At this year's DEMO Conference, I ended up at a lunch table with a couple of people from Microsoft's Emerging Business Team, a division of the company which helps startups develop a relationship with Microsoft. Now I had always known that Microsoft worked with startups, but I didn't know what exactly that involvement entailed. It was really interesting to hear about this side of the business and I knew I wanted to learn more.
As it turns out, Microsoft’s technologies are powering a lot of applications we take for granted as being "Web 2.0" apps. Some examples you may be familiar with include Lijit, Pageflakes, Xobni, loopt, Me.dium, Clarizen, DOCCENTER, Zumobi, Plentyoffish, and YuMe. The very best example I can think of, though, is MySpace. Yes, one of the world's largest social networks runs Microsoft technologies on their back end.
The MySpace Story
MySpace has the second-highest traffic of all sites on the web, with an estimated 38 million unique visits per month, more than 65 million registered members, and 260,000 more users signing up every day. The site hosts around 430 million images and has recently added MySpace Music, a section dedicated to streaming music from artists around the world. But when you think MySpace, you don’t think Microsoft, do you? Yet it’s Microsoft that helped MySpace get off the ground from day one and scale up to the size it is now.
When MySpace’s membership reached 9 million, for example, parts of the site were converted to ASP.NET and immediately the company saw performance improvements and lower overall CPU usage. By the time MySpace hit 17 million users, the ASP.NET backend was expanded even more and MySpace deployed a large-scale dynamic caching engine which ensured that profile pages were always available and quick to load. The company also moved to 64-bit Windows Servers at that time which allowed them to add more RAM and reduce the number of machines they needed to run the site.
More recently, MySpace rolled out new code built with ASP.NET 2.0 and the performance results had the CPU usage dropping from 85% to 27% across profile pages and reduce the number of servers required to deliver the page volume by 40%. Today, MySpace runs in a scalable, federated environment using SQL Server 2005, Microsoft .NET 2.0, and Microsoft Internet Information Services 6.0 on Windows Server 2003 64-bit editions. The company’s 4000 servers are spread across 3 data centers and use more than 3000 disks.
Of course, most startups aren’t going to reach the size and scale of MySpace, but if Microsoft can help that company succeed, just imagine what they can do for the little guy. When looking into this topic further, I found an excellent summary of the different ways a startup can receive help from Microsoft, as described by Don Dodge here. That list included things like marketing support and the partner sign-up form.
Today, there’s another option that can be added to that list: BizSpark. Microsoft is now officially offering their support to startups through this new program. With BizSpark, everything a startup needs to get off the ground is being offered for free for three years. This program provides software, support, and visibility for those participating.
Specifically, startups will receive the following:
Development Tools, Platform Technologies and Production License
- All the software included in the Microsoft® Visual Studio® Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN® Premium subscription
- Expression® Studio Version 2
- VSTS Team Foundation Server (standard edition)
- Production use rights to host a “software as a service” solution (developed during participation in the BizSpark Program, on any platform) over the Internet, with regard to products including:
- Microsoft Windows Server® (all versions up to and including Enterprise)
- Microsoft SQL Server® (all versions)
- Microsoft Office SharePoint® Portal Server
- Microsoft System Center
- Microsoft BizTalk® Server
- Microsoft Dynamics® CRM (coming soon)
- In addition to the core program offering, BizSpark startups will be eligible for other Microsoft offerings, such as:
- Microsoft Azure™ Services Platform
Startups receive MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) based subscriptions which provides access to a broad range of Microsoft tools and technologies that enable teams to design, develop and test software solutions. MSDN Premium subscription also includes access to MSDN’s expert information resources for developers, such as:
Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN)
- Managed newsgroups support: For developers the first port-of-call for answers is usually the community. If not effectively answered by the community, posts to the MSDN Newsgroups from MSDN subscribers will be picked up by Microsoft engineers within 2 business days.
Online Concierge. MSDN Online Concierge is a chat-based service, providing subscribers with a guide to the rich online resources of MSDN.com – which includes resources such as:
- MSDN Library, an essential source of information for developers using Microsoft tools, products, and technologies, which includes how-to and reference documentation, sample code, technical articles, and more.
- Developer Centers, which pull together content and resources around specific products and technologies .
- Forums, which provide resources for getting answers to technical questions.
Two technical support incidents per startup. Each incident is managed by Microsoft until they are resolved, no matter how many calls it takes.
Unlimited BizSpark program support for non-technical issues.
Through the Bizspark DB online directory, startups have the opportunity to profile their company and gain exposure to potential investors, partners, and customers. From time to time, Microsoft will feature certain startups on the Microsoft StartupZone website.
Although BizSpark has been designed to offer companies an alternative to free open-source software, the addition of the free technical support is also an appealing option. What’s really interesting about this offering, though, is the possibility of extending your startup onto the newly announced Windows Azure platform. This new cloud OS provides a robust alternative to the current crop of cloud platforms and allows a company's application(s) to integrate with other types of Windows Services including SQL Services, Live Services, and .NET. This makes BizSpark a great way to get started with a new Enterprise 2.0 application that integrates with Active Directory, for example, or a consumer-based Live Mesh-enabled application, perhaps.
Maybe your startup won’t ever grow to the size of MySpace, but it does, at least you started off on the right foot. Companies can sign up for BizSpark here: http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark.
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