Is a Linux JeOS on VMware's roadmap?

VMware says it won't develop a general-purpose Linux distro, but it may have other tricks – such as a Linux Jeos virtual appliance -- up its sleeve.

VMware put the kibosh on rumors that it is developing a full-fledged Linux operating system. But, it may well be working on a streamlined Linux distribution for virtual appliances or, perhaps, to underpin VMware's recently acquired Spring framework. This appliance would bring greater consistency to the look and feel of VMware applications and would be a Just enough Operating System (or JeOS).

For more on VMware and Linux:
VMware buys SpringSource with Microsoft, Red Hat in mind

VMware takes another stab at virtual appliance authoring

"We are not developing a general-purpose Linux operating system," a VMware spokesperson told SearchServerVirtualization.com. At the same time, the spokesperson acknowledged that VMware uses Linux as the basis of its virtual appliances and that it hopes to hire an engineer "to support the development of some Linux components that may be embedded into some VMware products."

Indeed, VMware has a job posted for an infrastructure engineer (16414-VM) who will be "involved in building and maintaining a Linux based virtual appliances, and building up an automation framework around it."

The case for VMware Linux JeOS
A lightweight VMware-sponsored Linux distribution could bring much-needed consistency to VMware applications bundled as virtual appliances, such as vShield Zones and VMware Data Recovery.

Mark Vaughn, a VMware vExpert and enterprise architect at a national information services firm, has worked with numerous virtual appliances from VMware and said that they are all over the map in terms of the underlying Linux distribution.

"The appliances had a mix of different user interfaces and were built on a number of different Linux distributions," Vaughn said. He specifically mentioned Ubuntu and Debian as examples. And when he mentioned this to VMware, "I got the sense that this was something that they were going to address this as the products matured," he said.

A  lightweight VMware-sponsored Linux distro could bring much-needed consistency to VMware applications.
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A streamlined, hardened VMware Linux distribution might resemble what VMware has already done with ESXi, Vaughn posited. On startup, it pops up a simple interface where users can supply an IP address and initiate a shutdown and reboot, he said. "By default you'd want it to be as easy to use as possible and not have to know how to use the command line."

And if VMware goes ahead with a JeOS for its own appliances, "it would make sense for them to put it on [the VMware Communities' VMware Technology Network] and make it available to anyone building a virtual appliance," Vaughn added.

Strategically, that move would further the adoption of virtual appliances by large enterprises, said Chris Wolf, senior analyst at the Burton Group.

"I can tell you firsthand, when it comes to distributions like CentOS or other JeOSes, large enterprises say 'No, we don't want to introduce that in to our architecture,'" Wolf said. In particular, Wolf recalled one customer balking at buying a connection broker from LeoStream because it was based on CentOS, a Red Hat clone.

"If VMware could build a Linux distribution geared toward virtual appliances -- and get enough market share -- then it becomes a lot easier to introduce those [virtual appliances] into the environment."

Challenges ahead
If VMware releases a JeOS of its own, it will have no lack of competition. All the major Linux vendors -- Red Hat Inc., Novell Inc. and Canonical Ltd. -- offer some form of JeOS, and companies like rPath go one step further and offer a JeOS plus a build automation layer.

Good luck to VMware trying to promote a custom JeOS to enterprise organizations, said Erik Troan, CTO at rPath, and the first engineer at Red Hat.

"The challenge you face when you go into an enterprise with a custom OS is that they say, 'Here we support two OSes: Windows, and [one version of Linux]'" against which all their applications and management stacks are tested and validated, Troan said. When you have a custom OS, "then you get into compliance and certification, and it becomes a much more complicated process."

But the idea of VMware developing a Linux distribution to accompany the Spring framework makes sense, Troan said. VMware acquired SpringSource this summer, and with it, Spring, a Java development and runtime environment.

"Spring is a way of running Java applications, and clearly VMware wants those applications to end up on VMware," Troan said. Providing a thin Linux distro to Spring developers could help further that goal, Troan said.

Troan harkened back to a BEA project from 2006 called LiquidVM, in which the BEA WebLogic server ran directly on top of the VMware virtualization layer, bypassing an operating system. The only problem with LiquidVM, though, "was that not all enterprise apps are 100% Java. There's always a little bit of C or something in there," Troan said. "Because LiquidVM didn't have an OS underneath, it couldn't run those pieces."

With that in mind, if VMware offers Spring developers a streamlined, hardened Linux distribution to run ancillary applications, it could be very attractive, Troan said.

"Spring people are just trying to get Spring up and running," he said. "If I'm running Spring, what possible advantage do I get by not running VMware Linux?"

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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