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Novell flirts with Citrix

But wants to play the VM field

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There has been some chatter about Citrix Systems - the corporate entity behind the open source Xen hypervisor and the commercialized XenServer product - hooking up with commercial Linux distributor Novell to work out some sort of deal to collaborate on Xen in a more meaningful way than they currently do. While the two parties are dancing a little bit closer, Novell is not going to adopt XenServer as its main hypervisor, as some have expected and others, like El Reg, have encouraged.

Michael Applebaum, senior solution marketing manager at Novell, says that Novell's strategy is straightforward. The company wants to position SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as a "perfect guest" for a variety of hypervisors, including its own implementation of Xen on X64 iron as well as XenServer from Citrix, ESX Server from VMware, and Hyper-V from Microsoft - and any other popular hypervisor that its customers require a new one, such as KVM, rise in popularity. The perfect guest also means supporting other platforms and their hypervisors, such as IBM's PowerVM for Power-based machines and z/VM for mainframes and Hewlett-Packard's Integrity VMs for its Itanium-based servers.

Novell is not just interested in being a guest, of course, but also being a host. The current SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 has a Xen 3.3 hypervisor embedded in it, with SLES services that wrap around it and allow for a server running the SLES-Xen combo to be carved up into virtual machines. This is not the same as a free-standing hypervisor, such as the Oracle VM clone of Red Hat's implementation of Xen or Red Hat's free-standing Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) KVM-based hypervisor.

Novell has been cagey about what exactly it has planned for KVM, a situation that got somewhat messier when Red Hat bought the company behind KVM, Qumranet, in September 2008 for $107m. KVM was relatively neutral territory, like Xen was before and after Citrix Systems acquired the project through its $500m acquisition of XenSource in August 2007. The reason Xen is still neutral is that Citrix doesn't have an operating system, although the company does run pretty close to the Windows stack.

As it turns out, Novell is going to embrace KVM inside of SUSE Linux side-by-side with Xen. KVM was rolled into SUSE Linux 11 on both desktops and servers last March as a technology preview, a status it has held since that time. But Applebaum confirmed to El Reg that with Service Pack 1 for SUSE Linux 11, KVM will get official and full support running embedded inside of that Linux distro.

Novell has not divulged the date when SUSE Linux 11 SP1 might ship, but the company tends to do updates every 12 to 15 months. That puts it at somewhere between March and June of this year, which is roughly the time we expect to see Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 6, which will put KVM in the forefront and which will not run on Itanium machines, as we previously reported.

Applebaum said that Novell is not interested in selling free-standing hypervisors based on either Xen or KVM and has no plans at this time to do so. Oracle and Red Hat most definitely want to join the free-standing hypervisor crowd, which is dominated by VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix on X64 iron with some other players getting their niches here and there.

So why is Novell playing the hypervisor field when its rival Red Hat wants to sell its own freestanding hypervisors for desktops and servers? "We recognize that customers are using a wide variety of hypervisors, and are going to continue to do so," says Applebaum.

It remains to be seen if SUSE Linux 11 will be certified as a perfect guest on Red Hat's RHEV implementation of KVM, but this would be in keeping with Novell's philosophy. This is probably not something there is a high demand for, and Novell would rather focus on ESX Server, Hyper-V, and XenServer for now in places where companies want to mix Linux and Windows on a single server.

What brought all of this hypervisor talk up in the first place is a partnership between Citrix and Novell that will see SLES 11 certified on XenServer and the two companies providing joint technical support to customers that deploy SLES 11 on the commercial Xen hypervisor from Citrix. What the certification means is that the two vendors guarantee that the 4,500 applications that are certified to run on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and 11 will now be certified to run on SLES running atop XenServer.

Novell is not distributing XenServer or in any way endorsing it as the preferred standalone hypervisor, and Citrix and Novell are not engaged in reselling each other's products as part of the partnership. Citrix and its partners do, however, now have access to Novell's PlateSpin Recon workload profiling and virtualization planning tool to help customers using XenServer figure out how to virtualize and consolidate their physical servers.

Those Citrix partners will have the right to resell the PlateSpin Protect, Migrate, and Recon Enterprise tools which became part of the Novell collective in February 2008. ®

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