Sun-Microsoft Deal Showing Signs of Stress?

 
 
By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-08-16
 
 
 
Several months after surprising the industry by announcing an integration partnership, Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. could be heading for their first rift.

Since announcing a cooperative technical agreement in April, the pair has been working on ways to help users move secure, highly structured data between their respective environments. Theyve also been meeting together with large clients to ensure their integration and interoperability plans meet enterprise needs.

But Jonathan Schwartz, Suns chief operating officer and president, in Santa Clara, Calif., made it clear last week that little will be accomplished until Microsoft embraces open standards and interoperability.

Any solution with Microsoft, Schwartz told eWEEK, "will have to be predicated upon the availability of that technology in a standard implementation."

"The basic enablement of interoperability necessary for customers to run their business would, from my perspective, be available as Liberty and a royalty-free standard," Schwartz said, referring to the Liberty Alliance, a global consortium devoted to developing an open, federated identity standard.

Click here to read about the push for interoperability in the Sun-Microsoft deal.

The idea behind the alliance is to drive e-commerce and Web-based services by offering businesses, governments and consumers a secure and convenient way to store personal identity data.

Liberty Alliance members include Sun, Novell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp. Microsoft is not a member.

For its part, Microsoft declined to comment on whether it is willing to offer any such technology as a royalty-free standard implementation through the Liberty Alliance. A Microsoft spokesperson said, "Outside of the recent announcement of Suns support for [the Web Services-Addressing specification], Microsoft is not at a point to discuss further details of the Microsoft and Sun partnership."

However, Microsoft officials have previously said identity should be viewed not in isolation but in the context of a broader Web services architecture.

In fact, Bill Gates, Microsofts chairman and chief software architect, told financial analysts recently that the agreement between the companies has little to do with making the Sun and Microsoft platforms the same. Rather, he said at the time, its about making it easy for customers to move data between the companies environments.

At the analysts meeting at the companys Redmond, Wash., campus last month, Gates said he and Sun Chief Technology Officer Greg Papadopoulos have had "a lot of technical discussions about what the solutions are. That is what we are looking towards over the next six months."

To read about Sun and Microsoft taking different security paths, click here.

Suns Schwartz said Gates and Papadopoulos have been meeting with their largest enterprise customers, mainly those with large network deployments that are facing substantial interoperability pain in their efforts to stitch together disparate systems.

Asked about the likelihood of Microsoft eventually supporting Liberty, Schwartz said, "To date, [Microsoft] has been very pragmatic and dispassionate about trying to stay focused on the customer problems, as have we."

IT professionals, such as Matthew Patton, a network security engineer in Arlington, Va., said they remain skeptical about Sun and Microsofts cooperative efforts.

While Patton said he agrees that any joint implementation should be freely licensable and redistributable, he added, "Im not necessarily convinced Liberty is the right venue, but it may very well be. While Microsoft may pretend for a while and might even back-port compatibility into it, theyll likely jam it into their Active Directory model and add enhancements so that in order to sync with standards-compliant tools, it will necessarily lose a lot of critical metadata."

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