VMware has announced it will standardise its virtual appliance-based products Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server, a move intended to help ward off a growing threat from Microsoft.
Under the new partnership, announced on Wednesday, customers buying certain vSphere licences will be eligible to receive a subscription to Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) patches and updates for SLES instances deployed in vSphere virtual machines. VMware and its channel partners will also offer SLES technical support.
In addition, VMware and Novell said that as part of their collaboration, they are working to make it easier to port SLES-based virtual machines across clouds.
VMware offers products such as VMware Player, VMware Server, VMware Workstation and VMware ESX as virtual appliances — self-contained virtual machines pre-configured with an operating system and the application — as a way of making them easier to deploy and maintain. As part of the new deal, SLES will now become the standard operating system for those appliances.
The announcement expands on a February 2009 deal, under which Novell and VMware teamed up to work with software makers to develop SLES-based virtual appliances.
The deal is a step towards addressing VMware's dependence on Windows guests, according to Gartner analyst Richard Jones. He estimated Windows as comprising more than 80 percent of the operating systems that run on VMware's hypervisor.
"(VMware's) hypervisor has effectively been filling a hole in the Windows ecosystem," Jones wrote in a blog post on Thursday. "Microsoft is now aggressively working to fill that hole themselves with Hyper-V."
VMware's strategy is to free itself from its Windows dependency, which will allow it to take a more active role in the private cloud market, according to Jones. "Adopting SLES as the operating system layer and the core libraries for their appliances allows them to do just that," he wrote.
There is even a possibility that VMware could look to acquire Novell, in the wake of the $1.8bn (£1.2bn) offer by Elliott Associates in March, the analyst suggested. "Novell has a great deal of intellectual property in the area of identity management and coupled with its recent drive towards identity-enabled and policy-driven intelligent workload management, this is something that is of great value to building out enterprise-class clouds," Jones wrote.
Microsoft said the VMware-Novell deal was a strike against openness and interoperability.
"The vFolks in Palo Alto are further isolating themselves within the industry," said Patrick O'Rourke, director of communications with Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, in a blog post on Wednesday. "Microsoft's interop efforts have provided more choice and flexibility for customers, including our work with Novell. We're seeing VMware go down an alternate path."
Microsoft has been working with Novell for the past three-and-a-half years on Windows-Linux interoperability, as well as offering Linux-using organisations legal indemnity against the possibility of being sued by Microsoft. O'Rourke said more than 475 customers have currently bought into the indemnity programme.
Analyst Jones said that while interoperability is useful, ultimately customers are likely to align themselves around a single vendor.
"History has shown the alignments — in the long run — will end up with majorities being aligned to single vendor solution stacks, ie Windows on Hyper-V and SLES on VMware," Jones wrote.