Microsofts New Linux Salvo: IT Interoperability

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-02-03

Microsofts New Linux Salvo: IT Interoperability

Microsoft Corp. looks to be turning its pitch away from the total cost of ownership comparisons between Windows and open-source Linux, and is now tackling the thorny issue of interoperability.

The Redmond, Wash., software firm on Tuesday released the findings of a Jupiter Research Consulting survey, which it commissioned and paid for, titled "Interoperability Needs of IT Professionals."

This self-described "unbiased research study" of 800 IT decision-makers at U.S.-based companies with annual revenues of at least $10 million—who were also awarded frequent flyer points as an incentive for taking the survey—found that Microsoft is ranked as the most interoperable vendor and technology provider within the customers existing IT environment.

It also found that some 79 percent of those IT managers surveyed ranked Windows interoperability as the most important factor for them when considering adopting new technologies. In contrast, just 43 percent of those surveyed said interoperability with Unix systems is critical when selecting new technologies, 22 percent cited Linux, 20 percent chose Solaris, and 18 percent the mainframe.

This survey is the latest in a string of Microsoft-sponsored research reports that form the core of its "Get the Facts" campaign, designed to show the merits of Windows over Linux. But this "objective third-party research and facts," much of which is paid for or sponsored by Microsoft itself, has not always been that well-received.

In fact, after Forrester Researchs Giga Information Group unit went public in September with a research study that was paid for by Microsoft and found that Microsoft offered a cost advantage over J2EE/Linux as a development platform for certain portal-type applications, the research firm later said it would no longer publicize any similar future studies.

To read the full story on Gigas research study, click here.

Of the 800 survey respondents in this latest interoperability survey, more than half (54 percent) were from enterprises with revenue of more than $1 billion a year, while some 74 percent worked for companies with more than 1,000 employees.

In addition, some 39 percent of respondents described themselves as a pure Microsoft shop, while 36 percent said they had a mixed environment, 15 percent said they were an IBM shop, 5 percent primarily used Unix, 4 percent Solaris and just 1 percent Linux.

According to the Jupiter survey, some 72 percent of respondents ranked Microsoft as the most interoperable within their existing IT environment, followed by Oracle Corp. at 68 percent "given the importance of database interoperability," IBM at 63 percent, Sun Microsystems at 57 percent, with Hewlett-Packard Co. and Linux supporters tied at 55 percent, the survey said.

But the survey also showed the strength of the Oracle database, with 67 percent of those taking the survey saying that it was most important for any new technology to interoperate with the Oracle database. Also 61 percent said Microsofts SQL Server database was the most important and 32 percent called out IBMs DB2.

Among the key goals of interoperability for those surveyed were the streamlining of business processes and the resultant increased productivity, a lower TCO by reducing administration and development costs, and leveraging existing technology assets.

Among the key challenges of interoperability identified by the surveys respondents were the integration of existing applications and databases and the need to achieve "sufficient security."

Portability ranked fairly low on the list of priorities, with just 21 percent declaring that this was a priority for their companies.

Next Page: The key to interoperability? Applications.

The key to interoperability

? Applications.">

The survey also found that "applications and not standards are the key focus for interoperability." Some 65 percent of respondents said that integrating existing applications is more important when developing new IT platforms than security (48 percent) and supporting industry standards (44 percent).

Respondents also said that financial applications (33 percent) and portal development (32 percent) are the most important applications with which new technologies need to interoperate, while 55 percent said Web services standards are preferred for fostering interoperability.

Co-operation among applications was cited as the No. 1 challenge of interoperability, with 21 percent of respondents adding that Web services across different environments is a key challenge.

Martin Taylor, Microsofts general manager of platform strategy, told eWEEK in an interview on Tuesday that the studys finding showed the company is "on the right approach by focusing on application-level interoperability."

"It also shows the market recognizes that historically we have done a good job in facilitating and providing a certain level of interoperability and that this is directly related to TCO. It also shows that portability is not really something our key customers are interested in," Taylor said.

"So, while it hasnt really changed anything from Microsofts perspective, it has helped verify and given us a level of clarity on the direction and focus we need to be on," he said, taking a swipe at IBM by saying the survey had "also exposed IBM a little bit as it shows customers arent looking for people to come and do a lot of the plumbing work, they want technology to do that."

To read more about Martin Taylor, Microsofts new "Joe Friday" and his spin on open-source competition, click here.

Anthony Roby, a partner at Accenture, the global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company based in New York, was not surprised by the surveys results. He told eWEEK in an interview that the fact that the respondents were not focusing on the low-level technical interoperability mirrored what the company was hearing from its customers.

Tyson Hartman, director of .Net solutions at Seattle-based Avanade Inc., the global technology integrator for Microsoft enterprise solutions, agreed, telling eWEEK that the firms interoperability work is data- and applications-focused and so the survey results were not surprising.

But the interoperability challenge going forward will be getting application vendors, customers and platform providers to really understand what is meant by interoperability versus integration, he said.

"The focus today, the mindset of people today, is integration: how I get my Java system talking to my .Net system, rather than how I get the services that are contained within an application to interoperate with services contained in another application, as the world will continue to be heterogeneous and you will not be able to tightly bind different systems," Hartman said.

"One of the biggest challenges is getting into the mindset of what it means to be interoperable and how you build systems and business processes in that environment," Hartman added.

Accentures Roby said the challenge for interoperability going forward will be dependent on application vendors providing and exposing more interoperability capabilities on their own platforms.

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