Beta 2 of Datacenter Server to Include Support Component

When Microsoft Corp. releases the next major beta version of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, users will be testing a new support model developed for the always-on applications Datacenter Server is designed to run.

Datacenter Server is a new member of the Windows NT family of business operating systems. With support for up to 32 processors, 64 GB of RAM, four-node clustering, and process control, Datacenter Server takes Microsoft ( into the unfamiliar territory of glass-house customer scenarios, where services and support become as important as hardware and software.

Previously, Microsoft addressed those service and support issues with promises of a Gold Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) for Datacenter Server and close partnerships with OEMs. The Gold HCL included more rigorously tested hardware components compared with the components for other versions of Windows 2000.

The company used its bully pulpit during the launch of Windows 2000 Professional, Server, and Advanced Server in mid-February to define its support plans for Datacenter Server more precisely. They consist of the Windows Datacenter Program -- a joint-support program between Microsoft and hardware systems vendors -- and new requirements for a Microsoft Certified Support Center for Datacenter.

"What we heard loud and clear as we started to discuss the Datacenter Server system was, ‘Support the environment around Datacenter Server,’" says Michel Gambier, product manager for Microsoft’s Windows 2000 enterprise marketing. "The goals are really to complement the operating system with a full suite of support."

Datacenter Server is in Beta 1 testing among about 300 participants. Microsoft officials say that the program is about to begin a new beta testing phase, but won’t comment on how much more widely distributed the program will become or when it will occur. One partner told ENT Beta 2 was scheduled for a March 15 release.

Microsoft officials say the general release of Datacenter Server is on track for late June.

"In the second [beta], we’ll begin that service process," Gambier says of the Windows Datacenter Program.

The Windows Datacenter Program consists of three main elements: single-point-of-contact support, rigorous system testing and qualification, and coordinated maintenance and change control.

In a new Microsoft Certified Support Center for Datacenter, Microsoft and participating server vendors will field a joint support team to work together on both hardware and software problems, minimizing finger pointing and customer pingpong between hardware and software vendors. No decision has been made about whether the support center will be virtual or physically located in one place.

If the model sounds familiar, it is. "MCSC for Datacenter leverages Microsoft Support Center relationship with some OEM partners," Gambier says, referring to the high-availability agreements between Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard Co. ( and Unisys Corp. ( The existing arrangements emphasize joint work on customer-specific hotfixes between the OEMs and Microsoft’s highest-level support professionals.

Additional requirements with the MCSC for Datacenter include a joint support queue, 24x7 support, on-site spare parts, minimum uptime guarantees of 99.9 percent, and availability assessments.

"We’ve set the bar pretty high. It’s clearly not something all our OEMs will be interested in," Gambier says.

So far a dozen have signed on for the Windows Datacenter Program (see table).

System-level testing ratchets up the level of testing undertaken for other versions of Windows 2000. All servers qualified to run Datacenter Server must complete a 30-day stress test. Any changes to the hardware or system kernel components will require a seven-day retest for the entire configuration.

System-level testing means OEMs would have to undergo a full certification process for each configuration of an eight-way server running Datacenter Server that they plan to sell. Attitudes about that vary among the OEMs.

Michael O’Neill, director of Microsoft marketing for Data General (, predicts his company probably will only certify and support one configuration for Datacenter Server while that requirement stands. "I think we all understand what they’re trying to do out of the gate," O’Neill says. "But I think that’s going to be a little cumbersome."

Don Johnson, head of enterprise server business, Unisys Systems and Technology, predicts a raft of certified systems to be launched. "We’re going to have to get it all certified," Johnson says, indicating both the eight processor Unisys boxes and the many combinations of processors, partitions, I/O, and memory in Unisys’ complex, new 32-processor ES7000. "The benchmark of certification testing that Microsoft has done is a small subset of what we do."

--Senior reporter Tom Sullivan contributed to this report.


Into the Breach
Microsoft Corp. has attracted a dozen partners so far for the Windows Datacenter Program.

Amdahl Corp.
Compaq Computer Corp.
Data General
Dell Computer Corp.
EMC Corp.
Fujitsu Ltd.
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Hitachi Ltd.
IBM Corp.
NEC Corp.
Stratus Computer Inc.
Unisys Corp.