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Opinion -
A two-way street (March 2000)

In this month’s View Point, Mike Thompson looks at how Microsoft is addressing issues of interoperability and integration with Unix platforms


Microsoft’s dream of Windows 2000 being the de facto platform standard for the enterprise is still a long way from fulfillment. This is not because Win2K is not an enterprise class platform (we will really need to wait for the Data Center Server before judgement can start to be made on that issue), but because common sense tells us that organisations worldwide are not going to throw away their current infrastructure and associated applications just so they can have a bright shiny new toy to play with.

The Microsoft integration strategy

Fortunately, Microsoft has realised this fact – albeit, some might say, reluctantly – and it has gone a long way to address the issues of interoperability between and integration with Unix platforms. Given that there are some two million Unix servers in operation, it would have been an exceedingly dumb move to ignore these issues. Microsoft may be many things, but dumb it isn’t. Win2K will need to go to market as a platform that can fit into the heterogeneous systems that exist in all but the smallest market sectors.

The Microsoft strategy for integration and interoperability has been multi-focused, but in the main has been concerned with building bridges and gateways to other platforms, enabling third-parties and partners to build in interoperability, providing support for a set of standards to give interoperability.

This strategy has been given form with Microsoft’s Interoperability Framework, which is divided into four layers dealing with integration of Network, Data, Applications and Management. The first three layers are handled by support for standards and the introduction of the SNA Server. The issue of management has needed a more complex solution, which is the domain of Active Directory – which for a long time appeared to be the bÍte noire of Win2K. The fact that Microsoft became so possessive of Active Directory and its functionality gives a clear indication of how seriously it was taking this layer of the Interoperability Framework. This is hardly surprising given the emphasis that Microsoft places on TCO and the amount of resource that can be expended on management of heterogeneous systems.

Application layer and databases

While it is clear that Microsoft has made moves towards integration of Win2K and other platforms, there are still some niggles as to how far this extends and how strong its commitment is; especially when the application layer and databases are concerned. The former is the one that needs to come under the closest scrutiny. One of the stated standards that Microsoft is supporting is COM+ (which is hardly surprising); however, in the world of distributed applications that follow the component model, Unix vendors are fixating on Java, and especially the framework provided by the Enterprise Java Bean (EJB) standard. Java and Microsoft go together like particularly belligerent cats and dogs, and while COM and DCOM certainly have more working implementations in operation, EJBs are set to catch up rapidly now that the tool’s market is reaching maturity.

As far as the data layer is concerned, the implementation of Microsoft SQL Server as NT/Win2K specific would also raise concerns. To be fair, given the length of time that RDBMSs have been around and that we are now into the third version of the ASCII SQL standard, the fact that we are still relying on ODBC is something that the whole industry should be ashamed of. It is also an indication that standards are not always the answer.

Wake up Unix

One other aspect of integration between Win2K and Unix needs to be considered. The emphasis always seems to be on Microsoft and how it will integrate with other platforms. From an historical perspective this can be considered as a correct way of looking at things: Unix was here first, therefore the new upstarts should fit in. But history is a continuous process, and we have reached a point where it needs to be accepted that Windows is not going to go away, people like it too much for that. Unix vendors should also start to put their own integration house in order and see how they can improve their platforms to make them more interoperable with NT/Win2K instead of always trying to find the Unix flavour that will finish off Microsoft. This is not going to happen; even the mighty Linux cannot make this happen, no matter how much its supporters would like to believe it.

Integration is always a two-way street, and businesses should start to support those vendors who offer true interoperability. At least it would demonstrate that they had put aside their own petty differences and desire for platform power, and were interested in supplying solutions that would be of real benefit to business as a whole.

Mike Thompson, Director of Research, Butler Group

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