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Novell, Microsoft Open Linux Interoperability Lab

The two companies plan to focus initial energy on server-side issues like virtualization, directory and identity services, and management.

Part of the Microsoft-Novell partnership announced last November was to be a joint interoperability lab, though that news was overshadowed by controversy that erupted over cross-licensing that was also included in the two companies' agreement. However, on Wednesday, Microsoft and Novell announced that their lab is open for business.

"Customers want interoperability out of the block," said Sam Ramji, Microsoft's director of open source technology strategy, in an interview. "The lab's built, staffed and powered on." It'll be run by Microsoft's Tom Hanrahan, who was hired away from his previous position as director of engineering at the Linux Foundation in May, and Novell's Suzanne Forsberg, who's also a recent hire at that company.

The two companies are planning to focus initial energy on server-side issues like virtualization, directory and identity services, and management. There's no shortage of work to be done to ensure better interoperability between Microsoft products and Linux, Forsberg admitted. "I understand customers have a lot of issues to deal with when they're trying to run multiple operating systems on multiple servers," she said.

Novell and Microsoft are collaborating on making sure SUSE Linux runs well in a virtualized environment on Microsoft Windows Server 2008 with Microsoft's Viridian technology, and vice versa with XenSource virtualization, all across a variety of hardware. The findings will be used as input for the Viridian and SUSE Linux service packs. The two companies also aim to test and improve systems management interoperability between Microsoft System Center and Novell ZENworks as well as identity interoperabity between Microsoft Active Directory and Novell eDirectory.

The Microsoft-Linux lab, which began staffing in February, is still only at about half its final staffing tally. Once fully staffed, the lab will include 8 test engineers who have deep operating systems knowledge as well as systems management experience, according to Hanrahan. Physically, the lab replicates what might be found in a complex enterprise data center, with a next-generation architecture in mind.

Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin praises the work Microsoft and Novell are doing on interoperability, and urges even more work on interop. "Interoperability between Linux and other operating systems is important for Linux customers and our members," he said in an e-mail. "We are supportive of the work Novell and Microsoft are doing. We would also like to see additional work done in an open forum where engineers from other Linux Foundation members and community developers could also participate."

He also pointed out that Samba Project's work on file, print, and directory services has long been an interoperability success story, with "tens of thousands of mixed Linux-Windows installations," and said it would be greatly helped by direct support from Microsoft. Samba's stated goal is to remove interoperability barriers, and one of its significant contributors, Jeremy Allison, reportedly left Novell in protest over the licensing part of the Microsoft-Novell agreement.

Ramji saids he and Zemlin discussed interoperability during a meeting in Beijing last week, though it's not clear what may come of that meeting. Hanrahan said that a decreased focus on interoperability was one of the reasons he left the Linux Foundation, noting that he met with Microsoft execs last year to discuss the topic while he was working with the Open Source Development Lab. But he'll no doubt welcome Zemlins support, caveats or no.

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