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A New Era Of SOA: Sun and Microsoft

Even though their accord is less than two months old, the relationship between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems is closer than most people think.

Publicly, the two former rivals barely a mention the $1.9 billion partnership beyond a promise of compatibility. But lately, various Sun executives have been commenting on the 10-year interoperability roadmap, which holds much promise for each company's development of service oriented architectures (SOA) .

"Almost every customer we have has a mixed environment . . . they need Java and .NET to interoperate," Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz said in a recent company posting. "Cooperation with .NET simply means answering the needs of our customers. For example, we are looking at building interoperability between Visual Studio and Java Studio Creator, and having a common philosophy on how you build service-oriented applications delivered through both of those technologies."

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun defined SOA more rigorously in the late 1990s to describe Jini, a lightweight environment for dynamically discovering and using services on a network. The technology is used mostly in reference to allowing "network plug and play" for devices. It allows devices such as printers to dynamically connect to and download drivers from the network and register their services as being available.

In Redmond, Wash., Microsoft is busy preparing Indigo, an SOA and interoperable platform for Web services , as a major piece to its next-generation Windows operating system, Longhorn.

But because crafting a service oriented architecture (SOA) is such a nascent approach to marrying software integration with business processes, the race is stocked with many horses besides Sun and Microsoft. For example, IBM unveiled its WebSphere Business Integration Server Foundation last month and wants to lead the charge. Competition is coming from usual rivals BEA Systems , Oracle as well as a slew of smaller vendors.

Research firm IDC recently said services firms' worldwide Web services-related revenue will increase exponentially in 2004 as companies continue to turn to strategic and long-term decisions around adopting standards-based SOAs.

Sun has also pointed to targeting directory, messaging, and database applications in its future collaboration plans with Microsoft.

"Frankly, so far, the Microsoft-Sun alliance likely means more to Sun and its enterprise customers than to Microsoft and its corporate clients," said Michael Dortch, principal business analyst for Robert Frances Group. "The short-term benefits accrue first to Sun and its constituents, because they gain more by greater interoperability with incumbent Microsoft solutions."

As part of the initial phase, Sun and Microsoft agreed to improve technical collaboration between their Java and .NET technologies. Sun licensed the Microsoft Communications Protocol to improve interoperability between Microsoft Windows clients and Sun's Xeon and Opteron-based servers. Microsoft renewed its licensing agreement for the Sun Java Virtual Machine (JVM), version 1.1.4 so that Windows PCs will continue to support Java.

"The announcement laid the foundation for closer collaboration at various levels within the companies though at this point it is very early to speculate as to specific impact this may have on various products, standards and pending benefits as they relate to different customers and their unique need," Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said. "Throughout this process we are committed to keeping customers up to date on the progress we will make in the weeks, months and years ahead."

And working on interoperability in the Web services layer is the common ground between the two companies with open industry standards, including SOAP, WSDL , and XML.

"What many people don't know is that Sun and Microsoft products already interoperate well in several areas," Larry Singer, Sun vice president, Global Information Systems Strategy Office said in a posting last week. "Now we begin the work of integrating Sun's products more seamlessly with Microsoft's, further reducing the interoperability burdens that customers must shoulder."

Sun has done a lot of legwork in compatibility already. The company has invested heavily in integrating the Sun Java Enterprise System software with a wide range of Microsoft software components, from Outlook e-mail to Windows Server applications. Sun offers three products that support Microsoft without changes or workarounds.

The Sun Java System Connector supports Microsoft Outlook clients with additional backing address books and calendars via the Sun Java System Messaging server and the Sun Java System Directory Server.

Sun also offers its Java System Identity Synchronization for Windows to allow for bi-directional synchronization between the Sun Java System Directory Server and Microsoft Active Directory.

And then there is Sun's N1 Grid Service Provisioning System, which prides itself on working with just about everybody from Solaris to Windows to Linux and even IBM's AIX.

Sun has also made great strides in interoperability with its Sun Java System Portal Server. In its current configuration, the platform can serve Microsoft applications and content. The company said Microsoft certifies its Sun StorEdge systems for use with Windows servers.

"In the longer term, the benefits of easier integration, greater interoperability, and harmonized support of common standards should expand to embrace those surrounding and dependent upon both companies more equally," Dortch said. "Sun technologies have much to offer enterprises attempting to manage multiple large, complex farms of servers devoted to Microsoft applications, for example."