VMware: Check Under the Novell Hood

A VMware/Novell acquisition makes sense, but care must be taken.

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There were quite a few people in the Linux community that heard about the reported sale of Novell's Linux operations to VMware last week and scratched their heads in puzzlement.

Confusion, as first blush, is warranted, if only because VMware is not the first company when you think of "Linux company."

Ah, but cast back to 2008, when there were allegations that VMware was using Linux extensively in its ESX Server and not releasing the appropriate source code. Curiously, these allegations (which were never proved) were made before and during the time VMware joined the Linux Foundation.

VMware is (however way you want to characterize it) definitely a company that uses Linux in its product line. And not just in its ESX virtualization platform. The VMware Studio cranks out top-of-the-line virtual appliances (albeit with an interface so technical, you almost need certification training) that run Red Hat, CentOS, Ubuntu, and SUSE Linux. All perfectly good Linux platforms--but none of them beloinging to VMware. That one part of the stack--Linux--always belonged to another company.

It may not seem like such a big deal, but customers who needed Linux support, even with VMware Studio appliances, might turn to Red Hat, Novell, or Canonical for support. That's a lot of potential revenue walking away, and VMware darn well knew it. Why else would it enter a formal partnership with Novell just this month, reselling SUSE Linux for VMware? VMware wanted a piece of that support revenue pie.

Now, if a VMware purchase of Novell is in the works and does go through, VMware would get the whole pie to itself. Its VMware Studio appliances could potentially have VMware-only products all the way up the stack, with the purchase of the SUSE Linux OS. All that support revenue that was walking out the door just got turned back around (at least from customers deploying SUSE-based appliances).

And, as a bonus, all of those pesky old GPL violation allegations would be effectively rendered moot. Though to be honest, that may have been a lot of unsubstantiated noise. But you never know...

I think the biggest problem VMware will have if it buys Novell is figuring out how to work with the openSUSE team. It's something Novell itself is having trouble dealing with even now. Take a look at the SWOT document the openSUSE team put together, and clearly you are looking at a team trying to figure out its relationship with Novell. That's the relationship VMware could inherit, and great care will need to be taken to work with the openSUSE team.

Is this a doomed venture? I don't believe so. If VMware listens to the right people in Novell and in the openSUSE and SUSE communities, they should be able to take good advantage of SUSE's strengths and build some good products. (Hint, VMware: a studio product that doesn't take a CS degree to use. See: SUSE Studio.)

But if VMware thinks it's getting a smooth, turnkey operation in its acquistion, we could see a lot of missteps and misunderstanding moving forward.

Take openSUSE for granted, VMware, at your own peril.

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