New VMware and Novell Partnership

A new VMware and Novell partnership will eventually push all VMware virtual appliances onto Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES).

The deal, announced today, brings much-needed consistency to VMware's virtual appliances and gives SUSE a competitive boost against the Red Hat and Ubuntu Linux distributions.

"This is a very good move," said VMware customer Mark Vaughn, an enterprise architect for a large information services firm. "Novell is a large company. It has a strong focus on security and a quality product."

VMware-Novell deal details

The new pact gives VMware the right to distribute the update stream for SLES to customers with active vSphere 4 support and subscription (SnS) contracts. At the same time, VMware is now authorized to support SUSE Linux.

VMware already distributes vCenter CapacityIQ, Update Manager and many other products as virtual appliances. The company will eventually add more, including Zimbra hosted email, to its virtual appliance portfolio, said Bogomil Balkansky, vice president of product marketing.

Before now, VMware had not been systematic about which Linux distributions underpin its virtual appliances, delivering one on Ubuntu, for example, and another on Debian.

"This OEM agreement gives us a good vehicle to standardize all the virtual appliances that VMware distributes," Balkansky said.

The shift to SLES will be gradual, he said.

"There will be no big bang," he added. "Chances are, different products will do the conversion on their own timeline."

Novell SUSE Studio already makes it easy to output a SUSE-based appliance to VMware, Vaughn said. In his own practice, he already moved to OpenSUSE after years as a Red Hat user, citing superior hardware drivers and easier setup and administration.

Why not Red Hat?

Red Hat still leads Novell in terms of Linux market share by a wide margin, leading some to wonder why VMware didn't partner with that company instead.

SUSE's main appeal is its broad range of independent software vendor certifications, not the least of which is SAP, Balkansky said.

"SAP is a beachhead application for us," he said. "We have a very good relationship with SAP, and SUSE is the preferred Linux distribution for SAP."

At the same time, Red Hat has been pursuing its own virtualization strategy -- first with Xen, and more recently with KVM -- putting it directly in VMware's crosshairs.

Furthermore, Red Hat licensing policies aren't as virtualization-friendly as Novell's, Vaughn said. Red Hat's continued push to offer platform virtualization and its virtualization-unfriendly licensing policies are driving large organizations to Novell, he said.

VMware-Novell: A boon for SUSE Linux?

VMware administrators stand to gain from standardization, but Novell is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this agreement.

"Our goal is to be the more interoperable and performant Linux OS across a variety of virtualization platforms," said Joe Wagner, Novell's senior vice president and general manager of global alliances. "Teaming up with VMware hits all those points."

The VMware-Novell deal does not affect Novell's commitment to distributing virtualization software based on Xen and KVM, Wagner said.

"Our strategy is still to distribute and support popular open source virtualization environments," he said.

Beyond providing foundational virtualization technology -- where the company has had middling success -- Novell's aim is to "be the best guest that we can be," he added.

Some solutions providers said this VMware-Novell deal will boost SUSE's profile relative to other enterprise Linux distros.

"This is a coup for SUSE Linux, because they've been blessed by the leader in virtualization," said Frank Basanta, director of Systems Solutions, a national systems integrator that partners with VMware and Novell, as well as Red Hat.

Questions about Novell's long-term viability swirled this winter, capped by a $2 billion buyout offer in March that the company rejected. But when it comes to its SUSE business, some Novell partners said the company has been proactive and aggressive.

"I've seen dramatic changes in Novell's marketing approach and how they handle the channel," said Gregg Rosenberg, owner and chief technology officer at RICIS, Inc., a professional services organization in Tinley Park, Ill.

For example, the SUSE license activation process used to be a "nightmare," but it's now "almost a trivial process," he said. RICIS' Red Hat sales fell in the past year, while SUSE sales rose, he added.

However, it remains to be seen whether VMware's blessing will have a material effect on SUSE license sales.

Novell has made a legitimate push for the software appliance business with SUSE Studio, said Bill Claybrook, president of New River Marketing Research and a former Novell executive.

However, "I never thought they would make a lot of money off of software appliances -- unless they sold an awful lot of appliances," he said.

There's a reason that Red Hat hasn't pushed in the software appliance business, he added: "because they don't see that as a money-making proposition."

So, is VMware's blessing enough to turn Novell's fortunes around? Maybe, maybe not, Vaughn said.

"It won't necessarily be a financial boon, but it's definitely a hearts-and-minds win," he said.

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