VMware and Novell: Where's the JeOS?

VMware's decision to use SUSE Enterprise Linux Server as the foundation of all virtual appliances will be welcomed by most VMware users, but our expert questions whether the company will offer a richer set of support inside the guest operating system.

A week or so ago, VMware announced its decision to use SUSE Enterprise Linux Server (SLES) as the foundation to all its virtual appliances. The move should be a welcome one amongst VMware customers who have occasionally been exasperated by the various different distributions of Linux that VMware has selected for their popular appliances.

The general mood within the VMware community is that standardisation is inherently a good thing, regardless of people's opinion of SLES. The move should make it easier for customers to incorporate VMware appliances into their data centre and make sure they conform consistently to their corporate standards.

It doesn't stop there. Starting with vSphere 4.1 (due to ship in Q3 of this year), VMware will be bundling SLES with vSphere 4 such that if a customer purchases vSphere 4 from within a qualifying SKU, then they will receive a license to run SLES. The license does not allow a customer to run SLES on physical hardware, and it is only licensed to run on the VMware ESX hypervisor. This aspect of the relationship has attracted a lot of comments from the industry and from VMware's competitors, such as Microsoft. As ever in the battle of FUD and counter-FUD, VMware has reacted in kind.

SLES and vSphere 4
As most VMware admins know, vSphere 4 has one of the richest range of supported guest operating systems compared to any other vendor. They have even gone so far as to level the playing field between their Workstation product and vSphere, with DOS, Windows 95 and many older, legacy operating systems finding their way on to the list of supported operating systems. I don't think VMware will want to undo this good work by cozying up to Novell too much. Indeed, it seems one of the reasons the deal was attractive to VMware was application support, with SLES having a good relationship to SAP.

The bigger question is whether this is a strategic decision by VMware to move further up the stack to offer a richer set of support inside the guest operating system. When VMware first announced their virtual appliance initiative back in 2006 with the launch of the Virtual Appliance Marketplace, it seemed the emphasis back then was on creating what they called JeOS (just enough operating system). The idea was to use an existing OS and strip it down to its bare bones, creating a super slim skinny-latte environment from within which to write and run applications. The truth is, it was a bit of a dig at operating system vendors whose systems get more and more disk and memory hungry as the years go by. I don't need to mention any names here, do I?

The lack of JeOS
The ironic thing was that VMware were promoting a lightweight version of Ubuntu as the basis of JeOS at that time. Companies like Canonical and rPath stepped up to the mark by developing Ubuntu JeOS and developing tools to manage JeOS. However, it seems that despite promoting this approach, VMware subsequently went on to build a range of virtual appliances such as the vMA (RHEL) and vDR (CentOS) that used different distributions of Linux altogether!

So far then, the message didn't really match up with the method. But whether this new relationship with Novell represents something more than just standardisation is unclear. It could be the beginning of VMware standardising on SLES for its high-level Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions, such as the recently acquired Zimbra and SpringSource environments.

The idea was to use an existing OS and strip it down to its bare bones, creating a super slim skinny-latte environment from within which to write and run applications.


Mike Laverick, Contributor,

Personally, I'm not sure that such an interpretation is viable. Just as VMware put a layer between the hardware and the operating system in the shape of ESX, I would be surprised if VMware would want to tie its PaaS solutions so closely to a single OS vendor such as Novell's SLES, especially at the moment, as the media is awhirl with speculation that Novell may be looking for a buyer.

The way I see it is that VMware has realised its previous attempts to promote virtual appliances went off track a little in the last couple of years. They have understood that if they want the virtual appliance concept to really take off then the OS with the guest has to be a beast most enterprise vendors already have or can easily accommodate into their existing best practices.

The benefits for Novell are that yet another virtualisation vendor has agreed to distribute and promote its flavor of Linux, perhaps such a partnership is just what Novell needs to promote its perceived value in the market place.

Mike Laverick

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Laverick is a professional instructor with 15 years experience in technologies such as Novell, Windows and Citrix, and he has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. In addition to teaching, Laverick is the owner and author of the virtualisation website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish user groups. Laverick has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.

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