Microsoft Puts Open-Source Integration to the Test

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-01-16

Microsoft Puts Open-Source Integration to the Test

Editors Note: This story is the third and final part of the series about Microsofts Linux and open-source lab.

Expect to see a lot more interoperability work between Microsoft Corp. and some of its open-source competitors over the next year—like the agreement struck with JBoss Inc. last year—as well as more participation by the Redmond, Wash., software maker in preventing interoperability problems earlier in its product cycle and providing potential fixes when issues arise.

"We have been successful in identifying popular open-source software applications that our customers are interested in using on the Microsoft Windows Server platform and working with those companies or projects to ensure that solution is well integrated," said Bill Hilf, the director of Platform Technology Strategy at Microsoft, and also the man who heads the companys Linux and open-source lab.

In September, Microsoft and JBoss executives said they would broaden interoperability between JEMS (JBoss Enterprise Middleware System) and Microsoft Windows Server.

The two companies said they would focus on four key areas initially: Microsoft Active Directory, Web services, management and SQL Server.

JBoss and Microsoft team up on interoperability. Click here to read more.

More than 50 percent of JBoss customers run JEMS on Windows Server, Hilf said, adding that "for those customers, our relationship is a natural fit. I think in 2006 and beyond you will see even more work from our lab along these lines."

Christine Martino, the recently appointed vice president of Hewlett-Packard Co.s open-source and Linux organization, agreed, telling eWEEK that such Microsoft moves are a positive rather than a negative for HP.

"As a Microsoft partner who supports Windows, as well as having our own HP-UX offering and supporting both Novells SUSE and Red Hat Linux, we are able to offer customers the freedom, flexibility and choice to mix and match their environments and components, something that other vendors cannot," she said.

The lab team has also helped provide information to open-source projects, as they did to help resolve the problems with Visual C++ compilations crashing on a Samba drive when the "allocation roundup" parameter was left at the default setting.

While this cooperation with open-source communities and competitors is also expected to increase going forward, Hilf noted that the company was focused heavily on interoperability testing across hundreds of open-source software projects.

"Weve done some work, including minor bug fixes, on the Samba Torture [smbtorture] testing tool, as well as some documentation of this tool. But the bigger picture is really not a bug fix here or there, but trying to identify interoperability problems before they hit customers, so testing earlier in our product lifecycle," Hilf said.

Some partners, like Barry Crist, the CEO of Centeris Corp., which spans both the proprietary and open-source worlds—the Centeris Likewise product allows users to manage Linux servers in their Windows networks—agree that Microsoft is doing a better job of reaching out to the open-source community.

"But Microsoft is a big company with a lot of different groups and different agendas. If you talk to the folks in Microsofts management tools group, they are under pressure from their customers to have cross-platform support," Crist said.

"There may be other groups within Microsoft who may feel differently, but the folks we have talked to have been generally supportive."

While Microsofts Linux and open-source lab has been running tests to examine how well Windows client software runs on legacy hardware and how to best make security fixes available to customers, open-source interoperability with Microsoft software has been a top priority, Hilf said.

Microsoft challenges Linuxs legacy claims. Click here to read more.

"Microsoft as a whole has been working on interoperability across all our products. From an interoperability perspective we look into a variety of areas," Hilf said.

"First we look at things we know are problematic or difficult to get to work together and attempt to solve those problems. Secondly, we look at areas where we can improve existing interoperability scenarios.

"Lastly, we look at potential new opportunities where we can bring technologies together," he said.

The Linux lab focuses specifically on the interoperability of open-source software with Microsoft software.

Next Page: Testing Linux in the lab.

Testing Linux in the


The lab tests various Linux distributions in its Virtual Server product line.

It also tests Samba, the open-source SMB file server, in different scenarios, as well as management tools working across a cross-platform environment.

Lastly, the lab tests open-source applications that run on Windows and/or integrate with other Microsoft software.

"Our goal for doing all of this is pretty simple—we want our customers to have the best experience with our software regardless of environment," Hilf said.

Hilf has managed many data center environments. While at IBM, he worked with customers on their enterprise architectures, and he said he is quite aware that mixed environments are a reality in the enterprise.

Click here for the eWEEK Editorial Boards view on Microsoft and integration.

"So we want to make sure, from an open-source software and Microsoft software perspective, that our customers are able to interoperate," Hilf said.

"For example, we can manage our Linux and Unix servers in my lab with Microsoft management technologies, using tools like Microsoft Systems Management Server, Microsoft Operations Manager and Active Directory, along with partner software from Vintela and Centrify, to get rich interoperability scenarios," he said.

These tools also provide seamless Active Directory integration with the labs Linux servers, and give the ability to deploy RPM patches as well as conduct remote inventories and monitor all of the Linux and Unix servers, Hilf said.

But the lab is also an enormous resource for Microsoft staff. There are about 40 different versions of Linux and almost every major Unix and BSD version running on a wide variety of hardware architectures.

"Counting both virtual and physical servers, its over 250," Hilf said. "We have a variety of ways people in Microsoft can experience these systems, probably the most common is a capability in Virtual Server 2005 that gives a user access to the system through a Web browser."

One of the services the lab provides is a centralized and controlled way to give Microsoft employees a view into Linux and open-source software environments, not just features of a certain distribution but how a real world customer environment might be configured and operated.

"For some of these scenarios we use regional distributions of Linux. For others, we use the bigger distributions, such as Red Hat. Using a wide variety of distributions this way also gives us the ability to see how they do and dont differentiate," Hilf said.

The lab is also a sounding board and critic for the Microsoft product development teams. While Hilf admits he spends more time with the Windows Server product development teams than any of the others, he said that his resources are available to all of them.

Hilf points to the Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, which entered a market space long dominated by Linux, as an example of how the Lab helped the product development teams.

"The development team came to me to help them understand what the best of breed Linux cluster would look like in this space," Hilf said.

"They also wanted to see what the existing products and solutions out there actually offered and how we could better integrate, automate and improve on that with our product," he said.

Given that clustering is currently a Linux-dominated environment, it makes sense that the Lab team, with its experience in Unix and Linux, would sit down and tell the development team what tools they would need to achieve their goals.

"We were really involved with that team, all the way through the process," Hilf said.

Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Rocket Fuel