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Amazon, Novell to sell full SUSE Linux on EC2

Full support comes at a price

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Novell turned green with envy a long time ago watching Red Hat's business grow. Now it's following Red Hat onto Amazon's compute cloud by offering cloud pricing for its Linux when running on EC2.

Michael Applebaum, director of Linux and appliances marketing at Novell, said Amazon is still finalizing the pricing it will charge for Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) loaded with either SUSE Linux 10 or 11.

The intent of Novell's cloud program is to offer hourly, monthly, or quarterly billing for SUSE Linux instances running on EC2. While Amazon is setting the price, Novell is calling the tune. Amazon only plans to sell SUSE Linux on an hourly basis.

"It is our intention for SUSE Linux Enterprise to be the most affordable enterprise Linux in the cloud," says Applebaum, differentiating it from the freebie Linuxes out there, including openSUSE.

While the Amazon EC2 licenses for SUSE Linux will include the support you would get if you shelled out $349 for a basic, web-based support contract, if you want to get the kind of hand-holding you get from Novell with a standard or priority support contract, you are going to have to pay extra dough for that.

Applebaum said that upping the support level on SUSE Linux images running on EC2 to the equivalent of a priority-level contract for a regular SUSE Linux license would cost $50 per month, $140 per quarter, or $480 per year.

Novell sells a standard support contract for SUSE Linux for $799 per year, and that server can span up to 32 physical cores in a single system image and have an unlimited amount of virtualized SUSE Linux images running atop it; the priority contract costs $1,499 per server.

Assuming that the average server has two sockets and a standard virtual CPU on EC2 is equivalent to half of a core on a Xeon server, you can put 16 slices on an in-house two-socket box and get support for each slice for $50 per year with at the standard support level (which is not available in the cloud program) and at $93.69 per year at the priority level. On a bigger box with lots more slices (say an eight-socket box using eight-core Xeon 7500s), you're down to $6.24 per slice per year for standard and $11.71 per slice per year at the priority level. Given this, Novell's incremental cloud support pricing for SUSE Linux seems a bit high.

In the long run, pricing for in-house servers and cloud images has to be closer to the same or no one will use the software in public clouds. The trick will be trying to match the computing cycles used to the support costs - and software makers and cloud providers wants to do this at the moment because they can charge more with a flat fee. But, in the long run, customers will want true pay-per-use, even for support.

Applebaum says that Novell is in the process of tweaking its SUSE Studio appliance builder tools, which can create SUSE Linux and application images for Xen, KVM, and ESX Server (VMware) hypervisors, so it can spit out the AMI format that runs atop Amazon's proprietary Xen hypervisor. Applebaum would not say when this will happen, just that it is coming "in the near term."

Novell's PlateSpin Migrate tools will also be able to move SUSE Linux images from in-house servers out to the EC2 cloud.

EC2 already offers a pretty broad array of Linuxes within its AMI virtual machine slices so the competition is fierce. Currently available are RHEL and Fedora from Red Hat, RHEL clone Oracle Enterprise Linux, the openSUSE development release from Novell, Canonical's Ubuntu, plus Gentoo and Debian Linuxes.

Canonical started deploying official, production-grade Ubuntu 9.10 as AMIs on EC2 in February 2009, and had prior releases available well before that for developers to play around with. No surprises, then, that Ubuntu quickly rose to become the most popular deployed OS on EC2, according to Canonical.

The Linux upstart has extended its Landscape tool so it can manage Ubuntu out on EC2 in addition to in-house Ubuntu servers and has, of course, merged the Eucalyptus framework with Ubuntu Server Edition and the KVM hypervisor to create an in-house clone of EC2 that it wants companies to deploy for their private clouds. Canonical is covering both sides of the cloudy street - public and private - so it can reap the money.

And its Linux rivals have to do the same.

Red Hat, which controls KVM and which wants that cloudy money, too, for private as well as public clouds, waited until KVM was more fully baked and RHEL 5.5 was in the field to put AMI images of RHEL out onto the EC2 cloud back in April of this year.

The way Red Hat does support on EC2, you have to buy 24x7 premium support contracts for RHEL 5.5 - and no fewer than 25 of them at $1,299 a pop - to be able to use its Cloud Access feature, which allows licenses to move out to the EC2 cloud.

Linux isn’t the only fruit, though, when it comes to EC2. Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 operating systems are available as EC2 images, and so is the development-grade OpenSolaris platform (formerly from Sun Microsystems, now from Oracle). The commercial-grade Solaris 10 is not available on EC2 - yet.

Bootnote: After this story ran, Novell rang up and said that contrary to the impression it gave El reg during an interview, there is no standard-level equivalent support in the cloud program. You can get the basic support level through Amazon's EC2 cloud and then pay Novell extra to get priority level support. While that makes the comparisons a little less drastic, the fact is Novell is charging a lot more per unit of processing capacity for support on cloudy infrastructure than it is charging customers for in-house servers. 41 to 1 is a bit high. ®

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