NT certification puts extra hurdle in front of build-to-order server makers

Microsoft certification procedures are affecting local assemblers' speed to market with high-end NT servers. Hardware manufacturers wanting leading-edge hardware certified to run Microsoft NT Server must send their servers to testing centres in Taiwan or the US.

Microsoft certification procedures are affecting local assemblers' speed to market with high-end NT servers.

Hardware manufacturers wanting leading-edge hardware certified to run Microsoft NT Server must send their servers to testing centres in Taiwan or the US.

Christchurch-based assembler Cyclone Computers has run into problems with the scheme. General manager Richard Morgan says Cyclone has sent one of its servers to Redmond, Washington for NT certification. However, Cyclone operates on a build-to-order model and would find it prohibitive to send every configuration overseas for testing.

Guy Haycock, NT product manager for Microsoft New Zealand, says some companies may find the certification process "onerous" but it is done for the protection of NT customers.

Under the process, manufacturers wanting to certify their NT servers can run a series of tests themselves and send the results to Microsoft. However, if the system is regarded as leading edge, for example, with dual or four-way processors, or utilising components under a new standard, the system must be shipped to a testing lab.

If a company wants its products to be advertised on Microsoft's Web site as NT certified, it must also send the system to a lab.

PC Direct product manager Richard Moss says PC Direct has also sent machines for testing to Taipei and the US.

"Until recently we had to send Windows 95 machines up for Windows certification, although this has now changed to self-

testing. Windows NT is a self test unless it incorporates new technology such as multiple processors, and PC98 machines also have to be sent away. Generally it takes about four weeks."

Moss says testing adds to the cost but if customers want it, the company has to do it.

Haycock likens the situation to the car industry.

"In the car industry you probably don't see the latest releases from the Paris Car Show being built here in New Zealand. We're talking about high-end technology. It will add some cost to the system manufacturer and some people aren't going to like that. If sending the system to corporate is unprofitable then people should make a business decision about that. They should also plan their lead time to take account of the testing procedure."

Haycock says the testing cannot be done locally.

"Microsoft New Zealand is a marketing organisation. With testing we're talking about developers and hardware engineers sitting down at the chip level and working out why this function in Windows 95 doesn't work on this or that level. It's completely beyond what we do."

He adds that in the US, Microsoft does not do the testing itself but has contracted an organisation called Veritest to do it.

Meanwhile, Cyclone has got around the problem with some of its NT server lines by exclusively using Intel components that are NT certified. However, it can't use the "NT certified logo" on its machines and Morgan continues to question the certification process.

"If you send a system and something changes, does that mean you are no longer certified? We sell systems that are built to order and it's part of our business that we are flexible to customers' requirements — for example, they might want to update the BIOS or add a new SCSI drive."

Haycock says in the case of system changes it depends what the change is. On Microsoft's hardware testing Web page (www.microsoft.com/hwtest) it lists changes which qualify for a logo refresh without having to send the system to Microsoft corporate.

These include minor BIOS changes, and CPU upgrades where the CPU is pin-compatible with the original.

The certification process is likely to grow more complex as more PC manufacturers take up the build-to-order model as used by Dell Computers, IBM and Compaq.

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