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Integration Expert

As CEO of Likewise Software -- formerly Centeris -- Barry Crist feels he has landed at the right place at the right time. Windows-centric IT shops are integrating increasing numbers of Linux- and Mac-based products to go along with a healthy number of existing Unix servers. Crist thinks his line of open source-based audit and authentication products built to let Windows tools work better in mixed environments has its best days ahead of it.

Crist, a 21-year veteran of the high-tech industry, sat down with Redmond Editor Ed Scannell to discuss some of the latest trends and developments in that market.

Redmond: You believe you're the first open source, enterprise-class product in the multiplatform authentication category. Why haven't there been more competitors jumping in?
Crist: First, it's hard to do and hard to do in a way that meets the requirements of bigger companies. There have been attempts by others, but it's difficult to make it work in a highly mixed environment. Big companies still have lots of Solaris, HP-UX, some AIX, five flavors of Linux -- and now Macs are showing up more and more. Making them all work in a common way in a Windows-dominated infrastructure is a real challenge.

I'm surprised a larger competitor like IBM or HP has yet to make a serious stab at this.
Frankly, I'd like to see that. We're working with both of them to some degree, especially IBM. They're pushing open source in a big way. One of our large customers, Delta Airlines, came via IBM Global Services. I think you'll see more from them in the future.

"Big companies still have lots of Solaris, HP-UX, some AIX, five flavors of Linux -- and now Macs are showing up more and more. Making them all work in a common way in a Windows-dominated infrastructure is a real challenge."
Barry Crist, CEO, Likewise Software

How is IBM Global Services working with you?
Delta is an IT-outsourced account to IBM, which had an audit requirement to integrate their non-Windows systems into a directory. The simplest thing for them to do was to leverage and integrate something they already had, which was Active Directory. Our enterprise users have told us again and again that the pain point in integrating Linux and Windows was around Active Directory. I don't consider us to be an AD company, but one that solves cross-platform problems for large customers, [problems] which happen to be largely centered around AD. The Delta example is common in that they had a very high growth of non-Windows systems, which created a mess.

This tangle of Windows and non-Windows systems can get to the point where IT shops can't deal with it. How do you help them overcome this inertia? Many environments just aren't managed in a very effective way by a central IT organization. Even bigger companies are managing thousands of servers with just local accounts. It's one thing to manage 100 servers, but when you get into the thousands, managing access control with local accounts is a mess. And generally there are security issues, which always deal with privileges to servers. Because each one is done locally, it's prone to errors and mistakes. In a way the economic downturn is helping us here because there's a real push again to get further IT costs out of the organization.

How do most people feel about AD these days as a platform?
They feel it's a robust platform and are generally happy with it. Looking back, that was not always the case. It used to be that very few people were using Group Policy; now we see AD's Group Policy is very widespread. I think there are some folks who want Group Policy architected in a different manner, but, in general, people are happy with AD. The only place I consistently hear dissatisfaction is around licensing terms.

Last year, Microsoft made it clear that it wants to work with the open source world. Has it stood by that claim? I think Microsoft is doing a variety of things to embrace non-Windows platforms, and there are a couple of drivers for that. If they want to go to from $50 billion to $100 billion in revenues, there's this whole other half of the market they have to go after.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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