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Novell punts tools to make software appliances

SUSE Linux breaking out everywhere

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Since earlier this year, commercial Linux distributor Novell has been working to get a set of online tools together, which it hopes will make it the force behind virtual machine server appliances. It also has a matching partner program that will see key Linux software vendors deploy appliances based on customized - yet supported - instances of Novell's SUSE Linux.

Today, the online tool, called SUSE Studio, and the related SUSE appliance program go into production, and we'll find out if people really want to build appliances on SUSE Linux.

SUSE Studio went into alpha in February, when Novell announced a partnership to package up SUSE Linux appliances and distribute them inside virtual machines compatible with VMware's ESX Server hypervisor. SUSE Studio is a homegrown Linux and appliance software spinner that now has an improved user interface, according to Matt Richards, senior program manager for the appliance program at Novell.

The tool, which is available here, is available for free and is hosted in Novell's data centre at its headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Since the alpha and then beta programs were opened up earlier this year, over 20,000 people have signed up to create accounts on SUSE Studio, and over 7,000 of these people have built at least one appliance. The tool can build software appliances and kick them out on top of the openSUSE development release, or the commercial SUSE Linux 10 or 11 server releases. (SUSE 10 came out in July 2006 and SUSE 11 came out in March of this year.) You can also make desktop appliances based on SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED), if you want.

The key feature of the SUSE Studio tool, at least as far as independent software vendors are concerned, is the supportability assessment module, which is currently only in beta. As developers pick and choose different parts of the SUSE stacks to create an OS image, it checks for dependencies and then tells you if the custom SUSE instance you have created is supportable by Novell's tech support organisation. If it is, then the ISV can redistribute the Linux and know that Novell will back it up and support it.

SUSE Studio takes as its foundation a so-called Just Enough Operating System, or JEOS, variant of SUSE Linux that is skinnied way down, and then you can add functionality to it there from the SUSE stack. Right now, SUSE Studio can kick out images that are compatible with the open source Xen hypervisor, as well as the ESX Server hypervisor and LiveCD and USB stick images.

With today's announcement, Novell will announce that SUSE Linux 11 will be available as an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) for Amazon's EC2 cloud; up until now, only openSUSE has been available on EC2. Support for SLES 11 for EC2 costs $19 a month, plus 10 cents per minute. SUSE 10 was embedded with IBM's DB2 database image on EC2, but no one talked about it being there.

SUSE Studio will not be able to kick out AMI images until later this year, and it will also be given support for the OVF 1.0 virtual machine image format, as well as for other formats as the year rolls on.

To help ISVs package up appliances, Novell is creating a set of management tools collectively called the SUSE Appliance Toolkit, which are in technical preview starting today and which will be available later this year.

The toolkit includes the SUSE Lifecycle Management Server, which is used to authenticate with appliances sold to customers so they can be updated by the ISV: WebYast for remote configuration management, and Mono Server Extension, which will help ISVs deploy C# applications inside the integrated Mono runtime in SLES 11.

The licenses for support for the customized SUSE JEOS instances will be negotiated on case by case basis, says Richards. "Our intent is to enable the long tail of this market," he suggested. On high-end appliances, support costs will probably be the same or very similar to the basic, standard, and premium support contracts for SLES 10 and 11 today, but on low-end appliances, Novell plans to use a sliding scale that gives the company a slice of the net revenue that the ISV is charging for the appliance.

Imagine, for instance, that you create a backup appliance based on a USB stick and a JEOS version of SLES. It might only cost $15, so Novell can't expect to charge the ISV a lot of money to keep that product patched. It might only be $1 or less, and it might even have a perpetual (rather than annual) support contract because the vendor only gets paid once. If the vendor charges monthly or annual fees on an appliance, Novell will want a cut of that action on the same terms. All Novell wants is for SUSE appliances to generate volume or recurring revenue streams. Which ain't the dumbest thing Novell has ever thought.

So far, 18 software vendors have been involved in the Novell appliance partner program: Adaris Technologies, Adobe, Bitrock, Four Js Development Tools, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Infobright, Ingres, Messaging Architects, Packet General, Quest Software, SAP, Sonoa Systems, VMware, and Zmanda. ®

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