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SUSE Studio spins up on IBM mainframes

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The SUSE division of legacy-loving conglomerate Attachmate is updating its SUSE Studio software appliance toolkit to help it maintain its dominance at IBM mainframe shops that run Linux on those machines.

In the wake of the acquisition of Novell by Attachmate back in May, SUSE was split off as a separate division and its headquarters was moved back to the SUSE AG stomping grounds in Nuremberg, Germany. The reconstituted SUSE has decided to stop messing around with names for different pieces of the code it has created for creating, managing, and deploying virtual software appliances and just call the whole stack SUSE Studio.

As Sabine Soelheim, solution marketing manager for emerging technologies at SUSE, correctly pointed out to El Reg, the SUSE Appliance Toolkit was essentially worthless without its related tools – the SUSE Lifecycle Management Server, the WebYaST Web console, and the SUSE Gallery for cataloging software appliances – and so the company reverted to the original name of the product: SUSE Studio.

The idea behind SUSE Studio is simple: if you make it easy for IT shops and independent software vendors to create, manage, deploy, and patch software appliances, it will drive Linux support-license sales, which is how SUSE needs to make money for its Attachmate parent.

SUSE Studio is available online for free as well as in an on-site version that costs some pretty big bucks. If an ISV uses the online or on-site version, they have to work out a licensing deal with SUSE to cover the elements of SUSE Linux they use in their application stacks. If you are a commercial customer creating your own stacks, you buy SUSE Linux licenses for the servers upon which you deploy your apps.

With SUSE Studio 1.1, which was announced in September 2010, coders could deploy stacks of system and application software based on SUSE Linux atop Xen, KVM, and ESX Server hypervisors. It also had one-click support for spitting out software appliances onto Amazon's EC2 compute clouds running SUSE Linux. You can build an appliance for one hypervisor, and then spit it out onto another hypervisor, which is one of the main reasons why you want the SUSE Studio tool at all. Amazon EC2 is running a homegrown variant of Xen as its hypervisor layer.

Soelheim isn't tipping SUSE's hand about what other infrastructure clouds SUSE Studio will eventually support, and there are no new clouds formally supported with SUSE Studio 1.2, which was released on Wednesday. Rackspace Cloud, Verizon Terremark, and CenturyLink Savvis are obvious next steps, and perhaps IBM's SmartCloud as well. "We can always add different clouds in the future to SUSE Studio based on customer demand," says Soelheim.

x64 and mainframe today, Power and Itanium tomorrow?

What SUSE is adding to SUSE Studio 1.2 is support for IBM's System z mainframes, allowing for appliances to be created for either x64 or mainframe architectures and deployed from SUSE Studio without any fussing or mussing on the part of programmers.

"We want to be the bridge between the x64 and mainframe worlds," says Soelheim. "And now you don't need to be a mainframe expert to deploy on the mainframe."

IBM System z mainframes use the z/VM hypervisor to carve up mainframe engines into Linux slices, and Big Blue offers special low pricing on an engine that is set up using microcode to only run Linux. This is called an Integrated Facility for Linux – and all that it means is that the core on a System z processor costs about a quarter less than the engine running IBM's flagship z/OS mainframe operating system, and is restricted to Linux workloads.

Both Red Hat and SUSE support IBM's mainframe engines with their current Enterprise Linux 6.1 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP1 releases as well as earlier versions and releases.

What SUSE Studio 1.2 does not currently support is the packaging of virtual appliances for SUSE Linux instances running on servers based on Power or Itanium processors. The app-stack maker worked on x64 servers from the get-go, of course. No word on when Power and Itanium support will come to SUSE Studio, but you would think that HP would show some enthusiasm for SUSE Linux on Itanium, since Red Hat doesn't support Itanium processors with its RHEL 6.X releases.

SUSE Studio 1.2 also has a set of deployment templates that have been optimized for VMware's ESX Server and ESXi hypervisors, in this case the 4.0 and 4.1 releases. VMware and Novell, the former owner of SUSE, inked a partnership deal last September that has VMware distributing SUSE Linux licenses to customers as part of its distribution of its ESXi freebie hypervisor and its vSphere for-free server virtualization stack.

In addition to the name-changing, SUSE has broken the SUSE Studio tool into two editions, with the Standard Edition being given to ISVs who want to create appliances on x64 iron and the Advanced Edition having the support for System z mainframes.

If you want to operate SUSE Studio on your own premises and not through the online SUSE Studio tool, a license costs $100,000 and support is $25,000 a year. This on-site version has support for System z mainframe appliance deployment. The on-site version also includes the SUSE Gallery appliance catalog, which was previously not part of the on-site tool.

The online SUSE Studio tool has 154,454 users and those users have built over 810,237 appliances to date. The SUSE Gallery, where SUSE Studio users share their appliances with the outside world for free, has 6,937 appliances and a cumulative 52,616 downloads. ®

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