One of the bigger issues with Microsoft's (MSFT) decision to end support for Windows 2003 and to remove Windows Server 2008 from the channel beginning at the end of this year is that many IT organizations are using those systems to support many instances of Microsoft Active Directory (AD) that are critical to their daily operations. That makes moving to Windows Server 2012 both a complex and, ultimately, expensive proposition.

For that reason solution providers might want to consider giving customers another option: Univention Corporate Server from Univention GmbH. Built on top of Debian Linux, Univention Corporate Server provides domain services that are compatible with Microsoft Directory. Univention Corporate Server provides a much lower cost approach in terms of migrating off of Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008 over migrating to Windows Server 2012, said Univention CEO Peter Ganten.

Univention Corporate Server can be deployed on premise or in any cloud as an alternative to instances of Microsoft Active Directory running on the Microsoft Azure cloud.

For the most part, solution providers are excited about the prospect of helping customers migrate millions of instances of Windows Server to the Windows Server 2012. But there also are a lot of customers who would like to minimize those costs so they can devote more of the IT budget to deploying new applications. In those cases, many IT organizations will be considering some form of Linux as an alternative to Windows.

Ganten noted that Univention Corporate Server works by deploying a virtual machine on a server running Microsoft Active Directory. Installed via a single click, the virtual machine then begins the “takeover” process for transferring the data stored in Microsoft Active Directory to Univention Corporate Server.

Next up, Univention plans to release a software development kit (SDK) that will make it simpler to build applications on top of Univention Corporate Server that can leverage the company’s directory software, he said.

Ganten expects to see Univention Corporate Server to be widely deployed in hybrid computing scenarios, in which instances of Univention Corporate Server are deployed on public cloud services to extend the reach of Microsoft Active Directory running on-premise into the cloud.

At the moment, Univention has more than 200 partners selling Univention Corporate Server in Europe. The company is planning to extend its operations into the United States soon, Ganten said.

Obviously, a product based on Debian Linux may not always be the first choice for Microsoft partners. But at a time when many IT organizations now have an “Open Source First” policy in effect, it’s nice to have some additional options.