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Microsoft, Novell Expand Linux Virtualization

One of the cornerstones of the landmark interoperability deal between Novell and Microsoft was, and is, virtualization.

Two years after they struck their agreement, Microsoft and Novell have extended their partnership. The partners are now finally rolling out a supported Linux on a Windows virtualization solution.

The new supported Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server on Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization offering comes as Microsoft ramps ups it products and rhetoric ahead of VMware's own big conference in Las Vegas next week.

It also comes at an opportune time for Novell, which is trying to differentiate itself from competitor Red Hat and its virtualization offerings.

"This is an exciting time. We're now seeing the bits hit the metal and we're putting some meat behind this," Monty O'Kelley, technical director of legal and corporate affairs at Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. "As a Unix guy at Microsoft, it's good to see this collaboration happening. We're now stepping from an environment where most virtualization is Windows on Windows or Linux on Linux and we're crossing those and that will open up some new doors."

The engineering effort between Novell and Microsoft includes the development of APIs and adapters to optimize both Novell SUSE Linux as well as Microsoft Hyper-V platforms for the other.

Linux virtualized guests on Windows is not unheard of. Linux can already run virtualized on Windows by way of VMware or XenSource. Additionally, other Linux distributions beyond Novell's can also be Hyper-V guests. Microsoft and Novell executives however, argued that because of the joint interoperability work between the partners, SUSE Linux on Hyper-V is a superior choice.

"The collaboration that we're doing with our friends at Novell allows it to be more enhanced than it would be with a VMware or Red Hat solution," O'Kelley argued. "As you know, you can run Red Hat as a guest on Hyper-V as well too, but it doesn't have the shims and the performance improvements."

Beyond performance, Novell and Microsoft are providing a packaged solution for channel resellers to get full support for SUSE Linux running on Hyper-V. Brent Phillips, a senior product manager for intellectual property and licensing at Microsoft, said the channel offering will involve coupons for SUSE Linux that Microsoft has purchased from Novell.

As part of the Novell Microsoft interoperability deal, Microsoft originally purchased $240 million worth of SUSE Linux subscriptions that it resells to its customers. As of August, the company has sold over $120 million worth of the subscriptions and extended its option to buy up to $100 million more. Phillips hopes the new virtualization bundle will help drive further sales.

Getting SUSE Linux to work well on Hyper-V involved a number of challenges for Microsoft and Novell.

"Probably the biggest challenge was social," O'Kelley said. "Developers can be very myopic working only on Windows or just on Unix. Having them actually work together is something."

O'Kelley noted that once they actually started talking, they were able to work through issues that wouldn't have been possible. Some of the joint efforts will also end up benefiting the open source community beyond just Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

"We've built adapters to allow us to run Windows Server 2008 as a guest on SUSE. That code is open source and others can use it," Joshua Dorfman, senior product marketing manager at Novell, told InternetNews.com.

"But Novell gets time-to-market advantage with the enterprise product. On Hyper-V, we've gone through rigorous testing by both companies. We're targeting customers running in the data center for data center virtualization here."

The interoperability work between Novell and Microsoft is still a work in progress on other fronts, such as system management. Back in April, Microsoft first demonstrated a new capability to manage Linux from Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager.

Dorfman noted that Microsoft and Novell are now working on an advanced Linux managed pack for SUSE Linux to be managed through Operations Mangaer and that's for both physical and virtual instances.

"When you put it all together, we're the optimized guest on Windows Server 2008 and we're going to be the best managed Linux that a system center customer can have," Dorfman said. "We really want to be the optimized Linux for the windows environment."