Microsoft unveils systems architecture guidelines

Backed by a half-dozen partners, Microsoft Corp. Wednesday announced a systems architecture program that aims to help companies reduce the costs, time and risks associated with integrating Windows 2000 Server into corporate computing environments.

Unveiled on Wednesday was the Microsoft Systems Architecture (MSA) for Internet Data Center, the first in a series of “prescriptive architecture guides” that the software maker plans to make available in conjunction with hardware and software partners. The guides provide a blueprint and documentation for a hardware and software configuration that has been lab-built and tested to work in a Windows 2000 environment.

In order for Microsoft’s partners to get the “MSA-qualified” logo, they must test and document their own implementations of Microsoft’s generic blueprint and have support and services packages ready to go with them, according to Don Thompson, lead product manager for Microsoft Systems Architecture.

The documentation is provided free, although customers will need to buy the products, support and services from the individual vendors involved, Thompson said. But that process is eased by the fact that customers receive guidelines and a bill of materials listing the various pieces needed for the implementation, he said.

“The prescriptive architecture guideline then becomes the cookbook for putting all the technologies together,” Thompson said, estimating that a customer could complete an implementation in two or three days.

The first qualified partner guides are available at Web sites from Avanade Inc., Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp., Emulex Corp., EMC Corp., Nortel Networks Corp. and Unisys Corp.

“This broadly fits what has become a fairly significant industry trend to do a fair amount of pretesting and preintegration of components among partners,” said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc. “And the basic theme is on target in that customers really want to see vendors working together and doing the work of integration and performance assurance before they ship their products.”

Davis noted that the Microsoft-led effort is somewhat broader than a “notable early effort” in this space from Veritas Software Corp., Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. for data management.

Regarding the new Microsoft initiative, Davis questioned whether companies will be able to leverage their existing software and systems if they don’t want to use the pretested components. If substitutions are made, that raises questions about whether the modified configuration can be pretested to insure the components work together well.

“If you have a blank slate and can create an architecture from scratch, this is a great way to do it. But that’s not a common situation,” Davis said. “Nobody wants to throw away what they have today in order to move to the next-generation architecture. They simply can’t afford to do that from a cost or risk perspective.”

Thompson said companies that make substitutions can use the prescribed guidelines as a baseline for performance expectations. “When they swap out what we did for some of what they have, they can judge the effect of doing that,” he said. “The whole key is to understand where they’re starting from.”

The two prescriptive architecture guides made public on Wednesday add to two that Microsoft quietly made available earlier this year. Guidelines released in January incorporate information from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Cisco Systems Inc., EMC, Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft Consulting Services and Nortel Networks.

Companies that are already using the Internet data center hardware/software blueprints include Lego Co. and IndyMac Bank F.S.B., according to Microsoft.