Novell Inc. announced Wednesday what its Canadian chief technology officer called “the next generation” of its PlateSpin virtualization management software. And while one analyst said it’s too early to tell if the offering will be head-and-shoulders above the class, he said the combination of technologies purchased and developed in-house by Novell has promise.

Of the four elements in the suite, two are rebrands of existing PlateSpin products. PlateSpin Recon is an evolution of PowerRecon, according to Ross Chavalier, CTO of Novell Canada Ltd., PlateSpin Migrate is the new version of PowerConvert. The two other applications are PlateSpin Protect, which manages platform-independent recovery, and PlateSpin Orchestrate, which will be the next iteration of Novell’s ZenWorks Orchestrator when it becomes available early next year.

Virtualization growth in and of itself doesn’t help the industry,” Chevalier said. In an unvirtualized environment, IT shops would discover or develop a new application and throw physical servers at the problem, resulting in server sprawl, he said. Without workflow management for a virtualized environment, you end up creating the same problem, he said.

It’s particularly in the area of migrating workloads that workload management comes to the fore, Chevalier said.

“Typically, this where we see workload management becoming very important,” he said. The key is to make anywhere-to-anywhere movement of workloads and virtual machines across the network possible. This can only happen if there’s no dependence of the hardware platform, by “decoupling” the workload from the box, Chevalier said. To that end, the PlateSpin suite supports 32- and 64- bit Windows and Linux servers and hypervisors from Citrix Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., VMware Inc. and Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise.

Recon analyzes physical and virtual resource use over time to determine whether its feasible to migrate particular workloads, how resource usage peaks, and other information that allows “more intelligent business decisions about what gets migrated,” he said.

The updated version can incorporate reporting from other standards-based monitoring tools and correlate with the data Recon collects for more detailed analysis, he said.

Migration isn’t just a one-way street, physical to virtual. There can be a business case in which a workload, having reached certain deliverables, should be run on a dedicated box, Chevalier said.

When the Orchestrate element of the suite is added, it will be used to provision and de-provision workloads on the fly. Virtualization isn’t just about server consolidation and compression, but also about licence and power efficiency. “If a workload isn’t being used five days out of seven, why is it on?’ Chevalier asked.

“When I hear a company say they’re spinning up 100 VMs a month, clearly, they have an orchestration problem.”

According to John Sloan, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, “before it got eaten by Novell” – Novell bought PlateSpin Ltd. in March 2008 for about US$200 million – PlateSpin’s two main strengths were its ability to do capacity management and migration.

“They’re taking this further with the addition of the broader management tools Novell had with ZenWorks,” Sloan said. “They have a good story to tell in terms of what PlateSpin can do.”

But it’s too early to tell if the suite will be superior to other offerings, with many vendors jostling for position, Sloan said.

“You’re seeing this very broadly,” he said.

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