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Novell punts cloud control tool

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Will the clouds save Novell in a way that Linux has not yet done? The company certainly hopes so. Today, the company is kicking out its Cloud Manager tool, which has been under development for more than a year.

Novell built itself a tidy little $2bn business from networking x86-based servers in the 1980s and 1990s, but for a lot of complex reasons, Unix, Windows, and then Linux platforms came to dominate in data centers and data closets, cutting Novell in half and eventually compelling Novell to embrace Linux by acquiring German Linux supplier SUSE AG in November 2003 for $210m. Novell's NetWare platform and related GroupWise collaboration software has been declining for the past decade – and faster than Novell's Linux business can fill in the gap. The way things are looking, Novell will be lucky to break $800m in revenues in its fiscal 2010 year ending in October.

Like many established systems software makers that are seeing their businesses wane, Novell is hoping to benefit from all the cloud hype, through cloud management tools - in this case a new program called Cloud Manager - as well as the sale of operating systems such as SUSE Linux and security and access control programs that get woven into clouds.

According to Benjamin Grubin, director of data center management at Novell, Cloud Manager has been in development for a little more than a year and has been created through "many millions" of dollars in investment from the company. With Cloud Manager, Novell is trying to create an uber-operating system that controls virtualized operating systems and the hypervisors they run upon. It's initially focused on helping customers create private clouds on their existing iron.

The company is supporting the key Xen, ESX Server, and Hyper-V hypervisors for x64 servers in the initial release of Cloud Manager, and it will add support for the Red Hat-backed KVM hypervisor sometime in the first half of 2011. Over time, Cloud Manager will be extended to support external public clouds, allowing for companies to use the same tool to manage internal private clouds and external public clouds.

"We're not trying to play in the hypervisor game," says Grubin. This is obviously true, even though SUSE Linux does support embedded Xen and KVM hypervisors and runs atop the three key x64-based hypervisors. "Instead, we want to be the one that works with everybody and give the unification option to enterprises."

That would, it seem, require Novell's Cloud Manager to span Unix and proprietary systems as well, something no cloudy tool maker has been able to do as yet. And it is not something that VMware feels compelled to do with its vCloud Director, announced two weeks ago. vCloud Director only works with VMware's ESX hypervisor at this point, and given that VMware wants to sell a complete virtual platform, that is unlikely to change. This, thinks Grubin, gives Novell a business opportunity.

"VMware makes the most feature-rich virtualization, no question about it, but it is also expensive," says Grubin. "There are plenty of workloads where you just don't need all of the advanced VMware capabilities." Like, for instance, giving your developers a cheap Xen-based cloud to build and test their applications.

Cloud Manager has two pieces. An application server is the management console that does the presentation and user interface for the tool, while the provisioning server is plopped into each data center where Cloud Manager is controlling cloudy infrastructure. Ironically, Novell's Cloud Manager tool is based in part on the former Sun Microsystems' OpenESB enterprise service bus for integration of the management tool with hypervisors and also makes use of Sun's GlassFish application server.

The user interface for Cloud Manager is coded in Java and Google Web Toolkit (GWT) for allowing JavaScript to be converted to Java and vice versa. The Cloud Manager stack uses SOAP-based APIs for create the Web services that link into hypervisors and their respective consoles and uses standard Internet protocols for communication.

At the moment, Cloud Manager can orchestrate the provisioning of cloudy resources on x64-based servers running VMware's ESX Server and ESXi embedded hypervisors at the 3.X and 4.0 release, the embedded Xen hypervisor in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and 11 SP1, and Microsoft's Hyper-V for Windows Server 2008. Presumably support for Citrix Systems' XenServer hypervisor is coming sometime around when KVM support is due next year. You also have to reckon that Novell will support Red Hat's embedded KVM for Enterprise Linux 5.X and 6.0 as well as the free-standing Enterprise Virtualization hypervisor (RHEV), and probably should also support the embedded KVM hypervisor in Ubuntu 10.04 Server Edition, too.

If you are thinking that you can use Novell's Cloud Manager to go around existing - and expensive - hypervisor consoles sold by their respective vendors, forget that idea. Like other uber-cloud tools, Cloud Manager plugs into these consoles rather than replacing them. As such, the scalability limit of Cloud Manager, in terms of how many hosts and VMs it can manage, is a function of what each management console tailored for each hypervisor.

According to Grubin, Novell has tested Cloud Manager against a cluster of machines managed by five vCenter consoles and uses ESX hypervisors that can in theory host 21,000 VMs. Testing on Xen and Hyper-V is still being done, but Novell has put a cluster of 130 hosts running the embedded Xen hypervisor in SUSE Linux and will more than 1,500 VMs under the control of Cloud Manager in its scalability tests. The largest Hyper-V configuration was done with some fat x64 servers (fourteen of them, to be precise) with over 1,000 VMs under Cloud Manager's watchful eye. No matter what hypervisor/console combination is being considered, Grubin says the limits of scalability depend more on the starts, stops, and clonings of VMs than other factors. The more the virtual infrastructure is changing, the fewer VMs the system can manage.

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