Ballmer eyes enterprise with new products

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer pitches new versions of SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 to the enterprise

If there is one thing Microsoft Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Ballmer made clear at Microsoft's launch event Monday, it's that the new business software products from the company are a good fit for enterprise deployments.

Speaking at the launch of SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 in San Francisco, Ballmer paid particular attention to highlighting product benchmarks and features, as well as Microsoft partners and customers, that made a case for deploying the new software in large-scale enterprise environments.

While Microsoft has had great success selling its business software into medium-sized companies, it has always faced more competition from various flavors of the Unix OS and rival software from Oracle, IBM and SAP in the enterprise.

With its new database, tools and integration server, products that have been as much as five years in the making, the company aims to dispel any notion that its business platform has security or scalability issues that should give enterprise customers pause.

"Everything we've done should help you reinforce that there is no mission-critical enterprise job of any form that you shouldn't feel confident running today on the Microsoft platform," Ballmer said.

To prove his point, he cited a benchmark the company conducted that compared an Oracle database running on the Linux OS and WebSphere application infrastructure to SQL Server 2005 running on .NET 2.0 -- which is embedded in the database -- on Windows 2003. According to Ballmer, Microsoft's software stack ran 2,915 transactions per second, while IBM's ran 1,030 transactions per second.

Ballmer also mentioned several customers, including the London Stock Exchange, JetBlue Airways Corp. and the Australian Tax Office, that are running large-scale applications that were built on Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 to prove the enterprise readiness of Microsoft's products.

"I feel like we've really crossed a chasm at people understanding this is a platform for mission-critical applications," he said.

To promote his cause further, Microsoft's CEO introduced Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Microsoft partner Intel, to direct attendees' attention to a series of high-end servers from hardware companies such as NEC, Dell and Hewlett-Packard that were on display along the walls of the auditorium. Otellini's appearance, which was brief, seemed solely to give heft to Microsoft's argument that its software can run enterprise data centers on a wide array of hardware options.

Early-access customers did note that Microsoft has drastically improved the scalability of the new products, particularly SQL Server 2005. Adam Solesby, director of strategic development for AIM Healthcare Services, said the scalability of the new database has allowed his company, which provides auditing for health-care insurance claims, to collect data from a plethora of sources and more quickly and efficiently mine that data for reporting information.

"Our needs are focused around ... managing the sheer volume of data we have," Solesby said. "A key feature in SQL Server 2005 is its scalability options."

Ballmer also noted that Microsoft has learned "a lot about security over the past five years" and has used that knowledge to improve SQL Server, Visual Studio and BizTalk Server to make them more suitable products for enterprise applications that require high levels of security.

"We are always trying to think through how do we let you build solutions more quickly so you can give them to your end users more quickly," he said. "It's important for us to do this in a context on which the platform in which you're working is trusted."

In an example of new security features, Microsoft Visual Studio Group Product Manager Prashant Sdridharan, showed in a demonstration how developers can use Visual Studio 2005 to find potential security holes in an application that may show up once it's deployed on a network. This enables them to fix the applications prior to putting them in production, he said.

Sdridharan's demo also highlighted the processes and interfaces between the three new products that tie them together more closely than before. This is part of Microsoft's aim to integrate all of its enterprise software, including upcoming versions of Office and the Microsoft Dynamics business applications, more closely so customers will have an easier time using it as a unified platform, Ballmer said.

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