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VMware, Novell hatch virtual appliance scheme

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Virtualization specialist VMware has teamed up with commercial Linux distributor Novell to create software appliances based on Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) wrapped up in VMware's ESX Server virtual machines. The deal was inked at the VMworld festivities in Cannes this week.

For the past four years VMware has worked to position its virtual machines as a modern-day equivalent of shrink-wrapped software-distribution boxes. Back in June 2005, this first foray into virtual appliances was called the VMware Technology Network (VMTN), but today's VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace is much the same.

However, instead of charging $299 per year for VMTN to help developers create their own virtual appliances, VMware is functioning as a market for software stacks for other software makers. This arrangement has an added benefit for VMware in that these virtual appliances drive sales of its ESX Server hypervisor and related management tools.

The Virtual Appliance Marketplace includes over 900 different software bundles, including OpenSolaris, Windows, and a large variety of Linuxes.

Last April, Novell rolled out a so-called JEOS (Just Enough Operating System) or "juice" variant of its SUSE Linux called Project LimeJEOS in an attempt to foster a software-appliance community of its own.

Ubuntu and Red Hat Linux introduced similar projects ahead of Novell, and Ubuntu had spearheaded the idea of a stripped-down Linux running inside a VM as an appliance a year and a half ago. Ubuntu's VM choice was none other than VMware, since during the previous year Ubuntu Server had been the most popular platform on the original VMTN appliance tool.

Both VMware and Novell have tools, respectively called VMware Studio and SUSE Studio, to help programmers and sysadmins create appliances to be deployed inside virtual machines. Under the collaboration announced this week, SUSE Studio will be able to spin an appliance and plunk it down into an ESX Server VM as well as atop a streamlined SLES instance.

SUSE Studio is currently in alpha. But VMware Studio is available now. And unlike many VMware products, it's free. SUSE Linux shops that want to build software appliances can start with VM Studio until SUSE Studio is done.

SUSE Studio will eventually support other hypervisor VMs as the basis for the software appliance, but it seems unlikely that VMware will support other VM containers. Stranger things have happened in IT, however.

Novell and VMware also said that they were working to ensure that SLES was a "fully supported and optimized guest operating system running on VMware ESX." I wasn't aware that SLES 10 was not fully supported atop ESX Server - the support to which Novell and VMware refer might have more to do with tech support than software support.

Novell will offer customers who want to virtualize SLES atop ESX Server some unspecified price breaks in a limited-time-only deal.

As part of the collaboration, Novell, VMware, and application software giant SAP are preparing a Unix-to-virtualized-Linux migration offering, which is expected to come to market in mid-March.

In related news, Fujitsu-Siemens made its FlexFrame utility-style clustered infrastructure for the SAP application stack available on VMware's Virtual Infrastructure 3 toolset, which includes ESX Server 3.5, vCenter 2.5 (management console), and a slew of VM management add-ons.

The FlexFrame product is based on Fujitsu's x64 blade servers and supports rapid provisioning of application servers and database servers for SAP ERP suites, all running on SLES Linux on x86 or x64 processors or Solaris on Sparc. FlexFrame now supports the SAP software running inside of VMs instead of directly on the operating systems and their physical iron.

There are FlexFrame setups for Oracle application stacks, as well, which will likely be virtualized with the VI3 stack at some point. All FlexFrame setups currently require the use of NetApp storage arrays, and it's unclear if by virtualizing the servers Fujitsu-Siemens is giving customers the option of using other storage. ®

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