Microsoft officials said the high-end version of Windows, Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, will be made available to customers in the latter part of this year, following hardware and applications going through certification checks with evaluation partners, including Compaq, IBM, Unisys and Hewlett-Packard.
At a recent technical workshop for the high-end version of Windows, Microsoft officials confirmed Windows 2000 Datacenter Server is scheduled for shipment to original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) this week.
According to Brian Valentine, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows division, the only authorised sales channels for Datacenter Server will be through OEMs and their resellers, because partnerships provide a "more aggressive response time" to customers.
He added that joint support efforts with OEMs would make it possible to include a four-hour maximum response time promise to Datacenter Server customers.
"(Microsoft) used to stay away from the contractual model, but with Datacenter, we are confident (we can) provide a 99.9% uptime guarantee," Valentine said.
Valentine added that with Datacenter Server, Microsoft will not accept direct support calls from customers. Instead, queries will be channelled to OEMs through what Microsoft officials call a joint support queue system.
"We are putting our money where our mouth is, so we've created a joint support queue where, if Compaq gets a phone call, we've got Compaq and Microsoft people physically in the lab with the hardware so that they can quickly diagnose the problem and work (out) the issue," said Robin Hensley, director of Compaq's Industry Standard Servers division.
Datacenter Server allows a user to start with a small server and keep adding processors to the box, up to the limit of 32 processors, company officials said.
"Datacenter allows for partitioning, which means that as the load changes through the day, you have more processors to a particular application to be more efficient, where in a world of commodity products, you really can't do that," said Martin Krempasky, worldwide public relations director at Unisys.
According to Microsoft, its new server is aimed at providing server consolidation for large-scale businesses and dot-coms. Integrated support from OEMs and Microsoft means that customers will also receive value-added services that each OEM bundle offers with Datacenter, the company added.
However, with added services come added costs.
"When we do wrap our services around the Datacenter product, it will cost more, but we will still be pulling the economics of the platform into the data center," Compaq's Hensley said.
Additionally, while Datacenter Server promises to make it more feasible and efficient to scale up small servers, rather than scale out, OEMs recognised that this probably would cost more than other types of servers would.
"Most of the cost justification comes from the total cost of ownership," Unisys' Krempasky said. "This includes years of resources - people and space - plus, it works out lowering the risk of investment."
Krempasky cited a Gartner Group report that said that Datacenter Server is 62% less expensive to operate on a three-year life cycle than Windows is on four eight-way servers.
However, Krempasky said convincing existing mainframe users to change their "big is better" mentality is a challenge.
"Existing mainframe users are convinced that a large system is cheaper than a small system in the long run, so what we have to show them is the availability and the scalability (of Datacenter), because a mainframe customer is used to five-nines (99.999% reliability) and that's what they want," he said.
HP officials said even though the company has traditionally bundled its support service with Unix, HP has no qualms about including Datacenter in its product offerings, officials said.
"HP doesn't mind if you take Unix or Windows, because it's the same support services; it's the same revenue on top of the box," said Ilana Ron, Microsoft Alliance manager at HP.
Ron added that the addition of Datacenter to HP's product line was in response to the customer base, which "seems to be demanding quite a few Window-based applications."
Although Microsoft refused to quote the price for Datacenter Server because OEMs will bundle the server with a services package, one OEM, who requested anonymity, told Computerworld Hong Kong that a 32-processor Datacenter Server package would cost about $US800,000.