Microsoft and Sun on Friday provided the second update of their yearlong technical cooperation work, with Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer summing up the progress by saying theyve moved from the courtroom to the lab and are now entering the market.
The first update was last December, and there was scant evidence of any tangible deliverables.
But Ballmer and Sun Microsystems, Inc. CEO Scott McNealy ensured that was not the case this time round, announcing a series of measures to enhance product interoperability, including the development of new specifications that enable Web single sign-on between systems that use Liberty and WS-* Web service architectures.
At a news and analyst conference in Palo Alto, Calif., on Friday, McNealy and Ballmer said the two firms had jointly developed and published two draft specifications: the Web Single Sign-On Metadata Exchange Protocol and Web Single Sign-On Interoperability Profile.
These new specifications enable browser-based Web SSO between security domains that use Liberty ID-FF and WS-Federation.
Products that support the Web SSO MEX Protocol and the Web SSO Interop Profile will let companies provide users with an improved Web SSO experience from their Web browsers.
The two companies will continue to further develop these draft specifications through the Web services protocol workshop process, and will ultimately submit them to a standards organization for finalization and ratification as industry standards.
They also announced plans to support the new specifications within their product portfolios, including Microsoft Windows Server and Sun Java Enterprise System.
At Fridays event, which the CEOs described as also a customer event, Ballmer, upon taking the stage with McNealy, joked that the scratch on his head was not from McNealy.
Microsoft and Sun had been hard at work for a year, he said, and had emerged from the courtroom and entered the computer lab. Now they were leaving the lab and entering the market.
There are a number of areas in which the two firms can now deliver the products that customers can use, Ballmer said, but he stressed the challenge they had undertaken was not to merge their products but to interoperate while continuing to innovate separately.
Focusing on End Users
Among the focused areas of delivery is to end users, who want their applications to run on .Net and Sun Java systems, he said, while IT managers want to be able to log into one console.
For their part, developers want to run applications that live in both the Java and .Net worlds, and they want to be able to stitch them together in various ways, he said.
“So, we have challenged a wide variety of customer scenarios. The demo we are going to show of the work we have done and the results achieved may be the most boring demo youve ever seen, but thats what users want,” Ballmer quipped.
The two companies have also cooperated on the management and the standards front to create technology that lets users run Sun and Microsoft software from a single management console.
“We have been hard at work for the past 12 months and these are the results, which I think are pretty impressive,” Ballmer said.
The storage market is also booming, and Suns recent purchase of Tarantella helped further facilitate the interoperability between the Sun and Microsoft components, he said.
But there is still a lot more to do in light of a long list of needs from customers, so “we will be hard at work for the next 12 months as well,” he said.
Microsofts .Net and Suns Java are the two leading platforms, and “giving the world the interoperability it wants” means requiring them to work together, he said.
Giving his comments, McNealy joked that Ballmer could now end his sentences for him, “which is why he got to present first,” he said.
But he acknowledged that the work has been tough and it has only really come together nicely over the last three months or so.
“What we have achieved and what we plan going forward is quite impressive,” he said.
“Who would have thunk this would ever have happened,” he asked the laughing audience.
A Joint Advisory Committee
The two companies have also established a joint advisory committee of 10 shared large customers, which have given them a list of their needs in an order of priority, and single sign-on was at the top of that list.
Other items that made the list included thin client access, certifying storage environments and manageability, McNealy said.
Looking ahead, moving this Services Oriented Architecture will be the next challenge, he said, pointing out that operating systems are critical.
Solaris and Windows have clearly emerged as “the two survivor and leading operating systems, though Im not quite sure whos in third place long-term,” he said, adding that the operating system is essential as it touches everything.
“We are not limiting choice, we are creating substitutionabilty and interoperability between them, and growing them,” he said.
So as to provide an enterprise customer perspective, Fred Killeen, the director of Systems Development and chief technology officer for General Motors Information Systems & Services, took the stage.
He welcomed the moves toward cross-domain Web single sign-on, saying that “we expect it to help reduce complexity and cost for us, and we are going to look at how to implement this going forward and take full advantage of it.”
GM has more than a million users across the world and a very large installed base, so it is critical to bring the two technology sides that Microsoft and Sun provides together.
“We are developing a proof on concept and a Microsoft desktop that will authenticate to Active Directory but then allow single sign-on to our Sun portal world, he said.
Then, in a demo of cross-domain single sign-on at work, which the presenters dubbed “the most boring security demo you may ever see,” following Ballmers earlier lead, they showed how identity solutions can be used together to provide browser-based and cross sign-on authentication.
Later this year Microsoft will also allow federation, which lets companies to protect their data across the Internet to its partners and customers without them having to provide a different user sign-on and password across different platforms.
McNealy also took several swipes at competitor IBM, in particular its global services division and its legacy mainframe computers, implying it was devolving into an “us against them” scenario and quipping, “anything but IBM Global Services.”
Support from Partners
In order to show support from partners and to demonstrate how the technologies created by Microsoft and Sun would be moved into the customer realm, McNealy invited Charlie Feld, the executive vice president of portfolio management at EDS to the stage.
Feld said EDS has hundreds of servers and millions of devices connected all over the world, which are hampered by the complexity built into its 40-year-old IT environment.
“Getting to work now in this open and interoperable world is very exciting. We are entering a new era now where interoperability will reverse 40 years of IT and allow us to focus on the supply change and customer,” he said.
Everything needed to be simplified, modified and made less complex, Feld said, adding that multi-lateral agreements between companies like Microsoft and Sun “takes us forward in a profound way. The IT world will mature as we continue to work together,” he said.
Asked about moving customers off legacy mainframes to the new Microsoft and Sun solutions, Felt said the problem is that money had to be freed up to move users off complex and aging platforms to these new and exciting ones.
Don Rippert, the chief technology officer at Accenture, said he is excited about the latest announcements, pointing to the fact that Accenture has already had to work on creating interoperability between the Sun and Microsoft platforms at a grocery chain, bank, and government agency in Europe.
“That was really hard to do until this alliance. The more this cooperative venture can remove barriers, the more we can do for clients,” he said.
Asked what he would like to see in the next round of technological work between Sun and Microsoft, he said that while he applauds their commitment to work through Web standards, the systems management scenario needs to be the next area of focus.
In conclusion, Ballmer said he wanted to stress that there is a lot more work to do in the labs, and that there are more underpinnings to be done with regard to the Web service specs.
“We get pushed on by every CIO and CEO about how hard it is to integrate systems together. So, the work that we need to do around Java and .Net is very important,” he said, adding that there is also a lot more to do in the marketplace.
For his part, McNealy concluded that “I have not yet met a customer, and I have met thousands, who is not absolutely thrilled by what we are doing.”
In a question-and-answer session, asked what some of the early difficulties were, Ballmer said there had not been a lot of contact between staff at the two firms previously and that the “folks from both sides had to get to know one another and talk a common language. But, at some point, I had to tell them to stop getting to know one another and start making something happen,” he said.
Asked if licensing payments were being made to and from both companies, McNealy said Sun had just licensed Microsofts Remote Display Protocol, and said that licensing, certifications and payments were flowing in both directions.