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Novell might not be sure about what it wants to do with itself, but the company has been pretty clear what it wants you to do with its products. It wants to build virtual software appliances with all kinds of software stacks running inside of virtual machines and atop its SUSE Linux Enterprise distro.

Today, Novell spins up the SUSE Appliance Toolkit 1.1, an online tool that the company unveiled last year as SUSE Studio and improved earlier this year to help developers create virtual software appliances, keep them updated with security patches, and share with their partners privately or through a public gallery.

With the 1.1 release of the toolkit coming out today, Novell is making good on its promise of supporting the deployment of virtual software appliances on Amazon's EC2 compute cloud, which is based on a variant of the Xen hypervisor and supporting its own Amazon Machine Image (AMI) format. SUSE Appliance Toolkit 1.1 can also package up virty software appliances for the KVM hypervisor - including the KVM hypervisor that is in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 as well as embedded in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.5 and Ubuntu 10.04.

Red Hat has also created a stand-alone version of KVM (an open source project that it controls) called Enterprise Virtualization (or RHEV for short). Finally, the updated tool also can spin up an appliance and plunk it into an Open Virtualization Format (OVF) container, which is a semi-portable format that may some day evolve into a truly portable virtual server container.

SUSE Studio went into alpha testing in February 2009, and was an online tool for creating appliances to run atop a streamlined SUSE Linux stack that was in turn plopped into a VMware ESX Server virtual machine. SUSE Studio went into production in July 2009, a few months after the SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 was delivered, and in January 2010, SUSE Studio was transformed into the SUSE Appliance Toolkit, with the intent of supporting a mix of hypervisors used for private and public clouds.

The 1.0 release of the toolkit could spin up software appliances for Xen (from Citrix Systems, Oracle, Red Hat, or SUSE) hypervisors or VMware ESX Server or ESXi hypervisors. It could also spit out images in a raw ISO image so they could be deployed on bare metal, as well as put LiveCD images on USB sticks, CDs, or DVDs. For the ESX Server hypervisors, the toolkit spits out VMDK images (that's a VMware format) and has been tested on ESX Server 3.5 and 4.0; Novell has not yet tested the appliance toolkit's output to see how it supports ESX Server 4.1.

Being able to spin up appliance images for EC2 and spit them out onto the Amazon cloud meshes with Novell's EC2-based SUSE Linux licensing, which was announced back in August. Novell is only selling priority-level (24x7) support contract for SUSE Linux licenses on Amazon, and the pricing through Amazon comes to $50 per month, $140 per quarter, or $480 per year. Assuming you can get a lot of server slices on an internal cloud based on the same iron Amazon is using, the Amazon EC2 pricing for SUSE Linux was considerably higher. But it is not convenience to buy, management, and power your own server, either.

Novell may be open when it comes to hypervisors in the SUSE Appliance Toolkit, and itwas certainly open even when it came to its openSUSE open build service, which predates the toolkit and which allowed companies to spin up SUSE, Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat, and CentOS images for deployment on bare metal machines. But the openSUSE Build Service didn't help sell SUSE Linux, and the toolkit is absolutely designed to help push modified versions of SUSE Linux into the market and to generate a support revenue stream. So don't look for Novell to package up appliances running anything but SUSE Linux.

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