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Novell to manage Xen, but also VMware, Microsoft

Managing virtual environments is the cornerstone of Novell's new ZENworks data center automation suite.

Speaking from Gartner's Data Center Conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc. made its first product announcements since striking a deal with Microsoft earlier this month.

Novell announced one enhanced and three new ZENworks products, marking the company's entry into data center management and automation, with a strong focus on managing virtualized environments.

The new ZENworks Suite centers around ZENworks Orchestrator, which "we colloquially refer to as the 'brains' of the family," said Alan Murray, Novell vice president of product management for systems and resource management. The policy-based management, enforcement and automation engine runs on Linux (Red Hat or Novell SUSE), Solaris and Windows. It includes an extensible job description language and heuristic learning capabilities that, Novell claims, give Orchestrator deeper automation capabilities than its competition.

The second new Novell product is ZENworks Virtual Machine Management (VMM). The tool plugs into Orchestrator and directs the creation, provisioning, load balancing and tear down of virtual machines (VMs) running across the hardware resources managed by Orchestrator.

Novell also announced ZENworks HPC Management for grid-based management of Java applications, including workloads running in parallel; and version 7.5 of the pre-existing ZENworks Asset Management for managing Windows (including Vista) and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10 desktops.

A subsequent ZENworks product will focus on the management and provisioning of non-virtualized resources.

Heterogeneous hypervisors

When it comes to virtualization, Novell's pitch is that Virtual Machine Management isn't limited to managing Xen, the open source and Linux hypervisor that Novell includes with its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 9 and 10. ZENworks VMM also manages VMware virtual machines and, in the coming weeks, VMs based on Microsoft Virtual Server.

Despite the similarity of their names, Xen is by no means ZENworks' target market. Like the other vendors that have stumbled into the virtualization management market as of late (e.g., IBM with its Virtualization Manager, XenSource with XenEnterprise, and CA with ASM), Novell's sights are set squarely on VMware.

"It's no secret that that the number one install base is VMware, and that will be the majority of the market for [ZENworks] Virtual Machine Manager," Murray said.

VMware, for its part, offers automation and management with tools such as VirtualCenter and VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS). But Novell says that advanced features within ZENworks Orchestrator go beyond what VMware offers today.

Orchestrator's heuristic learning capabilities set it apart from most automation tools, which require a lot of input from administrators in order to work properly, Murray said. Using Orchestrator's job description language, operators can "describe a set of constraints about how a virtual machine needs to run," while heuristic learning capabilities allow Orchestrator to recognize, say, that a particular job runs every Friday afternoon, and automatically preposition that workload.

Meanwhile, it's unclear how compelling IT managers will find Novell's heterogeneity pitch. For the time being, the vast majority of virtualization users run VMware alone, and Novell admits that customers tend to like it that way. "We see a desire from customers to have a uniform choice," Murray said.

But homogeneity is probably a pipe dream. "Just as they haven't managed to get homogeneity of their operating systems, it's probably going to be the same thing with virtualization," he added.

The Microsoft connection

Despite the surge in interest that Novell has garnered since brokering a deal with Microsoft, Novell was careful to point out that the latest ZENworks products were developed independently from Redmond. "These were developed without any Microsoft collaboration whatsoever," Murray said. "Only about five people in the company knew about the Microsoft deal before it was announced, so it's safe to say no engineers were working together."

But the partnership between the two companies does lay the foundation for "extending our capabilities on a go-forward basis," said Joe Wagner, Novell general manager of systems and resource management. Specifically, the deal between the two companies calls for technical collaboration that will allow IT managers to run Novell SUSE Linux guest operating systems on top of the Microsoft virtualization layer "with good performance," he said. Without the partnership, Wagner said, "[running Linux guests] wouldn't have happened in a performance-optimized way."

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