Notes on the Microsoft/Novell Webinar

I missed today’s Microsoft and Novell joint webinar, but I cruised over to Novell’s website to download the slide deck from the presentation. Perhaps not surprisingly, the slide deck was pretty short on content, but a couple of items caught my eye. 

For one thing, there’s a slide early on that lays out the sort of heterogeneous network environments that exist in companies today, as defined by a Gartner study. There are seven groups listed in the chart, with different combinations of mainframe, UNIX, Linux, and Windows servers.

According to the chart, 40% of firms run a combination of all four sorts of servers, and 24% run a combination of UNIX, Linux and Windows. Every one of the groups listed includes some form of Windows servers, down to the 4% who run Windows only.

If you add up the numbers, however, there’s 1% that’s unaccounted for, so I guess that poor sliver of folks are getting along somehow without Windows Server.

Another funny item is the slide titled “A Joint Solution,” which depicts a symbolic heterogeneous environment with a Windows logo hovering above six clip-art servers next to a SUSE logo sitting above three clip-art servers.  That’s probably the sort of ratio that Microsoft is hoping to see moving forward.

Finally, there’s a cute slide that compares the virtualization offerings of Microsoft+Novell, of VMware, and of Red Hat.  In the categories of performance, support, interoperable, cost and management, VMware apparently strikes out, getting a little X in every box.  Red Hat does a little better, garnering one checkmark in the cost box.  The MS+Novell solution, on the other hand, scores five checkmarks.  Good show!

It’s worth mentioning, as I’m sure the presenter did, that the MS+Novell solution isn’t available right now.  I can say, at least, that I saw a real live demo of Microsoft’s Viridian hypervisor at a Windows Server workshop last week, so the technology does really exist.

Now, why point any of this out? I think that Microsoft thinks that it can manage the Linux threat by conferring legitimacy on a pay-per-system flavor of Linux, one for which the cost savings next to Windows aren’t too large.

However, I don’t think Microsoft understands the extent to which the legitimacy and the interoperability improvements they’ll be lending to Linux will bleed from Novell’s pay-per-system OSes to Novell’s totally free OSes, and from there to all manner of other free and commercial Linux-based operating systems.

For instance, Red Hat’s virtualization solution loses out in the webinar’s checkmark-count battle, but the many of the benefits that come out of Mictrosoft’s work with Xen will directly benefit Red Hat, since Red Hat distributes Xen, which is licensed under the GPL.

Speaking of virtualization, one thing that struck me during the demo of Microsoft’s forthcoming hypervisor was how Windows Longhorn Server will soon enable companies to undercut VMware ESX Server on price, and then turn around and use that Windows Server box to deploy a whole raft of applications atop Linux or Solaris, applications for which zero client access license dollars need be paid to Microsoft.

Microsoft is blasting ahead impressively toward offering a compelling option for hosting virtual machines. However, since Linux is so much better suited to being deployed in virtual appliance form, Microsoft may be blasting toward a future in which the 2 to 1 Windows to Linux ratio they may have in mind ends up working out rather differently. Still more challenging, there’s sure to be plenty of other hypervisor providers are waiting in line to take that business.