There has been a lot of noise about a negotiations between VMware and Novell, rumors are that it regards the purchase of the SUSE division, now firstly every thing that follows is pure supposition on my part, I have no insider knowledge. A fellow analyst, Mike Norman, has put forward one argument on why a VMware purchase of Novell SUSE assets makes good corporate sense, however I would like put another idea into the fray.
At VMworld 2008 the company introduced the concept of a Client Virtualization hypervisor or to use their parlance CVP (Client Virtualization Platform), VMworld 2010 has been and gone and there is still no sign of even a technical preview of the product, never mind a beta or GA code. so why is this a major issue, if you believe VMware, this is because their customers are not asking for it. now if that was true, companies like Virtual Computer with their NXtop product or Nucleus, who have just been purchased by Intel, would not have healthy businesses, further Citrix would not be in final RC with their own version of the product.
So what has all this got to do with VMware buying SUSE from Novell?
Now before I attempt to answer that question I will pose another.
What is the real reason for VMware having gone cold on CVP?
I think the real issue with their position is more architectural than procedural, The Current VMware ESX Kernel is closed and highly protected and rightly so. In the server environment where there are few variants on drivers or hardware, essentially all servers are NICs, Controller, remote management, BIOS, this does not cause an issue, because very few are drivers to add in to a kernel. This keeps the Kernel small and lean. It also keeps the HCL small and lean, but this is server based hardware and fewer and fewer “companies” are buying “white box” solutions to run their corporate data on, it is essentially HP, Dell, IBM and now Cisco (there is a smattering of Fujitsu Siemens in one or two major European accounts but that is almost every vendor tied up). However in the Desktop market the picture is not so nice and rosy for VMware. There are as many different drivers and additional cards etc as there are stars in the sky. here the architecture of ESX this causes a significant issue, as the Kernel contains the core drivers and they have a choice of significantly increasing the size of the Kernel by dynamically adding the required drivers. This adds another issue, how do VMware confirm the efficacy of those drivers.
People may be wondering why or how this is a problem, but try to remember Microsoft and all their Blue screen issues that were caused by “supported windows drivers that would not play nice with Terminal Services, Now multiply this a thousand fold as this is a desktop issue and not a Server issue.
Xen does not suffer from this problem, Xen’s driver base is stored in its “Primary partition” and as such almost any Linux driver will do. It is significantly easier to go to market with a Client based hypervisor based on Xen, maybe even KVM ( I am not too sure about their architecture) than it is using ESX as a core, This is evidenced by the fact that Nucleus, NXtop and Citrix’s CVP are either selling GA or are in late Beta and VMware still does not have a Technology Preview of theirs.
Another reason as to why they are not pushing the CVP is that VMware already has a very good client virtualization platforms in VMware Workstation, VMware player, VMware Fusion, and VMware Ace. These solutions however are hosted platforms that need a full OS to be running underneath the hypervisor level. Now the vast majority of those instances are running on Windows, why you may ask, well it is just easier. Linux has taken huge strides in increasing its usability but it is still in reality a Tech savvy only OS, for those with the knowledge and ability it is possible to create a CVP like version of VMware Workstation running on Linux by using something like JeOS (just enough Operating System), but as already stated this is not for the faint hearted.
However and this is the crux, if VMware owned their own Linux, they could create their own distribution that includes Workstation or Player: CVP problem solved. That coupled with a desire to move away from RedHat, as evidenced by their recent signing of a deal with Novell to ship SUSE as the core to their vMA appliance (Virtual Management Appliance). The benefits the Novell agreement bring to VMware Cloud Director (vCD), vApp’s from VMware for the vCD service directory, and the position proffered by Mike in his post for an Azure clone cloud all make for a compelling argument as to why VMware and Novell have moved forward with this agreement.