Global Launch Wave"--an extravaganza scheduled for next Feb. 27--are Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio (VS) 2008. However, the "Launch Wave" concept is a little misleading because it's likely that at least two of the products--Windows 2008 and SQL 2008--won't be shipping at that point. A more accurate title might be: "Launch Announcement Wave."
Still, within a few months, all three should be available. Of those three, Windows Server 2008--which had been code-named "Longhorn Server"--is obviously likely to have the greatest impact on partners because it's the foundational product, with all other servers building on its base. As George LaVenture, president of Trinity Consulting Inc., a Gold Certified Partner based in Marlborough, Mass., puts it: "Everything runs on Windows. Windows Server is going to be like the air; it's going to be ubiquitous."
It's also, by all indications, the server that will change the most from the previous version. That's partly because its last iteration came five years ago, with Windows Server 2003. (SQL Server 2005 and VS 2005 were launched together in November 2005.)
Ward Ralston, senior technical product manager in Microsoft's Windows Server division, describes Windows Server 2008 as being light-years ahead of the 2003 version. "If I'm an administrator of Windows 2008, I'm going to see absolute immediate benefits in the data center," Ralston says.
Among the most-hyped new features: server core and virtualization. Server core allows a server to be installed with a subset of Windows 2008 functionality, rather than the entire big-footprint server. If, for instance, a server will be used as a Web or DNS server, it doesn't need all the services of a full-blown Windows 2008 server; it can be set up with only what it needs, resulting in reduced management requirements and tighter security.
Windows Server Virtualization, code-named "Viridian," will be functional--but not finished--when Windows 2008 is released, Ralston says. He adds that the final version will be available six months after the product launch.
The Next Level
Although Windows 2008 leads the way, all three server products are important, and partners should consider selling them as a suite rather than as separate packages, says Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Program. "We're pushing them jointly because they're so complementary [and able] to take businesses to the next level," Bennani says.
That idea-getting to the next level--is at the heart of Microsoft's sales strategy for the new servers. It's an important concept because all three servers are replacing products that currently work well. Thus, the challenge isn't telling customers that they need to replace something that's broken, but rather that they need the new products so that their businesses can accomplish more.
For Michael Goldstein of LAN Associates, a Gold Certified network-integration company based in Central Islip, N.Y., that means educating clients early about the new servers' benefits. "What we did with Office 2007, [Windows] Vista and Exchange 2007 was run seminars," he says of the previous wave of product launches. "We show them what it looks like, the advantages of it. We'll be doing the same with Windows 2008."
64-Bit Is It
Goldstein also believes the new versions of Windows and SQL Server will lead to more than just software sales. He thinks that hardware replacement is a natural by-product of the new servers, since 64-bit is the future. So he tells customers: "You're going to buy new iron at some point. Do you want to be at the latest and greatest [i.e., 64-bit level]? Do you want to be one version behind, or do you want to put it in place?"
That strategy matches what most Microsoft customers do, according to Ralston: "Ninety percent of our customers do upgrades on hardware refreshes." In addition, although the first version of Windows 2008 will have a 32-bit offering, the door slams shut at that point. Windows Server 2008 R2, scheduled for a 2009 release, will be 64-bit only.
Add the fact that Exchange 2007 is 64-bit only, and it's clear that system builders and other partners need to be steering clients toward 64-bit machines.
In fact, Ralston believes the 64-bit revolution is under way. "We're incredibly pleased with the x64 instances being installed," he says, adding that he's seen more 64-bit installations than 32-bit installations with the Windows Server 2008 beta. "The industry is going that way. With Windows 2008, we're really going to see a shift to 64-bit," he says.
Helping people make that shift is part of the strategy for LaVenture's Trinity Consulting, which, among other things, offers architecture, design and implementation services. "One thing we're all looking to do is move people like we did ... from 16-bit to 32-bit desktops," LaVenture says.
"We're beginning to see the leap into the next level of technology," he adds. "Leveraging 64-bit platforms is going to be important, [and so is] eradicating legacy platforms. I think there's some true value there."
The move to 64-bit will also smooth the path to one of the most-anticipated features of Windows Server 2008: virtualization. With its ability to consolidate servers onto fewer physical machines, greatly increasing efficiency, virtualization is becoming perhaps the hottest IT technology. For proof, look no further than VMware Inc., the Palo Alto, Calif.-based virtualization specialist, which saw its stock value jump by nearly 76 percent on the first day of trading following its IPO in August.
The downside of virtualization is that it's a resource hog--hence the need for more powerful servers. But once the hardware's in place, virtualization can save on head count, and it's another prime opportunity for partners when selling the advantages of Windows 2008, SQL 2008 and VS 2008.
Goldstein, of LAN Associates, calls virtualization one of the "most anticipated items in Windows Server 2008." (Because his company is also a VMware enterprise partner, Goldstein is intimately familiar with virtualization's benefits.)
Trinity Consulting has already been pushing virtualization's advantages, LaVenture says: "Going back a couple of years, even with [Microsoft's desktop virtualization product] Virtual PC, we've been showing clients how they can do things like build out an entire virtual lab to test things out."
Virtualization also offers improved disaster-recovery capability. "The ability to use images to recreate a server rather than having to rebuild a server" can be a huge advantage for clients, LaVenture says: "There's a tremendous amount of market [potential] there. I think it will catch people's eye from a technical standpoint and financial standpoint."
But of all Windows 2008's new features, server core is generating the most interest. "They just love it," Ralston says of the server-core feedback he's gotten from beta testers.
On the partner level, will that early popularity translate to customer sales? Richard Frediani, vice president of technology for Afinety Inc., believes that it will. Afinety, a Gold Certified Partner based in Los Angeles, builds networks for clients and houses them in its data center; by managing networks remotely, Afinety eliminates its clients' need for their own IT departments. A 100 percent Microsoft shop, Afinety is closely examining the server-core advantages. "We like the fact that at our core, all our servers are the same," Frediani says, adding that less clutter on a server is likely to mean fewer problems.
Security is another important selling point for Windows 2008. That's an area in which Microsoft has markedly improved in both the desktop and server arenas, but the perception persists that Microsoft products are, overall, still less secure than the competition.
Ralston calls Windows 2008 exceptionally secure. "Server 2008 has been really done right with the new model. [Security is] always up; it's always shields-on. You don't lock down a server, you unlock a server" with Windows 2008, he says.
"The earlier partners can get in with the customer and understand where their business is going and where their needs evolve, [the better]. We encourage partners to be having those discussions now."
Julie Bennani, General Manager, Microsoft Partner Program|
SQL 2008 and VS2008: What to Expect
Like Windows 2008, SQL 2008 and VS 2008 have been substantially redesigned. The big idea behind SQL 2008 is to make data, in virtually any format, securely available across various platforms and devices. A key driver behind that vision is business intelligence. SQL 2008 includes much better reporting functionality and analysis tools, along with deep integration with Microsoft Office. It's also much more scalable than previous versions, and it's tuned to work in a 64-bit environment, making it faster and more efficient.
VS 2008 is similarly outward-focused. It's designed to speed up and improve Web development as well as provide a more efficient development environment for Windows Vista and Office 2007.
Among its most critical features is the new data-programming model, Language Integrated Query (LINQ). LINQ helps alleviate the developer headache of writing applications that access data from databases. It's so important a technology that Greg DeMichillie, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, calls LINQ "the reason to upgrade" to VS 2008.
One question Microsoft still needs to clarify is when these products will actually ship. In late August, Microsoft announced that Windows Server 2008's commercial availability would be delayed at least a few months. In a Windows Server Division blog, development team members said that while they were pleased with the feedback they'd received to date, "we would rather spend a little more time to meet the high-quality bar that our customers and partners deserve and expect."
Be a Resource Hog
With such a major release of new products-Microsoft COO Kevin Turner called the triple launch the biggest such event in Microsoft's history-it's critical for partners to start preparing customers way ahead of time. The best way to do that, in Bennani's view: Listen to client needs and find out where the launch products fit.
"The earlier partners can get in with the customer and understand where their business is going and where their needs evolve," the better, she says. "We encourage partners to be having those discussions now. They're not small decisions; they're important decisions. It's important for us to help the channel stay ahead of those decisions."
Indeed. That's why Microsoft is gearing up the partner channel so early as well. "The beta of Windows 2008 has been available since April," Bennani points out. "We encourage partners to download and use it. ISVs and solution providers especially need to get ready."
That readiness begins at partner.microsoft.com. "We provide one place they can access benefits around the products. We're also linked in tightly with MSDN," Bennani says, referring to the Microsoft Developers' Network. "For IT pros, through TechNet--we're linked in there as well. We're trying to lead and make sure we're ready with resources."
Microsoft is also preparing the public with massive advertising campaigns. Goldstein, of LAN Associates, says that Microsoft does much of the work for him. "I like the hype and advertising; I like the clients coming to me. It's great any time Microsoft has a big launch. I'm a surfer; I just like to ride the wave."
Douglas Hafford, vice president of consulting for Afinety, insists that partners who aren't ready for the launch should blame themselves, not Microsoft. "In terms of information distribution, there's no company better than Microsoft," he says. "In terms of Microsoft making us aware, giving us opportunities for training, they're just unsurpassed. The resources we have are just outstanding."
LaVenture, of Trinity Consulting, agrees. "I think [Microsoft is] going out of their way to help partners. We get the code in advance, and they offer a number of training products," he says. "The partner readiness program is absolutely phenomenal. They're proactively calling me to make sure I know what training is coming up, and I get weekly e-mails on training. We [also] get subsidized training. The training is all top-notch and gets across what we need to know."
Will You Be Ready?
So the resources are there, customer awareness is building, and Microsoft is poised for a huge one-day launch in just a few months. All that's left now is for partners to get ready for what could be the opportunity of the decade. As Turner put it in announcing the 2008 Global Launch Wave in his keynote at the WPC: "It's a feeding frenzy of opportunity ... There's hundreds of billions of dollars available to you through the partner ecosystem and monetization for these products."