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Sun steps up NT embrace

The Microsoft rival continues its uneasy embrace of Windows NT by offering support for Windows desktops in a new version of Solaris.

    Sun Microsystems (SUNW) continues to walk a fine line between integrating with the growing number of server systems running Microsoft Windows NT and charting its own path.

    Next week, the company will introduce the first of several technologies intended to let Sun's Solaris Unix OS (operating system) live on corporate networks in relative harmony with Windows NT.

    Sun will introduce next week a directory services scheme based on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), a communications protocol that ties disparate directories together. This will allow administrators to include NT-based networks in an administrative scheme that also includes the Sun operating system.

    And next month, Sun will debut technology that lets NT-based desktop systems integrate with, and be managed from, Solaris servers.

    Sun's aversion to all things Windows is well-known. But with Windows NT Server creeping into market segments that have been the prized possession of Unix makers, Sun--along with other Unix stalwarts--needs to embrace, however reluctantly, the fast-growing Microsoft server product.

    Sun's strategy could never be confused with a bear hug, however.

    "Sun doesn't want to do anything with Windows on the desktop, but they want to own the server marketplace in both Unix and NT servicing," said Jerry Sheridan, analyst with Dataquest. "In Sun's perfect world, its Unix would be proven the best and all other OSes would fall away. Since things are not all going Sun's way, the company needs to coexist."

    Sun's directory entry joins a market segment that has become increasingly crowded in recent months, as Novell has begun to step up marketing efforts for its technology and Microsoft has become increasingly candid about its plans for the Active Directory, which will be unveiled around the time NT Server 5.0 rolls out next year. Netscape Communications is one of several others that have rolled out a directory platform.

    "LDAP will be the key," said Etienne Remillon, a Sun product manager within its network software products group, noting the glue that will tie these disparate products together.

    A directory offers administrators a central point from which they can allocate or restrict access to network resources, such as applications. It functions as a complex address book and inventory repository, offering a variety of user information to a manager.

    Sun Directory Services 1.0 represents the company's play for a piece of the directory pie. Previously, Sun offered an X.500 implementation as an add-on to the Solaris operating system. NIS and NIS+ directory implementations have come with Solaris. The new support for LDAP and inclusion of a Web-based configuration and management utility means that the Sun directory can be accessed through a browser, offering simplicity for an often complex administrative process.

    Sun officials also said that the new directory will ship in September. "Today we have a product. Active Directory is not yet out," Remillon said.

    Though many wonder how effective Sun's strategy will be, the company has also stepped up pricing competition vs. NT. Sun is offering a Solaris version tailored for intranet settings that compares favorably in cost to NT but runs on a Sun server machine based on a Sparc processor or on the Intel machines.

    That offering, due to ship in August, also includes a SunLink utility that offers support for virtually any kind of PC desktop, enticing NT users to house their data on a Sun Solaris server while enjoying the Windows NT interface they are used to.

    The Redmondians, however, remain confident that Windows NT's growth offers a vexing problem for Unix-based vendors like Sun.

    "Certainly one of the strategies to follow is to integrate with NT," said Enzo Schiano, group product manager for Windows NT Server. "But integrate too well and you invite NT Server into your accounts. It's a double-edged sword. It will give their customers a chance to taste NT Server and that could be dangerous."