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SUSE updates Studio server appliance maker with native KVM

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SUSE Linux, like everybody else, wants to build your cloud. And the German software company, which is part of the Attachmate collective, thinks the combination of its chameleon-colored Linux operating system, its SUSE Studio server appliance fabrication tools, its SUSE Manager system management tools, and its SUSE Cloud rendition of the OpenStack cloud control freak are going to give it an edge over its many rivals.

"Everybody was talking about server appliances several years ago," Sabine Soelheim, senior solution and product manager at SUSE Linux, tells El Reg.

"Then the conversation shifted to clouds and what you need to have to manage those. And now, we are back to talking about appliances again because a server appliance is what you will deploy to a cloud. This is why we think SUSE Studio has become even more important."

The first iteration of the SUSE Studio server appliance maker came out in alpha back in February 2009 and was a web-based tool created in conjunction with VMware to create customized SUSE Linux installations and their application software that could then be deployed atop VMware's server virtualization hypervisors.

The idea behind SUSE Studio was to create so-called JEOS operating systems – short for Just Enough Operating System – that had only the components a particular application stack required, roll in the app code, and then patch versions of those appliances as the whole code stack changed over time.

SUSE Studio is a freebie service on the web, and it includes a catalog called SUSE Gallery where you can publish the server appliances you create so others can download and use them.

In January 2010, SUSE Studio Online was deemed ready for prime time and was offered alongside SUSE Lifecycle Management Server, which manages software license entitlements for software running inside the appliances as well as the patching of the underlying SUSE Linux and those applications.

Two years ago is also when Novell, which owned SUSE Linux at the time, announced a hosted, private version of the appliance maker called SUSE Studio Onsite, which cost $100,000 plus $25,000 a year for maintenance.

Soelheim says that SUSE Linux has over a hundred customers for this onsite version of the appliance maker, and that there are over 370,000 registered users for the online service, who have created over 1.8 million application stack images and who have shared more than 19.000 of them through SUSE Gallery.

With SUSE Studio 1.3, announced today, the company is making a few tweaks. First, SUSE Studio is now able to kick out appliances that are readable in the native KVM hypervisor format.

In the past, the appliance maker created VMDK-formatted virtual machines and you had to deploy these onto KVM, but now SUSE Studio knows how to pump out VMs in the QCOW2 format that is native to the QEMU emulator that is part of KVM.

There are some performance benefits that come from being in the native KVM format, and the native format also has thin provisioning for disk images so you can lie to a VM and its over-bearing operating system say it has 10GB of capacity, but KVM only gives it what it needs. This cuts back on storage needs.

This improved KVM support is important because SUSE Cloud, the chameleon variant of the OpenStack cloud controller that SUSE Linux started shipping last November, uses KVM as its hypervisor of choice.

Also new with SUSE Studio 1.3 is the ability to create server appliance images that run atop Microsoft's Hyper-V 3.0 hypervisor, which is the companion to Windows Server 2012. Server images can also run on Hyper-V on top of Windows Server 2008 R2. VMware's ESXi, Oracle's VirtualBox, various Xen implementations, and OVF VM formats were supported already.

The SUSE Lifecycle Management Server interface has been merged with the SUSE Studio interface with the 1.3 release as well, so you don't have to bop between the two tools any more. The 1.3 release has an improved interface into the EC2 compute cloud at Amazon Web Services, making it easier to deploy appliances, and the appliance maker can now handle the differences between the various AWS regions.

On the OpenStack front, even with the Grizzly release coming out last week, SUSE Linux is sticking to the Folsom release of OpenStack for its SUSE Cloud. Soelheim says that the company is working on a SUSE Cloud 2.0 update that will be based on Grizzly and that will come out later in the summer.

SUSE Linux is not selling all of its software as a bundle yet to build a complete cloud, but that is the obvious next step. ®

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