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VMware inks OEM deal with Novell for SUSE Linux

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Novell needs all the help it can get in its seven-year battle to get its SUSE Linux business growing and profitable. The landmark deal with Microsoft that has brought the company $340m in dough for SUSE Linux coupons that Big Bill distributes at Windows shops (475 so far, according to this Microsoft blog) has clearly run out of gas and Novell has been looking for another partner to help peddle its products. Enter server virtualization juggernaut VMware.

While Novell is a competitor of sorts with VMware when it comes to server virtualization, pitting its implementations of the Xen and now KVM hypervisors inside of SUSE Linux 11 against VMware's ESX Server stack, Novell has not been afraid to partner with competitors since Ray Noorda left the company and in fact seems to prefer so-called "co-opetition" to cut-throat competition. Just like Citrix Systems, which competes with and partners with Microsoft to the point where it may as well be a division of Microsoft.

The details of the OEM agreement inked between Novell and VMware were a bit sketchy, and Novell was not making executives available to talk to the press. But what is clear is that operating system providers and hypervisor providers have to partner, regardless of whether or not they compete, because interoperability is important to all customers and everyone wants the finger pointing at the source of the problem when something does go wrong.

Hence Red Hat partners with Microsoft even as it competes in both the operating system and hypervisor racket, as does Novell. VMware and Citrix line up their partners as well. (Oracle is more interested in its own stack of wares, including its clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and a free-standing Xen hypervisor goosed with the guts of Virtual Iron, at this point.)

VMware is not giving up on its neutrality when it comes to operating systems, so don't get the wrong idea that VMware is saying customers should deploy SUSE Linux atop ESX Server as their hypervisor-operating system combo. Rather, VMware is able to distribute SUSE Linux software inside appliances or as part of vSphere deals. If you buy vSphere 4.0, you get support for patch and security updates for SUSE Linux support as part of the vSphere product. You can optionally choose to have VMware give you the full-tilt-boogie support like Novell itself sells (and with Novell providing the level three emergency support to backup the VMware team) for an additional fee.

This is how server OEMs that resell support for Linuxes from either Red Hat or Novell structure their deals, and it makes sense that a maker of virtual servers would have a similar kind of deal as those who make physical servers. Either way, Novell wants more of its revenues to be driven by channel partners, as does Red Hat, and hence they cut these sort of deals.

Novell and VMware did not disclose how much money is changing hands as part of this OEM agreement, nor did they say what the terms of the deal were. vSphere prices are not changing as part of the deal, VMware has confirmed. Novell will get paid if customers opt for the additional SUSE Linux support services from VMware. The companies did not say how much would pass through and how this pricing will compare to buying SUSE Linux support contracts directly from Novell.

In addition to the OEM deal for SUSE Linux support, VMware also said that it was tapping SUSE Linux to be the distro of choice for Linux-based appliances that the company and its partners create as part of the VMware Appliance Marketplace. The marketplace, which has over 1,000 appliances in it running everything from raw operating system images to content management systems to full ERP suites, already has a bunch of appliances running on various openSUSE releases.

Companies no doubt would prefer to have the commercially supported and hardened SUSE Linux 11 operating system over openSUSE. It's a question of whether they want SUSE Linux over Red Hat, Ubuntu, CentOS, or even Windows. There is a Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition image from Microsoft on the VMware Appliance Marketplace, but there is not an appliance for Windows Server 2008, R2 or otherwise, or Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Maybe VMware will cut some more appliance deals.

Novell, of course, is trying to build its own appliance business, with SUSE Linux and its integrated Xen hypervisor as the platform, using its online SUSE Studio tools and the related SUSE Appliance Toolkit, which went into production in January. ®

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