VMware to give away Novell SLES with vSphere 4.1 – UPDATED

This week VMware has announced a partnership with Novell to use SUSE Enterprise Linux Server (SLES) as guest operating system of choice for its virtual appliances.

The partnership goes beyond that, as the OEM agreement allows VMware to give away SLES patches and updates support agreements as part of the vSphere licensing:

Customers who want to deploy SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for VMware in VMware vSphere virtual machines will be entitled to receive a subscription to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server that includes patches and updates as part of their newly purchased qualifying VMware vSphere license and Support and Subscription.

The terms of the agreement in details are:

  • Customers will receive SLES with one (1) entitlement for a subscription to patches and updates per qualified VMware vSphere SKU. For example, if a customer were to buy 100 licenses of a qualified vSphere Enterprise Plus SKU, that customer would receive SLES with one hundred (100) entitlements for subscription to patches and updates.
  • This offer is available to all customers who make a qualifying purchase from a VMware authorized reselling partner, from the VMware website or directly from VMware. Exception: This offer is not available for OEM partners ordering directly from VMware, except orders of Enterprise License Agreements or when purchase orders are used. Check with your VMware authorized reselling partner for eligibility.
  • Customers may run SLES with the accompanying patches and updates subscription entitled by a VMware purchase only in virtual machines running on VMware vSphere 4.0 and 4.1 hosts that have active vSphere SnS with VMware..
  • VMware vSphere 4.1 will be generally available in 3Q2010. It will contain additional features and be provided at no additional charge to customers with active vSphere SnS contracts.
  • Customers cannot install SLES with the accompanying patches and updates subscription entitled by a VMware purchase 1) directly on physical servers or 2) in virtual machines running on third party hypervisors.
  • Technical support for SLES with the accompanying patches and updates subscription entitled by a VMware purchase is not included and may be purchased separately from VMware starting in 3Q 2010.
  • VMware reserves the right to amend the terms, conditions and requirements of this offer.

The reasons behind this move are not immediately evident.
Why VMware, the virtualization vendor that supports every operating system on the planet, is trying to secure the control on a specific Linux distribution?

One explanation may be related to the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud infrastructure that VMware is building, and that features the SpringSource framework and its application server as fundamental building blocks.
Both SpringSource tc Server and the Java applications that it will serve still need a guest operating system. If VMware standardizes on a specific environment, SLES in this case, for them and for all its virtual appliances, it could also introduce new management capabilities at the OS level.
Ideally, future versions of vSphere could be extended to centrally control the virtual hardware (the virtual machine), the virtualized operating system (the guest OS) and the virtualized applications (the SpringSource Java workloads), turning VMware into a full infrastructure management company as virtualization.info suggested a long time ago.

Another potential scenario is that VMware wants to stream its current client virtualization platform on corporate physical workstation.
The company is behind the schedule with its bare-metal client hypervisor, Client Virtualization Platform (CVP), and some rumors even suggest that the project has been cancelled completely. So for now VMware is promoting Workstation as the best way to achieve offline VDI.
But Workstation is a hosted desktop virtualization solution and thus it requires a host OS that must be present of the laptops’ workforce. A VMware-branded version of SLES may do the trick.

In both cases, easy to guess, Microsoft which has an on-going business relationship with Novell on virtualization since a few years now, isn’t too happy.

Another partner that may be not too happy is Canonical. A few ones seem to remember that one year after VMware launched its virtual appliance crusade in 2006, it started to recommend the use of a lightweight version of Ubuntu Linux dubbed JeOS (aka Just enough Operating System), that Canonical created exactly for VMware.
Ubuntu is one of the most widespread Linux distribution on the planet, often preferred over SLES. Why VMware decided to drop it and replace with the Novell OS?

Maybe, considering that Novell is looking for a buyer and that the agreement with VMware increases its brand value, the deal must have come cheap.