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Microsoft Users, Partners Add Linux To The List

Meeting and Greeting Microsoft's Partners

  • April 28, 2003
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

In the throes of this month's Windows Server 2003 rollout, many long-time Microsoft users are evaluating Linux as an alternative platform. Reasons cited by IT adminisrators range from cost savings to "an anti-Microsoft boss." Meanwhile, many of Microsoft's partners in the launch already offer products for both environments.

Support for Linux isn't universally wholehearted, however. Some Windows customers maintain that Linux "isn't really there yet," or that Linux is only the better choice for certain types of applications. Some vendors selling into both environments still claim specific advantages for Microsoft's platform.

OEMs Hewlett-Packard and Unisys each support both environments, for instance. So do ISVs ranging from conferencing specialist First Virtual Communications to Oblix, a producer of ID management software.

HP sees itself as well positioned for supporting multivendor environments, including mixed Windows/Linux implementations, contended Rick Fricchione, VP and general manager for Enterprise Microsoft Practice HP Services, Consulting & Integration.

HP rival IBM also offers products and services for both platforms, the HP exec acknowledged. "IBM, though, has had some serious issues with Microsoft," according to Fricchione.

One federal agency is now considering replacing all its Microsoft systems with Linux, said an IT employee there. The employee, though, opposes the rip-and-tear.

"My boss is anti-Microsoft," complained the IT worker. "But personally, I don't think Linux is all the way there yet. Why? Linux lacks support for HBA, for example, meaning you can't use multiple storage servers," he charged.

Not everyone perceives a shift from Microsoft to Linux. "There are some Apache Web servers here and there, but other than that, we don't see much Linux. Then again, I live in a Microsoft world," said an independent consultant specializing in Windows deployments.

The consultant claimed that, in his experience, migrations from Novell NetWare to Windows are more common. "We've had four big wins in that space over the past few months. People used to buy NetWare for better security, but that's starting to going away now."

Some Microsoft customers are, in fact, running smaller evaluations of Linux. The New York Branch of the National Bank of Canada is operating a "limited implementation" of Apache, said Lup S. Kong, a systems analyst there. The bank is considering possible migration to Linux from its current base of Windows 2000 and NetWare servers.

Likewise, a New York City municipal agency is now testing Linux-based Apache and print servers within its predominantly Windows NT environment.

"We're trying to find cost reductions. Also, Linux seems to be the current trend. It's 'the thing to do,'" explained a systems administrator at the city agency. "But it looks like we'll only use Linux for Web and print servers. We'll probably stick with Windows for the rest."

Microsoft is making moves to push the many NT servers still in its installed base to Windows Server 2003. During a W2K+3 launch event in New York City last week, Brian Valentine, senior VP of Microsoft's Windows Division, pointed to Virtual Server--a new feature based on technology bought from Connectix--as a way of running multiple instances of NT while migrating to W2K+3.

Many Microsoft ISV partners are divided in their support. Oblix and First Virtual each sell software for Linux and other Unix environments as well as Windows, for example. Yet according to Prakash Ramamurthy, Oblix's VP of products and technology, customer support is a selling point in Microsoft's favor.

"If my Apache Web server went down in the middle of the night, I'd be very hard pressed to know who to call," Ramamurthy remarked.

First Virtual CTO Dave Bundy maintained that Microsoft's latest platform will supply capabilities unavailable on Linux. "We can provide basic (conferencing) functionality on Linux," Bundy said. First Virtual, though, plans to use Microsoft's SQL Server and the "directory and presence engine" in MS's forthcoming Real-Time Communications (RTC) server for combining instant messaging with multipoint audio, video and data conferencing.

Reporting toolsmaker Crystal Decisions is pondering a product for Linux, but hasn't made a decision yet, according to officials.

Some predict that Microsoft will strive to use the new Web Edition of Windows Server 2003 as a counterattack against Linux. W2K+3 also comes in four other flavors: Standard, Enterprise, Datacenter, and 64-Bit.

The browser-enabled Web Edition lacks support for a lot of the capabilities present in some or all of the other editions, including Microsoft Metadirectory Services (MMS), Group Policy Management Server (GPMC), Internet Authentication Service (IAS), to give some examples.

A few days after the W2K+3 launch, though, details about pricing and availability of the Web Edition remain quite sketchy. On its Web site, Microsoft is advising customers to contact local systems builders, OEMs and resellers for information.

"The Web Edition isn't free, but it does cost less than the other editions," observed HP's Fricchione.

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