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The Network Is Computing for Sun

Tarantella acquisition paves the way to unifying enterprise operating systems

In May 2005, Sun Microsystems announced that they had entered into an agreement to acquire remote access vendor, Tarantella (www.tarantella.com), in a $25 million cash agreement. Tarantella is the producer of secure remote access software that enables network access to hosts running an assortment of operating systems. Sun lays claim to the tagline "The Network is the Computer." Taking these two things into consideration, Tarantella would seem to be an excellent way for Sun to further their vision of hosted clients easily distributed over the network.

Financially, Tarantella's quarterly report ending March 31, 2005 (their second fiscal quarter for 2005), showed they had approximately $3.7 million in cash and cash equivalents and portrayed an operating loss of $3.4 million on revenues of $2.7 million. In Tarantella's annual report for fiscal year ending September 30, 2004, they showed net revenue of $12.5 million down from $14.0 million the same period the year before. This seems to be a coup for Sun, having picked up Tarantella for a song at two times net annual revenue and the prospect of filling a strategic hole in their product portfolio. Tarantella (formerly The Santa Cruz Operation) is a good match for Sun as they have been focusing on their host access/redisplay business since selling their Unix rights to Caldera (now The SCO Group - www.sco.com) back in 2001.

Technology Overview
Tarantella's Secure Global Desktop is a bridging technology that provides the means to broker different operating systems through a common redisplay mechanism into a service-oriented architecture (SOA). Tarantella can publish Linux, Unix, Microsoft Windows, AS/400, and other mainframe applications by means of the Tarantella Adaptive Internet Protocol (AIP) to a Java client on a desktop or as an embedded Web application. This is delivered using a three-tier architecture made up of the legacy systems or application servers that are accessed or brokered by Tarantella and redisplayed by the Adaptive Internet Protocol or by the Web protocols HTTP/HTTPS to a client that can then gain access to the legacy systems through a common interface known as a Webtop. For example, financial applications that run on AS/400 or other applications running on mainframes can be securely retrieved through a Java client on a variety of platforms. Users can also gain access to Linux, other Unix OSses, including Sun Solaris, and even Microsoft Windows in this way. By wrapping applications in a portable and secure network transport, Tarantella provides the following benefits:

  • Security: Tarantella renders a checkpoint in a common interface to funnel client access and provides security since the Tarantella Server is the only external point of contact to the legacy system. All traffic between the Tarantella servers and the legacy systems can be exchanged behind firewalls where there is much less chance of data being intercepted.
  • Publishing applications to all platforms at once: Since applications can reside on the servers and are published over a Web protocol, the client machines have fewer client dependencies other than the presence of a Java Virtual Machine and optionally a Java-enabled browser. For enterprises that are moving from Windows to Linux, legacy systems become transferable across platforms. This can be a cost-effective way to "port" applications to new platforms without the risk of newly developed native or Web apps failing to maintain the status quo achieved on their native platform.
  • Portability: Application access is now a function of the network securely tunneled through AIP to an office or dial-up connection, or for telecommuters from their home. Mobile users can access their productivity desktop securely from a network connection on their laptop or a kiosk. User workstations can be shared and user sessions can be accessed from a thin client anywhere in the enterprise. IT departments manage and push applications to offsite users with minimal burden.
Besides redisplay, the Secure Global Desktop Enterprise Edition offers features that appeal to the enterprise including a level of redundancy. Redisplay can be handled by a single server or by an array of servers with load balancing, scalability, and redundancy to handle thousands of users. They also provide these applications in a Webtop environment, which is where each individual user-published application resides. Through their object manager administrative tool, a secure global desktop administrator can publish applications by users and groups or organizational units.

The reason Tarantella might be more attractive to an enterprise with many operating systems is that unlike Citrix (www.citrix.com), which is heavily tied to publishing Microsoft applications, Tarantella can provide connectivity to a number of other operating systems including Microsoft Windows. The applications for Tarantella include:

  • 3270 applications
  • 5250 applications
  • Unix and Linux applications using VT420, Wyse 60, and ANSI character sets
  • X11 applications hosted on Unix or Linux
  • Microsoft Terminal Services with remote display protocol (RDP) or Citrix servers running the ICA protocol
This provides a mechanism to publish information from all of these systems to the one common Webtop. This could be of value to desktop PC users migrating from Windows to Linux (or Solaris) as it starts to unite the Windows working environment with Unix and Linux. In theory, the large enterprise could keep their legacy systems in place even including Windows while migrating to Linux. As Linux is adopted throughout the enterprise, the users lose nothing and systems administrators and managers gain an additional layer of security and a single point of deployment for client applications. Over time, as new systems are brought online, old systems are easily decommissioned from the user's Webtop. As replacement systems come online, they can be pushed to the user's desktop without having to make changes to the local client machines using the Tarantella framework.

Why Tarantella, Why Now?
Tarantella gives Sun a powerful tool that helps them to penetrate and live side by side with many other operating systems. It also helps them boost their mobility strategy through the use of redisplay. Another advantage is their ability to work with longtime-rival Microsoft. In 2004 Sun and Microsoft agreed to a $700 million settlement to settle pending anti-trust issues and another $900 million as a resolution to patent issues. This was not the first such incidence as Sun sued Microsoft in 1997 over Sun's stipulation that Microsoft had broken the terms of their Java license by optimizing Java to run on Windows computers and potentially breaking compatibility. Over time C# (pronounced "see sharp") started to emerge as a competitive technology that could be used in place of Java for many applications and become a popular programming language to develop Microsoft .NET apps. In the 2004 settlement between the two IT behemoths there was mention of a "broad cooperation agreement" (www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2004/

Before the addition of Tarantella there seemed to be very little opportunity for the two to realistically cooperate or collaborate due to the disparities between the two operations' systems. Ironically, on the 10th anniversary of Java, Sun and Microsoft announced their progress in collaboration in the form of new development specifications that enable Web single sign-on (SSO) between systems that use Liberty and WS-* Web service architectures.

Scott McNealy was also quoted in a May 13, 2005, press release mentioning that they (Sun) were trying to address their top customer request of single sign-on between Microsoft Windows Server, Solaris, and Sun Java Enterprise. Adhering to this spec would enable browser-based Web single sign-on between security domains that use the Liberty ID-FF and WS-Federation. Using Tarantella would be one way to do this effectively because legacy systems could be accessed through a common interface and integration and updates for legacy systems would happen at the display layer rather than the application layer, meaning that applications could quickly be assimilated into a SOA. In addition, in the public announcement of this specification for SSO, Sun has agreed to support Windows on their Sun Fire x64 server and Sun Java Workstation products that now carry the Designed for Windows log. These are humble beginnings for two companies who are competing in so many markets and will be hard-pressed to successfully co-exist when both are competing for the same customers.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

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