Inside the Microsoft and Novell Interoperability Lab: Building Bridges Between Open Source and Proprietary Source Software

REDMOND, Wash. — June 10, 2009 — In November 2006, Microsoft and Novell signed a groundbreaking collaboration agreement to bridge the gap between open-source and proprietary software. The event reflected a growing market reality wherein organizations were turning to a diverse mix of applications and technologies from a variety of vendors to manage their businesses, creating a need for greater interoperability and intellectual property peace of mind, as well as an expectation that software vendors do a better job of making their products work together.

Some critics questioned whether or not it was possible for open source and proprietary software companies to get together and actually serve the customers’ needs. But in September 2007, Microsoft and Novell opened the doors of a joint development facility where technical experts from both companies would design and test a series of new software solutions that would allow their respective server products, Microsoft Windows Server and SUSE Linux Enterprise, to work well together.

Today the lab has a single, unified team of engineers with shared goals and commitments. Together they have tackled projects spanning a wide range of customer-focused interoperability concerns, and continue to make significant progress through programs encompassing virtualization, systems management, server workload validation and rich media support, delivering real value to customers.

A Unified Team in the Joint Interoperability Lab

The Cambridge, Mass. Interoperability Lab operates under the leadership of Tom Hanrahan, director of the Microsoft Open Source Technology Center, and is co-managed by Sue Forsberg, a senior software manager from Novell, and Hank Janssen, a principal program manager at Microsoft. Together, they recount the initial challenges of establishing the unified team and how it has evolved over time:

As Hanrahan says, when the lab was first established the main goal was to build an effective team. “We wanted the Microsoft and the Novell employees to form one team and to work closely together,” he says. “We extended this objective to individuals participating in these projects based not only in Cambridge, but also at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, and Novell’s operations in Provo, Utah, and Nuremberg, Germany.”

There were some challenges, Novell’s Forsberg says. “Originally, when we put the lab together and we brought the two teams together, it was unclear how we were actually going to work together in a collaborative way and make the team be a fully integrated and cohesive unit,” she says. “One of the early challenges we had is in setting up the lab network and making sure that we had the capability of having connectivity back to Microsoft’s corporate network, Novell’s corporate network, and have a separate segment for the lab itself. We were kind of treading new ground and asking our IT departments to come up with a solution that was acceptable from a security point of view for both companies, but would also give us the maximum flexibility in the lab.”

After ironing out the complexities related to setup of the lab, and resolving concerns around corporate network security and access, the (virtual) lab environment began serving as a joint space for collaboration, where all staff members have full access to the lab’s resources.

Forsberg feels these investments have paid off: “A genuine spirit of cooperation exists today to the point where it oftentimes feels as though the lines in the lab are blurred,” she says. “We ask the people who have specific expertise for help when we need it, regardless of what their badge says.”

To foster this culture of collaboration at the outset, the team adopted some useful practices, such as cross-platform testing and training on each others’ tool sets. Having the Novell lab team members perform the testing of Windows on top of SUSE Linux Enterprise/Xen has helped them to become familiar with the Windows operating system and related Microsoft tools.

Similarly, Linux testing performed on top of Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V has made it possible for Microsoft engineers to work side by side with Novell counterparts to perform very specific tasks. As an example, a timing bug that emerged in testing was readily rectified through the collaborative efforts of a distributed team, including some Novell engineers in Germany.

Latest From the Lab: New Technical Solutions

The Microsoft and Novell Interoperability Lab works to deliver real-world interoperability to customers who need to get greater value from their IT investments. The team has already tackled projects spanning a wide range of customer-focused interoperability concerns, including virtualization, systems management, server workload validation and rich media support.

“The primary impetus for our joint Interoperability Lab was to increase the value we deliver to customers,” said Hanrahan. “We felt that it was critical to set up a collaborative environment dedicated to delivering not only better technical interoperability, but also tools that can help them transition to an enterprise-class Linux platform, which also works with their Windows infrastructure. Because of this, the testing and development work performed in the lab directly influences features and capabilities that are also being engineered into our respective products.”

Taking virtualization as an example, work initiated within the lab will effectively allow the newly released SLES 11 to be an optimized guest on Windows Server 2008 R2, which will ship later this year. Microsoft and Novell have worked together to update the integration components, which will enable SLES 11 to run as an enlightened guest on the Hyper-V role in Windows Server 2008 R2 and take advantage of the new Live Migration Feature in Hyper-V. Engineers from both companies worked side by side in the lab to ensure both products are optimized to work with one another so customers can use and move Windows and SUSE Linux virtual machines from one physical host to another without any interruption in service or loss of performance.

Systems management is also a primary focus area for both companies, and lab staff members participate in projects related to the development and testing of improved management tools for mixed environments. In fact, when Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 launches in a few months, Novell will also release its new Novell Linux Management Pack to extend System Center’s monitoring capabilities across seven key SUSE Linux Enterprise services.

As a result of that release, customers will be able to use a single environment to monitor both their Linux- and Windows-based systems. This capability is a direct result of the work that Microsoft and Novell did within the Interoperability Lab to test a common set of protocols (WS-MAN), enabling Novell to build its Novell Linux Management Pack as a direct plug-in for Microsoft System Center Operations Manager.

Similarly, Microsoft and Novell are releasing a set of white papers that will help customers achieve greater efficiency from their mixed-IT environments through virtualization. These papers are a direct output of the work the companies have done with one their mutual partners, Dell, in the Interoperability Lab.

Customers Remain at the Center of Future Technical Efforts

The unified engineering team within the Microsoft and Novell Interoperability Lab will continue its work to ensure that each component in a mixed environment data center can interoperate effectively. Each company will also continue to develop complementary tool sets to support these data centers. And as customers identify new interoperability problems, they will strive to become an integral part of the solution.

Hanrahan reflects: “A year and a half later, we have made significant progress on our technical commitments. At the same time, our customers continue to be pressed, both by increasingly economic uncertainty and financial pressures, to do more with less,” he says. “The work we’re doing to develop interoperability solutions that ensure flexibility and cost efficiencies is — now more than ever — delivering business-critical value to our customers, and we’ll remain bullish in our efforts to explore new ways to address their changing needs.”

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