Sun and Microsoft: Fixing Each Others Flats?

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-12-01

Sun and Microsoft: Fixing Each Others Flats?

Some eight months have passed since Sun Microsystems and Microsoft signed their landmark settlement and technical collaboration agreement, and a number of significant milestones have already been accomplished during that time, executives from both companies said Wednesday.

Greg Papadopoulos, chief technology officer at Sun Microsystems Inc., told reporters via teleconference that both companies view this as a long-term relationship that will unfold over the years, and one that had been considered a 10-year agreement from the outset.

Papadopoulos said the companies share two immediate goals. "First is that we are working on Web services specifications which will really help future products interoperate out of the box, and secondly, we are exploring the basic common sense approaches that let the existing products sets we both have work well together," he said.

"We are really working toward a world where both Sun and Microsoft products will co-exist at our customers but interoperate and stay that way," Papadopoulos said. "We are very happy on the cooperation we have had so far on Web services protocols from Microsoft."

Both companies have focused on the customers needs, he said, adding that he and Microsoft Corp. chief software architect Bill Gates had met with some of their biggest customers who had given them a long list of things they wanted them to work on, including security, interoperability, Java and Web services. "That dialogue continues," he said.

Andrew Layman, director of Microsofts distributed systems interoperability in Redmond, Wash., talked about the processes and how this was important to relationships with customers. Executives have worked to ensure good communication at all levels of the company and are holding in-depth meetings with engineers and customers to ensure that both companies are aligned, he said.

The companies have held fifteen executive meetings over past five months, while two dozen engineers meet face-to-face every month to discuss specific technical issues such as Sun storage support for Windows Server, how to optimize Windows and Suns AMD hardware, how to work more closely on Web services, and how to provide tools to help customers manage their enterprises, he said.

Papadopoulos said that in the area of 64-bit computing, Sun has a strategic relationship with AMD and Opteron, and that it sees Microsoft and Windows compatibility as a key element in what customers want for those platforms as well.

"Essentially, we want to ensure that our hardware platforms are supporting the major operating systems and platforms for both Solaris and Windows and that we have been certified by the Windows Hardware Quality Labs as Designed for Windows, and our workstations get to take advantage of the enhanced virus protection in AMDs Opteron under Windows XP Service Pack 2 [SP2]," he said. "This gives our customers options."

The two companies also are working on systems interoperability, not just on the server side but on storage and interoperable heterogeneous environments. "In network storage, weve worked together on things like driver compatibility, making sure we support Microsofts virtual disk service and volume copy shadow service on Suns StorEdge 6920 storage arrays, while also ensuring that the Microsoft APIs are not only supported but also certified," Papadopoulos said.

This would give customers the assurance that the two companies are playing well together and that they could depend on this for provisioning things such as SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange, he said.

Next Page: Setting up a center to test interoperability.

Testing Center

Sun and Microsoft also are focusing on what customers want and on providing a more formalized business environment to help them seamlessly solve technical issues with their products. Sun is setting up a technology competency center at the Redmond campus to enable customers to do real-world testing of their applications in these heterogeneous, interoperable environments, he said.

The two companies have made progress in greater interoperability with their current software products. In the identity area, Sun has just gotten VeriTest certification for the Sun Java System Directory Server Enterprise Edition and its Java System Access Manager and Java System Identity Manager running on top of Windows Server.

"In addition, we are working hard right now to validate Access Manager and Identity Manager functionality for customers who are using Active Directory as the directory for user credentials," Papadopoulos said. "A lot of this stuff came out of our direct customer feedback, which put identity at the top of the list of things they wanted us to work on."

He said Sun also has cooperated on the release of Windows XP Service Pack 2 so that the Java Runtime Environment and the StarOffice productivity suite run well together. There was "excellent" engineering cooperation between the teams on this, he said.

Click here for a review of Windows XP SP2.

A number of additional areas of cooperation exist between the companies, Microsofts Layman said, naming Web services as one of the most important ones. Both Microsoft and Sun are looking to Web Services as the future architecture to provide this interoperability, he said.

"We find that Microsoft and Sun have a lot of commonality in how we think about this space. Over the past eight months, they had worked on the basic yet fundamental WS Addressing specification. We have also worked together on WS Eventing, WS Metadata-Exchange and, of course, customers want our systems to be highly manageable," Layman said.

"So, we at Microsoft have the Dynamic Systems Initiative [DSI], and Sun has its N1 initiative, and we are looking to have a WS Management specification supported to enable these systems to be talked to in a common way.

Read more here about Suns grid vision with its N1 initiative.

"This is on track to go through a development, testing and standardization process. There is a lot more work to be done, but we have already found a lot of common Web Services interests," he said.

Java is also important to Microsoft customers and, as Microsoft is not going to be issuing new versions of the Java Virtual Machine, this is being provided to users by Sun and runs well on Windows, he said.

Customers want the two companies to work most closely on the identity front, he said, adding that browser authentication is an area where the two could do great work together.

"There is concern among our customers about the relationship between Web services and the Liberty Alliance effort, and we have identified Web browser authentication as the area where we can probably do some great work," Layman said.

While they had nothing to announce on that front at this time, "you should read this as reflecting that we get the message and we know it is really important and we are actively at work thinking out how we can best solve that," Layman said.

During the question-and-answer session, Papadopoulos said Sun and Microsoft are looking at interoperability and touch points between the two product stacks: Windows and .Net, and the Java Enterprise Server and Solaris.

But both Layman and Papadopoulos avoided providing details on what new work could be on the cards going forward, saying that solving these problems does take time. "But, as a relationship goes, we have done a 180-degree turn. Nine months ago, we were slashing each others tires, now we are helping one another fix our flats," Papadopoulos said.

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