Microsoft this week unveiled its Centro product plan, which is intended to make it easier to administer networks in midsize businesses. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill interviewed Steven VanRoekel, director of Midsize Business Solutions Strategy at Microsoft, about Centro.
What's the significance of Centro for Microsoft?
Centro is significant in that it's [geared] toward the midsize company and, more specifically, the IT professional in the midsize company. It's the first infrastructure product specifically designed for them. We're kind of at a unique position in that we're able to -- with this customer -- design a specific product to meet their unique needs. With most products at Microsoft we have to focus in a very horizontal way to meet the broadest set of customers. For this product, we have a laser focus on the needs of this customer. Their needs are very similar to an enterprise customer in that they need all the computing power; they need directory, e-mail, security, line of business apps, etc. But they're very limited from the perspective of their IT resources. And so Centro is designed in such a way that it will meet needs by automating common tasks, by giving them kind of an all-up view of their network through a new management console that we're building and just make it easier to run core infrastructure and to manage the network.
A new management console is part of Centro?
That's right. We're taking a lot of the technologies we have today, we call it kind of the system center family of products for software deployment, server monitoring. Products like SMS [Systems Management Server], like our patching technology, things like that, and we're bringing that all together into one user interface in a new management console.
Who are you competing with on this? HP OpenVie wor CA Unic enter?
Nobody's really doing the kind of all-up product, where all of these workloads are included in one product, and most of our competitors are [providing] mostly the point solutions that people do today. [There are] things like Linux-based e-mail systems and Novell with GroupWise and NetWare. IBM is probably the closest comparison from a platform perspective, but they define the mid-market much larger than what we look at as the mid-market. Because what IBM would call a small business, we classify as mid-market.
What does Centro mean?
Centro is actually a Latin word, so you see it in Spain and Italy and other places, and the easy translation is "center." But in the literal sense, it's used in the Latin language to mean sort of the center of a town, for example. So you go to a village in Italy, you'll see a sign with an arrow on it. It'll point to the square in the middle of the city. And to the Italians and the people that live in that town, life kind of revolves around that central square, it's where people meet at night and things like that. And so Centro, to us, really means the heart of the network, that once you have a solid foundation of core infrastructure, you can suddenly have an IT phenomenon happen around that center. And we're seeing that today, even with mid-market customers that are deploying the promotion that we launched in July, and those customers are seeing amazing returns on the amount of time they get back by using that core infrastructure, on the level of security, the level of up-time, just inherently enabled in those systems compared to what they were running.
So this is linked to the Longhorn Server version of Windows?
Is it a specialized version of Longhorn Server, or is this just a management platform with Longhorn Server underneath it?
It's more the latter, where it's actually Longhorn Server underneath, Exchange Server underneath, but security technologies like ISA [Internet Security and Acceleration] Server underneath and then those management things that I was telling you about before. And with a management wrapper that brings them all together. So you get the capabilities of all those standalone servers with a common management user interface and a common deployment, so you can set it all up at once.
But this is not going to be out for another two years though, is it?
Longhorn server is [due in] 2007, and we're definitely in that wave. We'll be shipping after Longhorn Server ships. Today, the conversations start with the ISVs, to talk about building applications on top of Centro.
What type of applications do you expect to be build on top?
I think you'll see the vendors that are the smaller vendors that deal with maybe, accounting packages and run on single desktops. They've been looking for an opportunity to scale up to the mid-market, and then there's the large players out there even in financial services.
So you need Longhorn Server with this. Is this a kind of way to stave off people from maybe moving to Linux or does that factor into this at all?
No, not really. The purpose of this program, and the purpose of this effort, is really focused on those unique needs of that [mid-market] customer and how can we satisfy those needs? No one in the industry's really done that today.
With Centro, you need to deploy this on Windows, but can you only manage Windows environments or can you manage Linux or Unix or whatever? Or is there a limit on what you can manage?
The core system, you're right, will run on Windows across the core infrastructure. As far as reaching out and managing disparate systems, we'll actually be compliant and use the technology of Microsoft Operations Manager [MOM] as it stands today and in the next evolution of that will ship in Centro, and that product can actually manage and monitor non-Microsoft systems. So there's Cisco management packs, there's hardware management packs, to actually monitor if your cooling fan is going bad in your Dell server. MOM will tell you that. And it's the same thing with these third-party vendors. So there (are) people out there writing MOM management packs to monitor Linux.
Is there any Web services management in Centro?
Well, Indigo is built into Longhorn Server, so with Indigo you actually have Web services management.