Microsoft to Reach Out to IBM, Cisco on Interoperability

The company is responding to requests from members of its Interoperability Executive Customer Council that it work more closely with IBM and Cisco Systems.

Microsoft plans to reach out and work more closely with IBM and Cisco Systems on the interoperability front, as this is what its customers have told the software maker they want.

Specifically, these moves follow feedback from members of Microsofts Interoperability Executive Customer Council, which was established in June 2006 to solicit input from enterprise-level customers about exactly what they wanted from Microsoft.

While the company expected to get a lot of feedback, some critical, and suggestions about what to do going forward, said Bob Muglia, Microsofts senior vice president for the Server and Tools division, executives have been surprised by the level of dialogue and the issues that have been raised and, in some cases, already addressed. Muglia hosts the council meeting at the companys headquarters in Redmond, Wash., every six months.

One of the most useful pieces of feedback that customers gave Muglia was when they talked about how important Web Services are in terms of defining a standards-based implementation for supporting interoperability, he told eWEEK.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read more about the goals of Microsofts Interoperability Executive Customer Council, click here.

"They basically told me, pretty directly, that while Microsofts implementation was in great shape, IBMs and others were not, and that Microsoft needed to do a better job helping them do a better implementation," Muglia said. "And I had to think about that, as it is one thing for us to work with customers around interoperability, but quite another to go out and help a competitor build a better product to enable interoperability."

But Microsoft has now decided to go and talk to IBM and BEA Systems and a few others to help improve and define their interoperability. "Ultimately these guys have to make their products good, but there is a lot we can do working with them to make their products interoperate better with us," Muglia said.

IBM could not be immediately reached for comment on Muglias remarks or its thoughts about improving interoperability with Microsoft.

Muglia said Microsoft had also heard "loud and clear" that customers wanted it to focus on Cisco Systems with regard to interoperability work. "There is no enterprise that doesnt have both Cisco networking and Microsoft software. Its ubiquitous," he said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifA group of 11 major network, systems and applications providers have submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium a specification that is designed to advance interoperability between management tools. Click here to read more.

Customers want Microsoft to work with Cisco to make their identity and directory systems work more effectively together, he said.

Customers also want Ciscos basic networking infrastructure to work more effectively with the overall Microsoft infrastructure that sits above it and to make their respective unified communications systems work better together, Muglia said. "There is a desire for interoperability between us at almost every layer of the stack," he said.

A network administrator for a large academic institution told eWEEK that strong interoperability between the two product lines was especially important for any corporation that deploys Cisco IP telephones or Cisco desktop security products.

"There is a very complex infrastructure management system that needs to coordinate user services with the underlying equipment in terms of electronic directory information, access privileges, communications priority and unified messaging," he said.

Microsoft provides all the soft services like directory information, e-mail, desktop-based audio conferencing and videoconferencing, secured authentication, and authorization, all of which are based on a single management platform drawing on one database of user information, the network administrator said, while Cisco covers the hardware side, such as routers, switches, phones and other gear.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about which Microsoft IP PBX partners are supporting Office Communications Server 2007.

Microsofts Active Directory contains all the user information being requested by the various Cisco applications that control the network hardware, so the integration has to be tight, or otherwise things do not work properly, he said.

"But, if Cisco becomes the premier VOIP [voice over IP] provider and focuses on integrating with Microsoft, no one else will stand a chance. Together, they really would be impossible to beat," the network administrator said.

Next Page: To some customers, interoperability is vital.