Microsoft is undertaking its broadest interoperability initiative to date, a sign that the "Windows everywhere" company is getting the message that customers cannot always afford to throw out their legacy infrastructure.
Microsoft is working on what it is calling an interoperability server, code-named Babylon, that is designed to provide bidirectional application, data, and network integration between Microsoft's operating system and server applications, as well as a laundry list of mainframe, minicomputer, and Unix interfaces; object models; and data sources.
Slated to ship 90 days after the release of Windows 2000 -- which Microsoft hopes to push out the door by the end of this year -- Babylon will become part of Microsoft's BackOffice suite, according to Chris Olson, group product manager for Microsoft's Enterprise Interoperability Group.
The initiative is quite a departure from the traditional Microsoft line, which, according to the company, can provide even large enterprises with all the software needed to fit their computing needs.
One Microsoft user said Babylon could make the company's Windows Distributed Internet Applications (DNA) architecture more interesting by opening it up to non-Microsoft sources.
"[Many Microsoft products] are Microsoft-to-Microsoft solutions, which is all very well if you're working with Microsoft customers only. But we have to support AS/400, RS/6000, and other various forms of Unix," said John Harvey, staff engineer manager in Qualcomm's OmniTracs division, which delivers products and services for tracking trucks via satellite, in San Diego, Calif.
"As much as I like what Microsoft does and how their components integrate with each other, it's really necessary that for the concept of DNA to succeed, we need interoperability between different operating systems," Harvey said.
Babylon's promised integration could mean a new lease on life for legacy applications and data that need to be leveraged by new Windows-based Web servers or Internet-commerce applications.
One analyst remained skeptical.
"It seems to be an incredibly ambitious project," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies, in Kirkland, Wash. "It's notoriously difficult to do anything beyond rudimentary interoperability when talking about different operating systems and data formats."
Microsoft is pitching Babylon as "the foundation for enterprise application integration."
"Everybody knows why interoperability is important, and contrary to popular belief, Microsoft has not been oblivious to it," said Deepak Bharadwaj, product unit manager in Microsoft's enterprise interoperability group.
Microsoft took its cue for Babylon from its customers.
"Microsoft has spent a lot of time with big customers that told them that their mainframe, their Unix, their Oracle [database] isn't going away," said Brian Reed, director of product management at Merant's DataDirect division, in Morrisville, N.C.
Officials said Babylon will include some updates to Microsoft's existing products, such as SNA Server 4.0; its Component Object Model (COM) Transaction Interoperability for wrapping and deploying legacy applications and transactions as COM objects; and a bridge between Microsoft Message Queue (MQ) and IBM's MQ Series. And much of the integration, such as with DB2, VSAM mainframe database, and Sybase databases, will be provided via Microsoft's OLE DB specification, officials said.
It will also feature a heterogeneous replication capability, so database replication can take place across IBM's DB2, Oracle databases, and Microsoft's SQL Server 7.0.
Babylon will also feature a Distributed Relational Database Access (DRDA) service that will allow access to SQL Server 7.0 from DB2 and any other program with a DRDA requestor.
The server will run on both NT Server 4.0 and Windows 2000, but with limited functionality on NT 4.0, according to Bharadwaj.
Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., is at www.microsoft.com.
(Dan Briody and Bob Trott contributed to this article.)