Vintela Seeks Windows-Unix Bridge Builders

Vintela was just another platform integration company until Microsoft recently decided to make a multimillion-dollar investment in it. What attracted Microsoft to Vintela was that its tools allow IT managers to use authentication, identity and system-management offerings from Microsoft to manage Unix platforms. In an interview with CRN Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Vintela President Dave Wilson and CTO Matt Peterson explain why Windows-Unix integration is the next big play for solution providers.

CRN: What's the core concept behind Vintela?

Wilson: We start off with a premise that most companies to a greater or lesser extent are using Microsoft technologies. And it's a pretty sure bet that there's a huge proportion of them that have got some Unix systems. Typically, what happens today is that you have the world of Microsoft that's in one silo, and if you want to manage your Unix system then typically you have to have a whole set of other solutions that run in parallel. As a result, very often companies are basically overcomplicating their infrastructure and double-paying for products on the other hand. What we do in essence is take the base that Microsoft technologies are built on and then we apply the same standards to the heterogeneous environment. We integrate Unix systems directly into that Microsoft infrastructure.

CRN: Can you provide an example of how you do that?

Wilson: The first [product] shipping is called the Vintela Authentication Services, or VAS. If you take a look at Windows XP and how it communicates with Active Directory, it uses a combination of Kerberos and LDAP in the way it communicates to the directory. When a Windows XP user logs into his workstation, he actually gets a Kerberos ticket. What we've done is we've taken the same approach on a native Unix operating system and a Java application and integrated it directly into an Active Directory. So now you've got a real genuine single sign-on environment that's extended to a broader community. The alternative way of doing this is actually maintaining all these diverse authentication processes and then somehow trying to synchronize them. But when you leave all those authentication processes in place, you've got a massively complicated infrastructure.

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Peterson: Vintela's products are intended to take a Unix machine and allow it to join Microsoft domains, allow users to authenticate using their Active Directory username and password, allow Unix machines to show up within the SMS management console and within the MOM management console.

CRN: Given the battles between devotees of Unix and Windows, what makes the Vintela products compelling enough to rise above that discussion?

Wilson: Customers have got authentication processes all over the place, and they've got a big problem. From a practical point of view, you get customers trying to install products like [IBM] Tivoli and [Computer Associates International's] Unicenter for years and years. One of the big problems is actually getting a management infrastructure that's scalable, and the biggest scalability problem is, frankly, all the Windows stuff. If you take a typical environment, you might have 10,000 Windows workstations to service, but only 2,000 or 3,000 Unix boxes. So if you've got the Windows stuff cracked, why wouldn't you want to extend that to Unix? To be honest, you sometimes need a couple of passes at what we do to really assimilate what a truly integrated environment actually looks like. But the ROI on this is huge.

Peterson: If you take a look at what system integrators have at their disposal before Vintela and after Vintela: In terms of the types of solutions that they can pitch to a customer, there's quite a bit more to talk about with Vintela's products in that mix than without them because they're able to basically present a solution that does real integration with Windows. And that's something new and unique that I don't think the people have been able to pitch as a real product.

CRN: Why hasn't this issue been tackled before now?

Wilson: We've asked ourselves the same question a million times, and I think it's quite simply this: Everybody in the Unix world pontificates about open systems, but really, Sun [Microsystems] actually only cares about Sun. And when they come to implement standards, they will productize standards in a way that suits Sun. And so will Apple, and so will IBM, and so will HP. We're passionate advocates of the Distributed Computing Environment standards. But the reason DCE failed is because nobody productized it in a proper standards-based way. Sun did their thing, IBM did their thing, the user tried to co-implement these things and it was just chaos; you just couldn't do it. We actually took the approach of taking those standards and implementing them consistently across all these platforms.

CRN: What will your approach to the channel be?

Wilson: Microsoft has invested some money and an awful lot of sales effort into us. The Microsoft investment is actually designed to help us to get a channel in place and fill the channel with the right kind of people. Our strategy from here on in is to try and shift the emphasis completely to a channel model.

Peterson: We actually do believe that this is a genuine money-making opportunity for the channel. There's something like 20,000 to 30,000 [Microsoft] SMS [Systems Management Server] deployments all over the world and the cost of our product is comparatively low. A reseller could make really good money at selling the ROI to a local SMS user and deploying our products to also make a nice little services kick and a nice product kick out of it. The project values are enormous. Our products give you a real differentiator, so I think it's potentially a great channel product. Every customer, to a greater or lesser extent, needs the kind of hand-holding that the channel is so good at.

CRN: What happens to your software when Microsoft or a Unix vendor delivers a service pack or an upgrade?

Peterson: That's part of the reason why we have the relationship that we've established with Microsoft. When service packs come out, the Vintela products will either have a corresponding release, or the support for that service pack will already be built in to existing products. Vintela can move quite a bit faster than Microsoft can in terms of what we're able to do with our products and how quickly we're able to change and add features. Since Vintela has started this relationship with Microsoft, we've been able to implement those things that are expected in the service packs, before the service packs are even available. In the year that's coming, we will need to have the kinds of relationships with Unix operating system vendors that are appropriate in our space. Microsoft likes us because we're able to cement Microsoft technology as kind of an anchor within an enterprise. So there's going to be a bit of controversy as we approach Unix vendors both from the Unix side as well as from the Microsoft side. But it's something that Vintela has gotten very used to doing. We've been the Switzerland between these two spaces for as long as we've been around. And I think it's sort of expected that Vintela will be able to handle those issues.

CRN: With Microsoft and Sun talking dtente these days, what does that mean for companies like yours?

Peterson: It actually makes Vintela more important because Sun doesn't really care too much about HP-UX, and they don't care an awful lot about IBM's AIX. And who knows what [Sun's] disposition will be for Linux. Most of what I see happening between Microsoft and Sun deals with how will the applications interact, where the actual operating system on which the application is running is not so much of an issue. Sun realizes that they need to work with Microsoft, and Microsoft realizes that they need to work with Sun. It's a validation of Vintela's space in a certain sense. And because we cover more ground than Sun in terms of the operating systems that we support, I think that there will be still be an interesting offering from Vintela.

CRN: There has been some scuttlebutt that suggests Vintela is part of Microsoft's grand conspiracy to usurp Linux. What exactly is your relationship with Microsoft?

Wilson: I did used to work for SCO, but then so did 2,000 other people. We're a completely independent company that has built a very customer-centric strategy. People would like to think there is an agenda. There is no agenda. We're just a bunch of guys that come up with some great ideas. We're not in the Microsoft camp; we're not in the Unix camp. We're in the user's camp. We took a real user scenario and said, you know, 'How do we use standards to actually achieve a user's objective?' And that is what we've built. And as Microsoft grows as an organization, they're looking across at their user and saying, 'You know these guys are actually providing a service to our customers.' Customers are constantly going to Microsoft and saying, 'You guys need to embrace Unix more than you do.' Obviously' that's a cultural problem for Microsoft. We fit that role really well, so they embrace us. Do they love us? Well, we don't know about that. We're a company that spends all its time on Linux boxes. You have to believe in the back of your mind that they've got a split personality, if you like, over us. But at the end of the day, unfortunately, or fortunately, there's no conspiracy. If we were part of a world that entrenched Microsoft and killed off Linux, that's like committing hari-kari.