Editors Note: This is the last in a series of articles that examines Microsofts strategy of gaining market share and driving new solutions to market through its partner base.
BOSTON—There can be enormous advantages for a company to build a product for Linux while also partnering with Microsoft, but there are also huge development challenges associated with working on two such different platforms.
Oregon-based PolyServe is a company that did just that with its commercial Matrix Server clustering technology, which powers its Database Utility and File Serving Utility solutions.
Michael Callahan, the chief technology officer at PolyServe, told eWEEK in an interview at the annual Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference here that the company, which was started in 2000, had decided to develop Matrix Server for the Linux platform.
Matrix Server for Linux was released in 2002, but was designed for enterprise customers, of which there were few at that time.
"We got started on Linux as the kernel source code was accessible, was driven by the open-source community development model, and that all made it easy for us to get started," Callahan said.
But the company initially struggled to find enterprise customers, even though it now has a "thriving Linux business. The reasons for starting development on that platform were purely technical, and so we realized that if we could have the same product on Windows, that would be good for the company," he said.
As such, PolyServe approached Microsoft in 2002 about this, but was concerned that the Redmond software maker might not want software that interacted deeply with the Windows operating system, the way Matrix Server would.
"Much to our surprise, Microsoft was really receptive to the idea, and even cautioned us how hard it would be to do technically. They also pointed out certain APIs [Application Programming Interfaces] that we would need to use and even referred us to some former Microsoft staff who had left the company but were looking for the next exciting thing," he said.
PolyServe contacted those former Microsoft staff members, some of whom joined the company or helped it design the product for the Windows platform, and Matrix Server for Windows was released at the end of 2003.
"While our Linux business was growing rapidly at that point, the Windows business took off immediately and quickly grew to represent about 60 percent of our business, as its does now," he said.
Selling the Linux-based product had also proved challenging because potential customers had to be sold on the Linux platform itself, which was not the case with Windows, which was a familiar environment for potential buyers.
"We were, and still are, easily able to get into conversations with large Windows-based customers about their needs, challenges and problems. While Linux is also now deployed far more among enterprises, the scale is just not the same as it is for Windows," Callahan said.
Asked how challenging it is to develop for Windows, given that it is a commercial, proprietary code base with no access to the source code versus for Linux, which is open-source, Callahan said the development team was able to reuse a lot of the code on from the Linux distribution for the Windows product.
"Those parts of the code that touched the Windows operating system had to be rewritten, but we have a single code tree and just one source code repository, with two branches for the different platform distributions," he said.
While the code for Matrix Server for Linux is not open-source, Callahan said this is a necessary business model for the company and its products, especially given the nature of its enterprise and government clients, some of whom use it to run their ATM networks.
"Having it open-source is just not an issue that comes up with our clients," he said.
PolyServe remains committed to actively pursuing product enhancements for both Linux and Windows and to further growing its business in both.
"Our core belief is that industry standard servers will take over the data center, and we want to be on the operating systems that will matter when that happens. Right now, it is clear that means you need to support Windows and Linux," he said.