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Should VMware add Novell's virtualization management tools?

As speculation swirls around a possible deal for Novell's SUSE Linux operating system, virtualization experts are also eyeing Novell's PlateSpin virtualization management tools.

VMware's customers say that the server virtualization vendor still lags third-party specialists in virtualization management. And though uncertainty about the rumored Novell merger continues to reign, some parts of Novell's management portfolio could bolster VMware's.

Initial reports on Novell's ongoing liquidation sale held that the process would happen in two phases: one deal with a "strategic buyer"-- reportedly VMware Inc. -- for the SUSE Linux OS business, with the rest, including its NetWare and IT management software product lines, going to another buyer. Now, Reuters reports that talks have stalled and quotes a source describing Novell's management tools as "a dying cow." But at least in some corners, Novell's virtualization management tools are the most intriguing part of the acquisition rumors.

Novell management standouts
One of Novell's important management products is SUSE Studio. It could be a promising prospect to slot into VMware's existing product line, according to independent consultant Andrew Storrs. "SUSE Studio is really the premier application people use to create virtual appliances," Storrs said. "It could get a lot more use going forward with VMware's branding behind it."

SUSE Studio is popular in smaller disaster recovery environments for creating standardized virtual appliances that can be ported between private and public cloud environments. And because it is based on Java, it could tie in with VMware's vFabric application development efforts.

Identity management is another piece of Novell intellectual property that might fit into the VMware ecosystem. Novell's Identity Manager federates identity management across multiple access control applications and locations, and could be tied into VMware's new private cloud infrastructure offering, vCloud Director, which currently relies on partners for this functionality. (This also led to speculation that VMware would acquire its current partner HyTrust, which better fits VMware's stated preference for smaller acquisitions without established revenue streams.)

Novell's identity management product has gotten traction among government agencies, said Shannon Snowden, the manager of delivery services for New Age Technologies in Louisville, Ky., a professional services organization that services VMware and Citrix XenServer clients and that has been a Novell partner. "They're massively scalable, but complex solutions," Snowden said of the Identity Manager deployments. "If [VMware] want[s] to put together a whole [cloud] stack, that's one of the components [it] could use to get there."

Finally, PlateSpin Ltd.'s PowerConvert, a physical-to-virtual (P2V) product, is one of the more frequently mentioned parts of the Novell portfolio in discussions about the potential deal with VMware. While VMware has its own free P2V conversion tool, PowerConvert supports a wider variety of hypervisors, OSes, and server hardware and can schedule migrations with minimal downtime.

Snowden said he uses PowerConvert when migrations require more advanced features than the free VMware P2V tool offers. "It makes a streamed block-level copy over the wire, and we've used it in migrations for healthcare companies, for example, where they could only get a couple of reboots' worth of downtime," Snowden said.

Also, PlateSpin Converter's virtual-to-physical capabilities are a must-have for some customers, said Storrs. "I can count on one hand the number of times we've performed virtual-to-physical migrations, but without that capability some environments wouldn't have considered going virtual," he said.

Longer shots: PlateSpin Recon, ZenWorks, business service management
PlateSpin Recon, a data center capacity planning tool, seems like a long shot for integration into the VMware stack, said Storrs. "PlateSpin is vendor-agnostic for the most part," Storrs said. "But I'd be surprised if [VMware] throw[s] away their own capacity planning development work."

But if VMware were to pick up the Recon assets, it might be used to allow end users to do capacity planning without a professional services engagement. At first glance, that wouldn't be in VMware's interests revenue-wise. That said, earlier this year, VMware introduced a new utility to enable users to self-monitor licensing in their data centers with the new Volume Purchasing Program, a role previously played by channel partners in services engagements.

Meanwhile, as VMware works to strengthen its virtual desktop offerings, it might consider Novell's ZenWorks, software for desktop configuration management and endpoint security that is "one suite Novell is still known for," said Storrs.

Even though some of these tools sound like they could slot into VMware's data center 'stack' strategy, it would also mean a substantial integration effort. "PlateSpin has been around six or seven years; there's some legacy code in there," Storrs warned.

But if VMware does, in fact, pick up Novell's legacy management assets, it shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, wrote Bernd Harzog, a senior analyst at The Virtualization Practice, in an email to "Novell owns (through the acquisition of Managed Objects) a fairly comprehensive Business Service Management stack … [and] has not done much with this asset, so it is reasonable to assume that it could be acquired relatively inexpensively … [and] in combination with the recently acquired Integrien performance analysis assets would make for a powerful performance monitoring and management capability."

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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