Novell might not be sure about what it wants to do with itself, but the company has been pretty clear what it wants you to do with its products. It wants to build virtual software appliances with all kinds of software stacks running inside of virtual machines and atop its SUSE Linux Enterprise distro.
Today, Novell spins up the SUSE Appliance Toolkit 1.1, an online tool that the company unveiled last year as SUSE Studio and improved earlier this year to help developers create virtual software appliances, keep them updated with security patches, and share with their partners privately or through a public gallery.
With the 1.1 release of the toolkit coming out today, Novell is making good on its promise of supporting the deployment of virtual software appliances on Amazon's EC2 compute cloud, which is based on a variant of the Xen hypervisor and supporting its own Amazon Machine Image (AMI) format. SUSE Appliance Toolkit 1.1 can also package up virty software appliances for the KVM hypervisor - including the KVM hypervisor that is in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 as well as embedded in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 5.5 and Ubuntu 10.04.
Red Hat has also created a stand-alone version of KVM (an open source project that it controls) called Enterprise Virtualization (or RHEV for short). Finally, the updated tool also can spin up an appliance and plunk it into an Open Virtualization Format (OVF) container, which is a semi-portable format that may some day evolve into a truly portable virtual server container.
SUSE Studio went into alpha testing in February 2009, and was an online tool for creating appliances to run atop a streamlined SUSE Linux stack that was in turn plopped into a VMware ESX Server virtual machine. SUSE Studio went into production in July 2009, a few months after the SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 was delivered, and in January 2010, SUSE Studio was transformed into the SUSE Appliance Toolkit, with the intent of supporting a mix of hypervisors used for private and public clouds.
The 1.0 release of the toolkit could spin up software appliances for Xen (from Citrix Systems, Oracle, Red Hat, or SUSE) hypervisors or VMware ESX Server or ESXi hypervisors. It could also spit out images in a raw ISO image so they could be deployed on bare metal, as well as put LiveCD images on USB sticks, CDs, or DVDs. For the ESX Server hypervisors, the toolkit spits out VMDK images (that's a VMware format) and has been tested on ESX Server 3.5 and 4.0; Novell has not yet tested the appliance toolkit's output to see how it supports ESX Server 4.1.
Being able to spin up appliance images for EC2 and spit them out onto the Amazon cloud meshes with Novell's EC2-based SUSE Linux licensing, which was announced back in August. Novell is only selling priority-level (24x7) support contract for SUSE Linux licenses on Amazon, and the pricing through Amazon comes to $50 per month, $140 per quarter, or $480 per year. Assuming you can get a lot of server slices on an internal cloud based on the same iron Amazon is using, the Amazon EC2 pricing for SUSE Linux was considerably higher. But it is not convenience to buy, management, and power your own server, either.
Novell may be open when it comes to hypervisors in the SUSE Appliance Toolkit, and itwas certainly open even when it came to its openSUSE open build service, which predates the toolkit and which allowed companies to spin up SUSE, Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat, and CentOS images for deployment on bare metal machines. But the openSUSE Build Service didn't help sell SUSE Linux, and the toolkit is absolutely designed to help push modified versions of SUSE Linux into the market and to generate a support revenue stream. So don't look for Novell to package up appliances running anything but SUSE Linux.
With Novell partnering pretty tightly with Microsoft these days on a number of fronts - operating system compatibility testing on their respective hypervisors, systems management tool cooperation, and Microsoft acting like a SUSE Linux reseller (but not very much these days), you would expect for Novell to have already be supporting Microsoft's Hyper-V R2 hypervisor with the appliance toolkit. But according to Michael Applebaum, director of Linux and appliances marketing at Novell, the company is still pondering this as a possible future option.
In addition to the broader hypervisor support in the SUSE Appliance Toolkit 1.1 release, the tool can now create images that are in a PXE boot format so they can be booted directly from storage area networks over a network link to the server. The virtual appliance images can also be made to work with Novell's Logical Volume Manager, and supports SLES 11 SP1, which came out in May, as a hosted operating system for appliances as well as a hypervisor host for either Xen or KVM, both of which are supported equally inside of SLES 11 SP1. Finally, the 1.1 release of the toolkit can import scripts created by system administrators for deploying images using the Kiwi or AutoYast tools and convert them into virtual appliances.
Once virtual appliances are created by the toolkit, Novell's Cloud Manager, which was just announced two weeks ago and is yet another product in the WorkloadIQ portfolio, can be used to take the output of the toolkit and provision the hypervisors and virtual machines to run the appliance in production, either on a private internal cloud and soon on the EC2 public cloud. (This latter feature is in a tech preview state now and Novell has not given a delivery time for it).
What the SUSE Appliance Toolkit cannot do yet--and what it will need to do to be truly useful--is package up and manage the dependencies of virtual appliances that are linked together to support database, middleware, and application tiers and that function as a logical unit. Applebaum could not say when this capability might be available. Novell is thinking about adding clustering to images so companies can deploy appliances that back each other up, however.
The SUSE Appliance Toolkit is free to use if you use the online version hosted by Novell, but costs big bucks if you want to run a version of it inside your own firewall, you'd better be an ISV. If you are a private company using the onsite version for in-house development, Novell wants $100,000 for a license plus $25,000 a year for support.
Novell says over 85,000 users to date have signed up to use the SUSE Studio tool, and that 6,000 independent software vendors are among those users. (Most are clearly cowboy coders, doing their own thing.) There are over 500,000 appliances that have been built using the SUSE Studio tool, and thousands of those appliances have been posted to the publicly viewable SUSE Gallery, which was opened up earlier this year when the 1.0 release of the appliance toolkit came out.
One last thing: Novell is giving out $10,000 to the top independent and ISV virtual software appliances created using the tool (ten grand each to one cowboy and one ISV). You can find out more about these Dister Awards here. ®