Have you partaken in the conspiracy theories about Microsoft’s recent investment in Vintela, a Unix-Windows integration software company? Vintela’s association with SCO, and Microsoft’s apparent interest in keeping SCO’s legal battle against IBM afloat in order to undermine Linux, certainly provide plenty of kindling to keep the home fires burning at conspiracy central. But let’s try to get the story straight first. OSNews interviewed Vintela President Dave Wilson.
When Unix-Windows integration software vendor Vintela announced a couple weeks ago that it was receiving a substantial investment from Microsoft, initially the tech media picked up the story because it was interesting that Microsoft was making a move into Unix integration. However, as people started to realize Vintela’s pedigree, conspiracy theories started flying left and right on OSNews’ comment section and all over the internet. Vintela’s product saw its birth inside Caldera Systems, a once-well-respected Linux vendor that transformed into an excoriated whipping boy of the Linux movement after its acquisition of once-well-respected SCO and subsequent legal attack on IBM, and by extension, Linux itself.
Vintela and Caldera-Now-SCO are both primarily funded by the Canopy Group, a tech fund founded by Novell’s Ray Noorda. They both have offices in a complex in Lindon, Utah that houses several Canopy companies. These companies also provide business to each other, and have various partnerships with each other, which is a good way to support each other and share resources. But how does it look when a company that’s seen as attacking Linux (SCO), that nowadays is in business in large part thanks to money that it has received from Microsoft, directly ($16 million for Unix licenses) and indirectly ($50 million from Baystar capital, whom Microsoft brought to SCO), has a sibling who receives another investment from Microsoft? For the tinfoil hat set, at least, it looks fishy.
For more on the SCO/MS relationship, see this Techrepublic article
But while it seems pretty likely that Microsoft is using SCO as some kind of warrior-by-proxy against the Linux threat, the Vintela investment looks as if it could be merely a shrewd move to give Microsoft a foot in the door into an IT world that increasingly wants Linux and Unix in the shop. How can we separate fact from wild speculation? Well, that’s not ever easy. But we can start by asking for some straight answers from the players themselves, so we asked Dave Wilson, President of Vintela, to answer a few questions:
1. OSNews: Can you briefly explain, to our readers who might be unfamiliar with your products, what Vintela does? (Keep in mind that our readers are operating system enthusiasts, so you can be pretty technical, and a focus on OS-related functionality will be appreciated).
Wilson: Vintela develops integration products that allow an enterprise organization to extend the infrastructure technologies and tools they use in the Windows world to the non-Windows world. For example Vintela Authentication Services (VAS) allows Unix and Linux systems to act as full citizens in an Active Directory domain—creating a true single sign-on trusted zone for all systems. VAS eliminates the need for expensive and complex synchronization or meta-directory solutions. Similarly Vintela Management Extensions (VMX) extends the reach of Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003 to Unix, Linux, and Mac OS X systems, creating a single point of management for the entire enterprise. Each Vintela solution provides the best of both worlds —- leveraging the scalability and integration of a Windows solution with the unique personality of a Unix or Linux system. Key to this integration is the fact that 95 percent of our software is Unix code, and uses standards based native Unix/Java utilities (Kerberos, LDAP, PAM, NSS, WBEM, etc). The objective is to enhance the user and developer environment for Unix, Java, etc, but minimizes the need to duplicate management and directory tools. We offer the user the opportunity to get as close as possible to a single integrated IT environment, built on standards.
2. Microsoft was already a key partner of yours before the investment. Can you briefly describe your company’s relationship with Microsoft? And how will that relationship change, post-investment?
Vintela and Microsoft enjoy a strong relationship and this broad range of agreements put that on a more formal basis. They will allow both companies to commit to development deliverables that are better aligned to satisfy customer demand for management of heterogeneous environments. The agreements have created an overall framework for Microsoft to work with a partner like Vintela on licensing the use of Microsoft technology in a non-Microsoft world, and that includes products such as Active Directory and SMS, and protocols and technologies as they relate to Unix, etc. Microsoft PSS will also be able to provide first level support for VMX/SMS, with a view to extending this in the future.. Vintela will be including Microsoft Client Access Licenses (CAL) with purchases of Vintela products, as applicable so that customers don’t need to negotiate separate licensing issues with Microsoft when, for example, their SMS installation suddenly expands beyond Windows to also include Unix and Linux clients. This is all designed to allow the best possible quality of product integration and create a seamless customer experience.
3. Your products provide interoperability between Windows and Unix or Linux systems, and industry analysts have pointed out that Microsoft might support a product like that because it would make it easier for them to get a foothold in a company that has a lot of Unix or Linux in place, in order to eventually supplant those systems. Do you think that such a scenario would actually play out that way? Or would a company just end up continuing to use its heterogeneous setup forever?
It is fair to say that almost all companies use Microsoft products and most of those use Unix and Java as well. Heterogeneity is a reality, and it is likely to remain that way. Vintela works with users who are looking to consolidate a complex maze of duplicate infrastructure management tools. Microsoft is under the same customer pressure. Each Directory Service, or systems management tool, etc, requires it own infrastructure, which is not only very expensive but it even prevents movements to SSO, etc. There is a move away from multiple “point solutions” towards a rationalized approach to management around open standards. In Bill Gates’ Keynote at IT Forum he specifically spoke of Microsoft’s efforts to integrate heterogeneous systems and singled out Vintela as their chosen partner to help make that happen. Vintela views these agreements as Microsoft making a mature and intelligent move in response to customer demand. Listening to customers is always a good decision. These agreements are about customers use of SMS, MOM, Active Directory, DotNet, etc where the customer is using both XP and Unix, etc
4. On the flip side, other analysts have suggested that Vintela’s products might be seen as a threat to Microsoft’s dominance of IT, because it would allow systems that run only (or run best) on Windows to be integrated with a primarily Unix or Linux shop without going all Microsoft. Do you think this is a correct characterization? And if so, what would your response be to the assertion that Microsoft is making this investment to have some degree of control over this potential threat?
It is very clear that Microsoft is a company that is very focused on providing Microsoft-product solutions for its customers, and historically has relied on partners to provide the “Total Solution”. In this particular case we believe that Microsoft understands that the customer is demanding a very high quality, and tightly integrated, “Total Solution” and Microsoft is investing in making that a reality. Vintela has great depth in Unix and Java skills. If we are able to work closely together, then we will be providing the best overall solution. In making this investment Microsoft is definitely getting involved to make this happen.
5. Can you tell us about the licensing agreement that’s also a part of your new relationship with Microsoft?
The Licensing agreements cover a number of different categories. First of all the Vintela products are tightly integrated with the Microsoft products and make use of Microsoft protocols, and patented technologies. Secondly, the Vintela products operate as integral with products like SMS and Active Directory, in such a way that the Unix user needs to be licensed in the same way as the Windows user. Vintela and Microsoft have signed a series of agreements that cover all of these contingencies, and takes account of different circumstances including Education, major accounts, etc.
6. I understand that the Vintela products grew from technology developed at Caldera. Is there any connection between the Vintela technology and DR-DOS, which Caldera took over from Novell back in the day?
Vintela has former associations with Caldera Systems, who where one of the original Linux distributions, and pioneered many ground breaking developments for Linux. Caldera of DR-DOS fame is a separate entity and as such has no associations with Vintela.
7. On the subject of Caldera, IT conspiracy theorists are quick to point out a connection between SCO Group (which is the product of the merger of Caldera and SCO) and Vintela, noting that Microsoft’s support for a company affiliated with SCO is not only noteworthy, but highly suspicious. What is Vintela’s current affiliation with SCO? To ask the question more directly, both SCO and Microsoft have made major efforts to undermine Linux’s foothold in the IT world. Since your company is connected to both of these firms, do you think Vintela’s products will end up helping or hindering the wider use of Linux in enterprise IT adoption, long term?
Many of your questions are aimed at trying to determine if Vintela is in the Microsoft “camp” or the Linux “camp”. Vintela is in the user camp, and one of the reasons that Microsoft is so interested in Vintela is that the users are voting for this approach to IT by adopting our products, in large numbers. An analyst once described Vintela as the Switzerland of the OS management world in that we maintain a careful balance that is aimed at doing what the customer wants in his overall IT environment. If the whole world moved to Microsoft, OR to Linux (or even to Sun, or IBM) then Vintela would have no business. Vintela instruments standards consistently across Linux, Sun, HP, etc and those standards are common to Microsoft management products – Kerberos, LDAP, WBEM/CIM, etc. The user is looking for proper integration around standards that are consistently implemented on all platforms, so that they can reduce duplication of redundant infrastructure. Vintela is a completely independent company that passionately believes in this mission.
8. The Vintela product seems to have initially been called “SCO Authentication for Microsoft Active Directory,” and was renamed “Vintela Authentication from SCO” but the Vintela organization was apparently spun-off from Center7, another Canopy Group company. Is this a correct characterization of the Vintela history? And can you expand on that a bit?
First of all it is important to understand that Vintela is an independent company, and the vast majority of our products have been developed as that company, or by Wedgetail, a company acquired by Vintela. Some of the original R&D work was done at Caldera Systems, as part of their investment in Linux and Open Standards technology, specifically the Kerberos and WBEM work. The Founders of Vintela approached Canopy, who had historically invested very heavily in Linux-related development, and they agreed to support an effective Management Buy Out (MBO) and incubate the focused development of these management related tools under Center 7, who itself is a managed Services company. Vintela subsequently became independent. Vintela had agreed to OEM the Vintela products to SCO, when they were complete as part of the MBO. The products you refer to were all VAS under an SCO brand.
9. On the subject of history, the “official” history of your company, listed on your web site is quite short on detail. It makes no mention of Caldera, SCO, or Center7. Is that because those companies have waged controversial legal battles that have brought negative attention to them and their investor, the Canopy Group?
The Vintela website refers to our history as Vintela, and nothing else. Vintela is an interesting company in that it is a fairly young company, whose technology has been under development for a much longer period of time, in a variety of corporate identities and geographic locations. The history of many companies is equally convoluted. Vintela has no involvement in SCO’s litigation and would neither benefit nor suffer from an outcome either way. There is nothing to hide, but also there’s nothing of substance to tell. As we have outlined above some of our R&D (and staff) originated at Caldera Systems, who played a major role in establishing Linux as a serious technology in our industry, and the people who worked for Caldera Systems are very proud of their achievements. Many of those people continue to drive innovation – as part of Vintela or SuSe, or Novell, etc., but we need to focus in on Vintela.