LinuxWorld offers focus on virtualization, IT interoperability

In a first for the show, Microsoft exec Bill Hilf will deliver a keynote

With a myriad of topics that range from virtualization to new enterprise applications and IT interoperability, the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo opens in Boston today for a four-day run that includes a keynote speech by Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Hilf, director of platform technology strategy.

It’s the first time ever that a Microsoft executive has delivered a formal address at the conference, although the company has offered technical presentations at past shows. Hilf plans to talk about “Interoperability: Dealing with the Diversity and Heterogeneity of Today’s IT Marketplace” Thursday morning.

In an interview last week, Hilf said his presence highlights a corporate reality: It’s rare for large businesses to have computing environments built around a single vendor or operating system. “It’s always mixed,” Hilf said, meaning success now often depends on how adaptable software is for user companies.

Even Microsoft, which for years has closely guarded its intellectual property, application programming interfaces and file formats, has been working in recent years to develop improved interoperability and performance for customers of open-source applications from JBoss Inc. and SugarCRM Inc., Hilf said. Atlanta-based JBoss offers open-source middleware, workflow applications and an application server, while Cupertino, Calif.-based SugarCRM offers commercial, open-source customer relationship management software.

For Microsoft, the interoperability focus reflects the need to evolve and respond to customers' needs, Hilf said. More than half of JBoss customers are already Windows Server users, he said, which made improved interoperability an important goal. “That’s value,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s license revenue.”

Hilf came to Microsoft in 2003 from IBM, where he led IBM’s Linux technical strategy for the global emerging and competitive markets group. He runs a multitude of Linux distributions in Microsoft’s Linux lab, has been involved with open-source software for more than a dozen years and said he’s been to every U.S.-based LinuxWorld conference since the first one in San Jose in 1999.

“In the past few years,” he said, “ I think Microsoft has evolved a lot in its thinking ... because the marketplace has changed.”

“Microsoft is certainly not an enthusiastic supporter of open-source, interoperability, open formats, etc., but they’re not stupid people either,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. “They’re smart enough that if they see themselves starting to lose business because of a lack of interoperability, or lack of using open standards, they will adapt. They’re not going to be out in the forefront leading the charge. Usually they’re not going to fight them and go down in flames, either.”

Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said Microsoft has been working for several years on improving interoperability with its products and Unix. “Interoperability with Linux is a by-product of their Unix work,” he said.

Gillen said that Hilf -- with his deep background in the Linux and open-source worlds -- is not going to present a “typical Windows pitch. He doesn’t throw BS around, and he has credibility in the Linux space. He’s a different kind of ‘Microsofty.’ A typical Microsoft presenter couldn’t even present at LinuxWorld. But Bill can do that, and Bill can be credible.”

The conference will also feature announcements from five vendors touting software and services involving server virtualization that promises consolidation, improved utilization of hardware, reduced power consumption and lower systems management costs. Those announcements include:

  • XenSource Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., will announce XenEnterprise, a fully packaged virtualization application based on the open-source Xen 3.0 hypervisor software layer that allows servers to be shared by multiple operating systems. This will be the first product bundling of Xen for the company. When used with upcoming virtualization-enabled VT processors from Intel Corp. and SVM processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., XenEnterprise will allow users to virtualize Windows servers and Linux servers, according to the company. Availability is set for June or July, with pricing based on a per-CPU-socket subscription basis to be announced later.
  • SWsoft Inc. will unveil its new SWsoft Datacenter Automation Suite, which will provide tools to users to more easily provision and manage virtual data centers. The suite, which starts at about $25,000 for a typical deployment and is available now, will help automate the assignment of IT resources and provides capabilities to assess usage costs, according to the Herndon, Va.-based company. SWsoft will also announce that its open-source Open VZ virtualization software project supports Red Hat Inc.’s latest Fedora Core 5 operating system and will include the zero-downtime migration feature already available in the company’s commercial products. That migration feature allows users to capture the state of an existing virtual server and migrate it to a new physical server without interrupting operations.
  • Virtual Iron Software Inc. in Lowell, Mass., will announce its latest virtualization product, Virtual Iron Version 3 for Xen. The software brings new capabilities to Xen in three versions -- an open-source, free community edition; a free professional edition that supports partitioning and management of a single system; and an enterprise edition, which will be available under commercial licenses for multiserver configuration and support. Virtual Iron’s virtualization and policy-based management capabilities are being combined with Xen hypervisor, according to the company. Virtual Iron 3 for Xen will be available for beta testing for Linux in July and for Windows in September, with an average starting price of $1,500 for a single server using the enterprise edition.
  • VMware Inc. will announce that it is making its virtual machine disk-format specification, used to define and format virtual machine environments, available to all developers and vendors without charge, restriction or license. The goal is to broaden development and use of virtualization technologies and let any developer build on top of VMware applications. Last fall, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor made its source code available to partner developers and vendors to encourage additional development.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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