Novell pushes software appliance development

Novell Inc. announced on Tuesday a program to speed the process of building software and virtual appliances.

The idea, according to Novell Canada chief technology officer Ross Chevalier, is to deliver a package that makes it easier and faster for independent software vendors (ISV) to create appliances that run on-premise or in the cloud.

“This is a very effective manner to build software solutions,” Chevalier said.

The SUSE Appliance program includes:

* SUSE Studio, a free, Web-based tool for building appliances and custom-configuring the SUSE Linux Enterprise operating system;

* SUSE Linux Enterprise JeOS (pronounced “juice”), or “Just enough Operating System,” a minimal configuration of Enterprise Server for ISVs manually creating appliances;

*SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for Amazon EC2, an OS configuration optimized for’s cloud infrastructure;

* A technical preview of the SUSE Appliance Toolkit to be launched this fall, including Lifecycle Management Server, WebYaST for remote configuration and a Mono server extension to deploy applications developed on Mincrosoft Corp.’s .Net on Linux;

* Marketing support for ISVs, including joint marketing and redistribution agreements.

Chevalier calls the last element “fundamentally different.” Once ISVs build applications, usually, their on their own, he said. “We’re going to be working with our ISV members to get their message out” and use Novell’s distribution channels, Chevalier said.

Jacques Sauve, president and CEO of Ste-Therese, Que.-based ISV Adaris Technologies Inc., said he’s been working with Novell executives on taking advantage of that channel support, though “that’s not my main target.” Alaris’s main market for its ZenWorks configuration management bundled appliance aZension is Microsoft customers.

Sauve said he’s found that Microsoft shops either have no tools for ZenWorks management, or several disparate tools. It’s just as easy, if not easier, to manage through a Linux-based appliance.

Tim Hickernell, lead analyst with Info-Tech Research Group Ltd. in London, Ont., said his first reaction was that Novell was trying to muscle its way back into the application platform business, as it was positioned with NetWare. But it is part of a significant trend — applications can be delivered not just as software-as-a-service or on-premise, but on a continuum between the two.

“This is a really important emerging trend in application delivery,” Hickernell said.

The concept of the “just enough operating system” is to add only as many OS components and services as necessary for the appliance to work, Chevalier said. If it has to access storage, manipulate a screen, take input from a keyboard and mouse and access a database, an ISV can pick those tools and nothing else.

“I don’t have to worry about doing 97 things,” Chevalier said. “I don’t have to make a massive investment in hardware just to make the thing light up.”

And it also has security advantages. First, users can’t tinker with the OS to make it do things it isn’t supposed to do, said Sauve. “You can have that ‘black box’ effect,” Sauve said.

And removing unnecessary services means there’s less surface area for malware to attack. “The more complex the environment, the greater the number of attack vectors,” Chevalier said. “The more doors, the more work it is to keep them all locked.”

Brett Waldman, system software research analyst with IDC, said, “The security advantages is that JeOS reduces the possible attack area of the software appliance. It eliminates nonessential pieces.”

Hickernell said the key for Novell is to get commitment from ISVs with a strong channel presence.

“They can’t just build it and then they’ll come,” he said, since the real target of the appliances is the channel, not the end user. If Novell can get significant ISVs to commit to developing on the platform, “I think this could be successful,” he said.

The virtual appliance element of the announcement will allow ISVs to create appliances even if they don’t want to monetize hardware through the channel, Hickernell said.

“It allows them not to be pigeonholed in a box,” he said.

Sauve said it took about 10 to 12 months to develop aZension. And while he doesn’t think the appliance program will speed the development cycle, SUSE Studio should speed preparation and deployment. He said his engineers believe it could cut install time to an hour; it now takes half a day, he said.

Waldman said that over the long haul, the program could shorten development times.

“Over the long term, ISVs can potentially reduce the number of operating systems it needs to support,” he said. “This will eliminate complex support matrices and reduce costs and time to market.”

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