Sleeping with the enemy

At the same time that an IBM executive was criticizing Microsoft Corp. in court for unfair practices during the antitrust trial, the two companies were working closely at the IBM Center for Microsoft Technologies to prepare for the coming of Windows 2000.

Even though the much-awaited operating system will compete with IBM’s own OS/2 and AIX, Big Blue is readying its ThinkPads, business PCs and Netfinity servers for Microsoft’s software.

Roy Clauson, the director of the IBM Center for Microsoft Technologies in Kirkland, Wash., just five miles away from the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., is realistic about IBM’s need to work with Microsoft.

“I get asked questions like: ‘If NT is going to invade the Unix space, isn’t that going to attack your RS/6000 sales?’ Well, to the extent that it does, we want it to be an IBM sale of a Netfinity machine with Windows on it. We don’t want that business to go to our competitor. So if there’s a Unix-based customer that’s going to move to NT, we want that business. We want to do everything we can to help in that transition and support that,” he said.

In order to ensure IBM hardware is compatible with Microsoft software, IBM has access to the closely-guarded Windows source code. The centre acts as a mediator between IBM and Microsoft and the code does not leave the building.

“Because [IBM’s] software group is a competitor to Microsoft, we act as an agent to take their middleware products and get them through the logo testing and stuff at Microsoft. I think on both sides, if somebody asked a question, it’s this, ‘Are they trying to figure out what I’m doing?’ So we’re sort of a neutral agent in that arena,” Clauson said.

Microsoft also believes that the partnership has been beneficial.

“I’d like to compliment IBM because I think they’ve done such a great job of recognizing that this is the operating system for business and they are pre-running it across the board on their business-line computers. They were one of the first OEMs to get that message and make that commitment, so I thank them for that,” said Deborah Willingham, Microsoft’s vice-president of marketing, business and enterprise,.

And in an effort to make their Netfinity server a strong competitor in the Windows market, IBM has even cannibalized features from its RS/6000 server. The Netfinity SP (scaleable parallel) switch borrows heavily from RS/6000 SP products.

“A lot of it is common building blocks, or common chip sets. I wouldn’t say that cuts into any of the sales of those products. It lowers our cost, our development expense,” Clauson said.

As part of its Microsoft initiatives, IBM is working with early Windows 2000 deployers so that it can gain the experience required to help customers deploy the operating system.

IBM is also trying to eliminate scheduled and unscheduled downtime for companies running Windows 2000. “That is not a foreign concept to high-end mainframe computers. You keep them running while you’re making an upgrade. But it is a foreign concept in the Intel platforms and the Windows platforms,” said Tom Bradicich, the Netfinity Architecture program director at IBM.

He is working to reverse that. IBM is working to avoid unplanned outages by creating redundant SANs and redundant power in their servers. IBM is also trying to reduce scheduled outages and can add storage or network connectivity to its servers without taking them down.

“The development partnership between the two groups has been going on for quite a long time, and we have highly valued the input and impact that the IBM hardware team has given our software development team. We know it’s made our product better,” said Microsoft’s Willingham.