Microsoft Canada opens 'technology wonderland' perspective: The launch of the MTC reflects the reality of increasing complexity in IT. The technologies that Microsoft delivers — desktops, servers, software and cloud — do not work in silos. Moving forward, customers will connect their mobile device strategies with their data management strategies, with storage, redundancy and security via interoperability with other systems. No vendor can provide packaged answers to all of the possible permutations a customer might want to consider, but with the MTC, Microsoft provides a platform for testing different options.

Ross Mistry, national director, Microsoft MTCs and Staci Trackey Meagher, VP, enterprise & partner group, Microsoft Canada
Ross Mistry, national director, Microsoft MTCs and Staci Trackey Meagher, VP, enterprise & partner group, Microsoft Canada

Innovation labs are lighting the Canadian tech landscape with increasing fury these days as vendors look to position as the platform for collaboration around application test, pilot and run. With the help of Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell, Microsoft took its turn recently with launch of a 20,000 square foot Canadian Microsoft Technology Centre (MTC) set down in the Mississauga headquarters this June.

The stated aim of the new Microsoft Centre is to create a space to that will foster innovation in Canadian businesses, and an implicit goal is the showcase of Microsoft technologies. The Centre will be open to Microsoft employees, customers and partners (both distribution and technology) on a first-come, first-serve basis to explore and develop new solutions that can take advantage of Microsoft and partner capabilities, and test these out on a variety of different hardware configurations, A key feature of the new centre is the impressive data centre infrastructure that has been donated by hardware partners for testing/piloting of customer solutions. While these ends ring a familiar bell, in the means provided to reach these goals, the Microsoft facility stands out. So what is unique about the new Technology Centre? Some important differentiators are:

Scale: Microsoft has made a significant investment — $10 million in products and space — in the new facility, which took two years to build. All told, the centre occupies a floor and a half of the Mississauga site, and offers several rooms, equipped to support each stage in the innovation process. These include: a tech feature wall displaying the latest in device and app delivery; an “executive briefing centre” for “envisioning” solutions with vignettes illustrating the operation of technology in mobile, local and global circumstances; an “architectural design suite,” a “development suite” with a device bar linked to an onsite private cloud test facility, a “conference” facility featuring a Lync room system to enable collaboration with outside experts; and a “server display centre.”

Hardware capabilities: With $10 million in hardware donated by virtually all the major vendors, including HP, Dell, Intel, EMC, Cisco and NetApp, the server centre features approximately 1,000 core processors, 16 terabytes of RAM, 2 petabytes of storage and network capability that scales from one to 40 gigabyte Ethernet.  According to Ross Mistry, national director, MTCs at Microsoft, this kind of hardware capacity is greater than that which is available on-premise (or required!) by most customers looking to pilot, test and scale to production environments. And with hardware from different vendors, customers in the MTC can run applications in different hardware scenarios to determine the optimal infrastructure.

Expertise:  In addition to technology, Microsoft aims to provide access to tech and industry specialists in the MTC — without a customer needing to travel to Redmond, and without the dispatch of Microsoft staff to customer locations.  Through Lync collaboration systems in the MTC, customers can confer with global Microsoft and other third party experts, including implementation partners. As Mistry explained, the Mississauga centre is Microsoft’s 31st facility — meaning local customers and Microsoft support can benefit from best practices developed over the past 13 years thoughout the company’s 30 existing global locations.  By locating the new centre in Mississauga headquarters (as opposed to a downtown location), Microsoft is looking make available a wide range of Microsoft experts, and has hired a team of 10 solution design architects to work with customers on core infrastructure, unified communications, database and application platforms.

The new MTC is a successor to a much smaller scale technology centre — “TBC” — that has operated at Microsoft Canada headquarters for the past ten years. According to Mistry, the larger MTC basically operates “on a franchise model” in which the worldwide organization runs the centre, but decisions around implementation are the responsibility of the local subsidiary. In the Canadian case, these decisions began to crystallize two and a half years ago. “This MTC,” Mistry noted, “represents a major, continued investment in Canada.”

To justify this kind of investment, Microsoft measures the kind of impact that the technology centres have: according to Mistry, through the global technology centre network, Microsoft has “had the opportunity to touch approximately $3 billion in business in the past physical year… and we have accelerated opportunities for our customers by around 40%. [The path] from inception to deployment [of technology] can take a long time — when the MTC is involved, customers can move through that process a lot faster. “ Microsoft also measures the number of attendees to the MTCs — 80,000 worldwide — and use of partner hardware, as well as customer satisfaction, an important metric that Mistry’s MTC “technology wonderlands” are designed to increase. Ultimately, Mistry explained, Microsoft asks “what’s the potential opportunity, what are our touch points, do we have net new opportunity and do we drive net new from it [the MTC], and what’s the partner impact. We have a lot of measures to qualify or quantify success.”

By providing a central location for collaborative development, Mistry believes that Microsoft advantages the customer by speeding time to innovation, and also delivers support to partners (including the channel), who rely on Microsoft to provide the facilities. “We have many of the different hardware and software players in this facility,” Mistry explained, “and their architects will literally live with us in the facility, so I believe we are building conglomerate innovation centres where we are combining all the best architects from different areas.” All told, the MTC on a global basis has formed relationships with fifty each software and hardware vendors, and has eight alliance partners. “So we do great things on the software side too,” Mistry added.

Ultimately, these relationships offer the customer the benefit of flexibility. The facility will support proof of concept using solutions from different vendors to determine the optimal hardware configuration for a particular application, or the best mashup of Microsoft and other software, including proprietary applications that may be unique to the customer or the industry.  In addition, the MTC also enables experimentation with different cloud models – ranging from the use of on premise, private cloud infrastructure (in the server display centre), to use of Microsoft public cloud services (accessed through Office 365 in the development centre) and hybrid scenarios. According to Mistry, Microsoft would lead with cloud in a discussion only where this was appropriate for the customer: “We provide alternatives, and ensure we meet customer needs. If cloud makes sense and there is an opportunity for the customer, then I definitely would lead with cloud.”

Over the next year or so, Microsoft expects to learn more about typical usage of the MTC by Canadian customers, information that may inform about market characteristics overall, and about the need for additional centres. In the U.S., there are MTCs in most major geographic “districts” (Chicago, Detroit, LA, Silicon Valley); while Canada may not offer equivalent opportunity to these regions, it represents a large geography to cover.  Phase two of the Canadian MTC strategy involves roll out of satellite locations in areas like Montreal or Vancouver that may be connected via Microsoft interactive collaboration technologies such as Lync.




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