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Novell's premium Linux taking Xen plunge

Novell says its new Suse Linux Enterprise Server 10--which includes virtualization software--is ready for mainstream use.

Novell shone the spotlight on its new version flagship Linux product this week, touting a significant new feature to let a server run multiple operating systems simultaneously and thereby be used more efficiently.

Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server 10 will include the Xen virtualization software to permit the multi-OS ability, said Justin Steinman, who's in charge of data center marketing. The move, while not a surprise, has particular importance for Novell since Xen ultimately will allow both Linux and the company's other operating system, NetWare, to run at the same time on some computers.

Novell showed a beta version of SLES 10 at its Brainshare conference this week in Utah; the final version is scheduled to ship "mid-summer," Steinman said. Novell's top rival, Red Hat, is incorporating Xen into its Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, due by the end of the year.

Xen is a hypervisor, a software foundation that governs operating systems' access to computer resources such as memory or networking. Virtualization software such as Xen is a hot topic today as data center operators seek to get more use out of hardware to cut down on electrical power consumption problems and resulting overheating.

Xen currently runs Linux and NetBSD, but work is under way to enable it to run Sun Microsystems' Solaris as well. But with hardware features in Intel processors today and Advanced Micro Devices processors due in coming months, Xen will be able to run other operating systems as well, including Microsoft Windows.

Novell is trying to move from its once-dominant NetWare operating system to Linux, but the transition has been rocky even though the Waltham, Mass.-based company includes SLES along with every copy of NetWare in a combined product called Open Enterprise Server (OES).

"We continue to believe that the Linux market opportunity is robust, and that Novell should eventually make some progress in growing its Linux business," Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Jason Maynard said in a report after the company publicized financial results earlier this month. However, he added, "We have not seen evidence that the legacy NetWare/OES business is stabilizing."

The next version of NetWare, packaged with SLES 10 as OES 2 and due by the end of the year, will be "built on top of the SLES platform and take advantage of Xen virtualization," Steinman said.

Xen is still changing rapidly and isn't yet integrated with the mainline Linux kernel, but it's ready for use and customers are eager for it, Steinman said. "Xen 3 is mature enough for primetime use," Steinman said. Given Novell's close involvement with Xen, he said, he's not concerned that the project might go in different directions from the version that makes it into SLES.

Like Red Hat, Novell plans a partnership with XenSource, a start-up that's commercializing Xen, but Steiner declined to share details.

Suse's YAST software includes modules to permit administrators to start up and shut down operating-system instances. Another management tool can move an application to a new Xen-enabled server if the one it's running on fails, Steiner said.

Software to enforce resource limits, such as processing power for a given Xen virtual machine, is another matter, however. "We have some of that available in beta, but it's not of enterprise quality yet," Steiner said.

Higher-level management tools also are in the works, including a centralized package to oversee Windows, Linux and Unix systems, he said. "We have vision of delivering a policy-driven adaptive data center," one that uses virtualization to shift resources to top-priority jobs.

Also at the conference, Novell announced it will ship in April a special Dell edition of its Novell Zenworks 7 Linux Management software. The software lets customers use a single console to deploy software as well as manage hardware, operating systems, and applications from a single, intuitive console.