Novell Inc. is selling itself off in pieces, and VMware is one of the bidders, according to reports circulating this week.
The New York Post first reported Wednesday that a "strategic buyer" would acquire the SUSE Linux portion of Novell's business,
It's sort of like getting rid of the covered wagon and then going out and buying a horse.
While the reports remain unconfirmed, some users say they fit VMware's pattern of expansion into a software stack beyond the hypervisor, which has included acquisitions of SpringSource and Zimbra as well as a partnership with Salesforce.com.
Novell SUSE would give "VMware that missing piece in the computing stack, the operating system," if the reports are accurate, wrote Eric Siebert, a system administrator for Boston Market, in an email to SearchServerVirtualization.com. "Having an OS will complete their stack from the virtualisation layer all the way to the application layer and will help them better compete with Microsoft. It also gives them a OS to use for their numerous virtual appliances."
There hasn't been any indication that VMware is pursuing parts of Novell's business beyond the SUSE OS, but Rick Vanover, an IT infrastructure manager at a large Midwestern financial services firm, said that he hopes VMware will also acquire intellectual property from Novell's PlateSpin virtualisation management suite.
In particular, Vanover said he likes PlateSpin's Forge feature, which he described as "a virtual data centre in a box for disaster recovery" that "integrates conversion technology with a modified ESX hypervisor with failover and failback." Novell's conversion tool is also appealing, he said.
But not everyone is enthused. "From a corporate point of view, I would rather they focused on their core product, though I can understand how VMware would like to be seen as a data centre management solution," said Chris Dearden, a U.K.-based senior hosting centre engineer for one of the world's largest accountancy and professional services firms. "I'm not quite sure why VMware would want this, other than being able to own another part of the stack in the same fashion of the Zimbra purchase."
A senior systems engineer with a telecom in the Midwest said he was similarly puzzled by the idea. "They just got rid of the last vestiges of Linux from the vSphere platform, still a mistake in my opinion, and now they're acquiring SUSE. It's sort of like getting rid of the covered wagon and then going out and buying a horse."
Chris Wolf, research vice president for Gartner Inc. said VMware has been trying to transcend the operating system with its "Just enough OS," which lets the hypervisor take on more of the functions traditionally performed by the operating system. But users often have certification requirements for deploying infrastructure that requires a standard Linux distribution.
"VMware doesn't have any choice," Wolf said. "Customers aren't fully embracing the 'Just enough OS.' "
VMware has also faced increasing competition from Microsoft Hyper-V and Red Hat Inc.'s KVM, both of which boast deeper integration between the hypervisor and OS, Wolf pointed out.
"VMware's point of view on the hypervisor taking over the role of the OS hasn't changed," he said. "Their hypervisor is sticky technology, but over time, it's conceivable Microsoft could chip away there … over the next ten years, VMware is looking to lessen Microsoft's relevance to enterprise IT."
Having a consistent OS for all of its appliances could help VMware in that area, Siebert said.
"Right now, they have a mix of different Linux distros for the many different appliances they use with their products, like vShield, [Data Recovery], [vSphere Management Assistant], etc.," he said. "Having consistency makes it easier to manage and maintain them. It would also help solidify their cloud offering, as you need an OS for [Software as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service], and they can offer a standard OS."
Potential for ripples beyond server virtualisation
Microsoft partners don't appear too threatened. Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Microsoft partner in Fairfax, Va., said, "Microsoft owns the OS world … and VMware has been claiming -- for what, two years, three years now? -- that they're the data centre operating system. This is clearly a bit of positioning along the lines of that."
People will still view VMware first and foremost as a virtualisation company, Sobel said. There will be better VMware integration and support in Linux environments, but "I still don't see VMware taking on Windows."
Hyper-V has attracted small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers because it's free with Windows Server, but the same strategy might not work for VMware and Novell, because "Novell certainly has not been as comprehensive about attacking the SMB market," Sobel added
Meanwhile, open source experts say they're concerned about the potential affect of the deal in their market. "Both VMware and Novell are important players in the open source market and have people working on parts of Linux," according to open source virtualisation expert Sander van Vugt. If an acquisition takes place, some of those overlapping people will be laid off. "If this is a trend that is going to continue, we might end up with just a handful of major companies that kind of 'own' open source, and I have my doubts that that is a good development."
Senior site editor Colin Steele contributed to this report.
Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.