Most open-source advocates would say the world of Linux and Microsoft Windows will never meet. But a venture capital-backed startup is bringing the two so close together that the typical Windows administrator will be able to launch and manage open-source Linux servers from what looks and feels like the familiar Window's interface.
Here's how the Windows administrator, who may want to use more open-source code but was inhibited by compatibility issues, can administer open-source servers from a familiar interface. Centeris Corp.'s approach lets Linux and other open-source code run alongside the Windows environment instead of competing with it.
For example, the beta version of Centeris' "Likewise" management console, released last week, allows a Windows administrator to run either Windows machines or Linux servers from the same management interface. The Microsoft Management Console can be launched and used with Likewise. When it's time to move to Linux servers, Likewise invokes Centeris-provided snap-ins that navigate the differences between Windows and Linux systems.
In the past, that's been a dicey proposition. Linux, coming out of the Unix world, has different conventions and a less graphical, more command-line style than Windows. In addition, open-source systems typically represent an assembly of code modules and it's crucial to know what works with what. There are dependencies between a version of Linux and its Apache Web server, for example. "Installing the right packages of open-source code can be confusing," says Manny Vellon, Centeris VP of products.
When managing a remote Linux server, Centeris first places its agent on the Linux machine and then manages it through the Likewise interface. The process is similar to invoking Windows' Manage Your Server on a Windows machine to initiate a Windows server and assign it a role, says Vellon. Likewise enables Windows administrators to place a disk containing Apache or Samba on their Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows 2003 systems and send software to a Linux computer on the network. Likewise figures out the dependencies of a particular server and installs the right open-source packages, Vellon says.
The Linux server can then function as a Web server, a Samba file and print server, or " in the near future " a database server supporting MySQL or other open-source database system. "That's the next step, popular open-source databases," says Vellon of future Likewise support.
The Linux server can be managed according to most of the conventions of the Windows environment from Microsoft Management Console, Microsoft's central console for administering dozens or hundreds of remote systems. The "Performance Counter" feature in MMC looks and acts the same for both Windows and Linux, providing common measures of CPU and memory utilization. MMC event viewing, managing a shared printer, or inventorying what hardware is running the server, work the same for both. Linux and Windows may also share a Microsoft Active Directory of users.
When it comes to managing the devices on a remote Linux machine, however, the MMC's own Device Manager feature is replaced by a Centeris Device Manager that's specific to Linux.
Bringing the worlds of Windows and Linux closer together is not the goal of a small, isolated band of developers. It's considered a hot field of investment. Brad Silverberg, a former senior VP at Microsoft in charge of Windows, is the founder of Ignition Partners, the venture capital firm that is backing Centeris with $5 million. The Centeris board of directors includes Richard Fade, former Microsoft senior vice president, and Cameron Myhrvold, a former Microsoft vice president.
While Microsoft and open-source code appear opposed to each other, "The more pragmatic issue is how these two environments will be managed in the future," says George Weiss, analyst with Gartner Inc.
Weiss points to companies such as Centrify Corp. and Vintela, now a unit of Quest Software Inc., as well as Centeris, all of which make it easier to manage aspects of a joint Windows/Linux environment, as the suppliers that will ease the antagonisms of the two technologies.
Both Gartner and IDC have named Linux as the fastest growing operating system, percentage-wise, but that overlooks the fact Windows continues to grow its already massive customer base, notes Centeris CEO Barry Crist. Linux and Windows are expected to be running side-by-side in an increasing number of environments as both displace Unix and older proprietary systems. The demand is increasing to manage both from the same administrative interface, he says.
Centeris will make Likewise available in December at $350 per server. It also plans to make a basic version of the product available as open-source code later this year.