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Virtualization hopes bring Microsoft, Novell together

The operating system agnostic philosophy of virtualization spurred Microsoft's surprising new Linux-friendly stance, evident in last week's announcement of a partnership with Novell Inc., according to a panel of experts.

The operating system agnostic philosophy of virtualization spurred Microsoft's surprising new Linux-friendly stance, evident in last week's announcement of a partnership with Novell Inc., according to a panel of experts. This alliance will give IT organizations a greater comfort level with and an imperative to bone up on Linux, too.

In this interview, these site experts sound off on last week's announcement of a partnership in which Microsoft and Novell Inc. will work together on virtualization and Windows-Linux interoperability products. Two members of our panel are Microsoft MVPs: Alessandro Perilli, the founder of, a pioneering virtualization site; and Anil Desai, an independent IT consultant and IT book author. Our other experts are Linux and open source software experts: Joseph Foran, director of IT for non-profit FSW, Inc., led a major migration to server virtualization, Linux and open source applications; and Bernard Golden is CEO of Navica Inc., an IT consulting firm focused on open source software.

Bernard Golden Alessandro Perilli Joseph Foran Anil Desai Jan Stafford for What was your initial reaction to the new Microsoft-Novell partnership?

Golden: Wow! Hell froze over!

Do you think virtualization played a key role in spurring this alliance?

Perilli: I thought this was a move to reinforce Microsoft's virtualization strategies.

Foran: I think virtualization is the only reason that this happened. Without the ability to run multiple operating system types concurrently, there would have been little impetus at Microsoft to support another operating system in any way other than, "How to migrate off of your current operating system (OS) and move to Windows 101".

Desai: Virtualization lowers the bar for running heterogeneous operating systems and environments. It can help address issues related to deployment and compatibility. That translates to OSes competing on the merits of their features. It doesn't, however, magically solve problems related to managing and support multiple different OSes.

Is this a revolutionary victory for Linux and open source or a way for Microsoft to engulf Linux?

Perilli: I can't see anything revolutionary in this move. Microsoft simply needs a Linux enterprise distribution to officially endorse in its upcoming Windows Server Virtualization (WSV) hypervisor (formerly code-named Viridian).

The effort in supporting Linux inside virtual machine is significant, even for Microsoft, and a partnership with a Linux distributor permits to partially reduce support issues.

There were only two concrete possibilities for such partnership: Novell and Red Hat. From my point of view it's easy to imagine why Microsoft chosen Novell: While SUSE is a solid and innovative distribution, Red Hat still has market dominance. Microsoft preferred to weaken Red Hat's leadership by choosing its competitor.

Finally Microsoft has interests outside virtualization which helped deciding to partner with Novell. The first of them is the Mono project, which allows users to run Microsoft .NET Framework code on Linux platforms. Novell, employing Mono developers since the Ximian acquisition three years ago, included the project in all its distributions, which means a lot of new potential customers for Microsoft.

Foran: It's a good thing for Linux, because the move towards broader support will help blur the lines between the Windows and Linux camps that have sprung up in many IT departments. Microsoft will never be able to engulf something like Linux the way it marginalized Apple's OS in the late 80s and early 90s or used Office to crush Novell and Corel's productivity suites. As an open-source, grassroots, community-oriented operating system, Linux doesn't play in the same park, let alone sandbox, as proprietary systems.

Where does this leave Red Hat?

Perilli: Four players are going to offer support for Microsoft Windows inside Xen virtual machines: Virtual Iron and XenSource as independent virtualization providers; Novell and Red Hat as operating system providers.

At this point, Red Hat has some problems offering a trustworthy Windows support over both XenSource, which already has a direct agreement with Microsoft since this summer, and Novell now. Being involved in Xen development since early beginning, Red Hat surely has capabilities to offer such support, but the real problem is how reliable its support will be perceived by the market.

What are the implications for IT organizations?

Foran: In the virtualization space, I see significant improvements to both Xen and Microsoft Virtual Server coming as a result of the research, as well as increased compatibility. On the management side, I see products such as ZenWorks and SMS, eDirectory and Active Directory, and others becoming interoperable across product lines as well as on the networks they are deployed to.

Perilli: Linux's unique characteristics are a great benefit for some companies and a thorny issue for others. The large amount of Linux distributions is more often a [negative] issue, because companies need to know the chosen distribution will be supported in every deployment (including virtual data centers) and, most of all, will be supported in interoperability scenarios.

The Microsoft and Novell agreement may offer that assurance, simplifying management in mixed corporate environments where Windows and Linux have to co-exist. As a result, SUSE Linux may become the preferred choice for enterprise deployment within the Windows Server Virtualization frame.

How should IT organizations react to this news?

Desai: I don't think that this announcement should cause organizations to rethink their short-term strategies and direction. Instead, I recommend that systems administrators carefully evaluate their business requirements and then continue to include Linux (as they probably have been doing all along) as an option.

The same issues focused on deployment and management costs, as well as supportability, still remain.

Golden: This indicates that not even Microsoft believes that tomorrow's data center will be Microsoft-only. IT organizations should feel more comfortable pursuing Linux initiatives and especially should be examining cross-platform technologies. This is a huge endorsement for Samba.

Foran: Microsoft-centric IT personnel, both management and staff, need to brush up on what this alliance means for them. They must stand prepared to support SUSE Linux as well as Windows, Red Hat, etc. They will also need to study virtualization, because this will be a big driver of change -- the proliferation of Windows guests in SUSE Linux hosts using Xen or VMware server and SUSE guests in Windows hosts using MS Virtual Server will both increase as a result of the announcement.

What can we expect Microsoft to do next, from a technology standpoint?

Desai: More tools and utilities that allow for tighter Microsoft-Linux integration would be a win for everyone – customers and vendors. From a technical standpoint, I really don't think Microsoft has to fear significant loss of revenue from making it easier for organizations to deploy Linux.

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