rPath Expands to Datacenter Automation

What does building and maintaining Linux-based software appliances have to do with datacenter automation? A whole lot, according to appliance vendor rPath.

Back in 2006, rPath jumpstarted the market for Linux appliance development, where the operating system and applications are built together for easier software deployment and management. As it turns out, the process and technology of maintaining an up-to-date appliance is a good basis on which to build a business around keeping software up to date in enterprise datacenters, an activity known as datacenter automation.

Today rPath is announcing its automation solution, which provides users with the ability to create an image of their operations including operating systems, software and configuration and then maintain that image. The solution is not open source, though it leverage key open source technology that rPath first introduced in 2006.

“The core version control and package management software, called Conary, is open source and will stay that way,” Shawn Edmondson, director of product management at rPath, told InternetNews.com. “But the enterprise software itself is currently not open source and we’re not planning on that either.”

Edmonson explained that Conary is the underlying repository for all the software components and policies managed by rPath’s automation solution.

“The core Conary package management software delivers package management and version control,” Edmonson said. “But the rest of the automation solution around business service modeling and configuration is outside of Conary.”

The Conary system is, in some ways, a rival to Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) technology used by Linux vendors Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) and Novell. As to why rPath isn’t taking an open source route for its automation technology, there are a number of reasons.

“People who are managing hundreds of servers and up have problems that are specialized enough that you don’t see a lot of open source projects around it, ” Jake Sorofman, rPath’s vice president of marketing, said. “There are a couple of projects in the configuration space, one them is called Puppet, but in general there really is no open source alternative for the big vendors like Opsware.”

Sorofman added that in comparison to the ISV market, where rPath sells development tools for building software appliances, there isn’t as much demand for software to be open source in the automation market.

The Linux appliance market itself has evolved over the years as well. When rPath got started, it didn’t have any competitors, but recently Novell (NASDAQ: NOVL) entered the market with its SUSE Studio service.

Sorofman said rPath’s rBuilder Linux appliance building service has evolved in recent years to make the process of building an appliance easier for developers. In addition, the focus on automation is what he sees as the key differentiator against his competition.

“rBuilder has matured quite a bit in the last few years and it merges seamlessly into the release automation platform,” Sorofman said. “So all the enterprise automation stuff we’re talking about depend on a foundation of version control for packages and groups.”

He added that with rBuilder, users essentially had a small number of different systems — each of them called an appliance. In the enterprise, there are many more parts with which to deal, with more servers, so it’s kind of like having rBuilder with many different appliances.

“So the interface has to change to handle the different instances, and the terminology is different,” Sorofman said. “But the core model of having a version control manifest that tells you what a system is supposed to look like is pretty much the same.”

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