The Bellevue, Wash.-based startup's software enables users to sign on to Microsoft Windows, Linux, Unix or Macintosh operating systems with a single log-in and to switch back and forth without the need to provide additional passwords. It also simplifies the work of system administrators, who have to authenticate users only once, regardless of the number of OSes they use, and then plug their identities into Microsoft's Active Directory. The Open Fall 08 software will be available for download sometime in August.
The previous version of Likewise Open software, which was released in April, is already incorporated directly into Ubuntu's Hardy Heron 8.04 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5; integration into Novell's openSUSE is in progress, according to Likewise software developer Gerald Carter.
This [integration] is a major differentiator for us," Carter said. "We've gotten help from the major Linux distros to deploy Likewise into their operating systems quickly and successfully."
Likewise Open Fall 08 improves mixed-system administration over the previous version with a more powerful authentication engine that runs on 118 platforms, including Linux, Unix and Macintosh, an increase of seven platforms from the April edition. The additions are Oracle Enterprise Linux 4 and 5, Free BSD 6.9 and 7.0, IBM zSeries for Red Hat and for SUSE, Centos 5 and Macintosh OS X v, 10.5.
The new version also enables system administrators to centralize management of access rights to multiple systems (including Windows) from any Linux, Unix or Macintosh computer designated as the administrative console and eliminates the need for users to log in to Active Directory.
In addition, Open Fall 08 also includes an authentication and security event log, similar to its Windows counterpart, for troubleshooting.
Finally, Open Fall 08 supports the latest security protocols including the MIT-originated Kerberos Authentication Protocol, Microsoft's NTLM protocol, the SPNEGO protocol for authenticating a remote server and DCE/RPC, distributed computing/remote procedure calls which make distributed computing code network-agnostic.Password administration headaches
According to Likewise CEO Barry Crist, password administration is not a huge problem for companies with 25 to 50 servers. But the task quickly becomes unmanageable and time-consuming for those with, say, 1,000 machines, especially with the current prevalence of mixed environments due to the rapid growth of Linux in today's data centers, he said. The soaring adoption of virtualization is "adding to the mess," he added.
Crist, who has led the 4-year-old startup since shortly after its launch, said the company, previously known as Centeris but renamed after its flagship product last December, has experienced "extremely strong growth" since last March, with 20,000 downloads of the free version and 150 paying enterprise customers. The enterprise product expands on the user authentication component provided in Likewise Open by providing the additional ability to create group policies on issues such as security, storage and backup and to conduct audit reporting, he said.
Currently, Likewise is pursuing a three-phase business strategy, attracting many users through the open source product; adding enterprise customers who need expanded functionality and support; and extending outreach to original equipment manufacturers who seek to incorporate Likewise in cluster storage or other products, he said.
A new version of Likewise Enterprise is scheduled to be released at this year's LinuxWorld conference, which takes place Aug. 4-7. he added.
Jay Lyman, an analyst at the New York-based 451 Group, said Likewise's decision to attract large numbers of customers through free downloads has increased product visibility and succeeded in converting some customers into paying clients.
"The bottom line is that Likewise's strategy seems to be working on spreading the word and getting the software distributed," he said.
Even though the latest upgrade is merely an incremental improvement, the open source console addresses user demand for non-Microsoft access which, in turn, should continue to drive downloads, Lyman said.
Likewise faces competition from Centrify and Quest as well as Microsoft and other major software companies in addition to the risk of product commoditization, but that shouldn't happen for a while, Lyman said. In the meantime, the combination of increasingly mixed environments and a soft economy will encourage enterprises to turn to Likewise and other low-cost open source companies to garner greater savings, he said.