New Sun, Microsoft Wars

Fierce rivals Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have taken their battle to another front. Out of the courtroom this time, both companies announced separate plans to integrate Unix with Windows NT.

Fierce rivals Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have taken their battle to another front. Out of the courtroom this time, both companies announced separate plans to integrate Unix with Windows NT.

First out of the starting gate, Sun announced Project Cascade, a plan to provide interoperability and compatibility between Sun and Microsoft systems, essentially providing Sun customers with plug-ins to Windows NT environments.

The first part of Sun’s plan is a technology agreement with AT&T Corp. (Murray Hill, N.J., www.att.com) along the lines of the Advanced Server for Unix agreement between AT&T and Microsoft. Sun’s agreement enables both Sparc- and Intel-based Solaris systems to provide native Windows NT services, opening up a new market for Sun’s enterprise servers, which provide native NT functions such as naming, authentication, and file and print sharing.

Another part of the announcement introduces a new add-in card that enables users of Sun’s Ultra workstations to run Windows and DOS applications at native-speed performance. The SunPCi co-processor allows everything from viewing applications to sharing applications and, of course, running Windows applications.

Sun also stated that it is working toward linking its entire line of storage systems -- from the entry-level Sun StorEdge A1000 array to the high-end Sun StorEdge tape libraries -- directly into NT environments by year-end. Sun says that when used with Project Cascade technology, Sun StorEdge systems can support not only Solaris-based NT network services, but NT application servers as well.

Just 1 day after Sun announced Project Cascade, Microsoft and Compaq Computer Corp. held a joint teleconference discussing an NT-Unix interoperability initiative of their own. The companies outlined an agreement to make Windows NT and Compaq’s Digital Unix and Digital OpenVMS play together more cooperatively.

Given the timing, it appears that the teleconference may have been a direct reaction to Sun’s announcement. "Most likely, [Microsoft and Compaq] heard about Sun’s announcement and pulled this together sooner than expected to counter that," says Rob Enderle, senior analyst, Giga Information Group Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.). However, Enderle doubts that the companies put an initiative such as this together overnight. "They didn’t make the common mistakes that highlight when a company is scrambling," he says.

Paul Maritz, group vice president of platforms and applications, Microsoft, confirms Enderle’s opinion. "Obviously, this has been in the works for much longer than since yesterday," he said at the teleconference.

Indeed, Compaq and Microsoft have big plans to tie the two operating systems together. Under terms of the agreement, the companies will incorporate Unix technologies into Windows NT. Unix attributes to be more closely tied to Windows NT include various clustering capabilities, transactional and recovery services, remote mirroring technology, remote systems management, and data and file partitioning. Compaq’s John Rose, vice president and general manager of the enterprise computing group, claims the enhancements offer customers a "higher degree of interoperability, a higher degree of friendliness" between the two platforms.

However, these interoperability enhancements won’t find their way into Windows NT until after version 5.0, which is due sometime next year. But Microsoft’s Maritz claims that as Microsoft and Compaq accelerate the interoperability capabilities in Windows NT, a basic tenet of the two companies is that Windows NT will work with various Unix flavors.

Giga’s Enderle says projects such as Cascade and the Microsoft/Compaq initiative can take so long to develop that even though we won’t see the tangible results of Compaq and Microsoft’s agreement for some time, the project can be pretty far along in development. So Sun and Microsoft are trying to gain market share before their products even come to market. "Announcing something so indefinite and so far in advance is typically done to slow down sales of competitors. Companies often work that way," Giga’s Enderle says.

As for Cascade, Microsoft’s Maritz hints that it may be a blessing in disguise. "Cascade is a begrudging recognition that NT is [an important] server platform," he says.