Today the Wall Street Journal reported “VMware in Talks to Buy Novell Unit.” The rumor likely comes as no surprise to those who have followed the recent VMware/Novell OEM agreement. The agreement resulted in VMware including a SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) subscription with vSphere licenses. VMware and Novell first started talking about an extended partnership in June. At the time, VMware noted that it would include SUSE Linux with its vSphere hypervisor as well as train its support organization to offer SUSE Linux support. The fact that VMware was making an investment in its support organization hinted at the potential of a larger deal.
In addition, VMware stated that its virtual appliance authoring tool, VMware Studio, would eventually offer SUSE Linux as the default VMware appliance OS. This marked a significant departure from VMware’s own Just Enough OS (JeOS) operating system.
If the rumors are true, there are a few reasons why I think acquiring a mainstream Linux distro makes sense for VMware:
- JeOS wasn’t seeing wide acceptance in the enterprise. Many of our clients with strict OS certification and support policies were only comfortable supporting specific Linux distros (e.g., SUSE and RHEL) within their organization. For some special purpose VM appliances, JeOS had success. However, for many use cases JeOS was not acceptable due to factors such as integration with operational software (e.g., security and backup).
- Three of VMware’s major competitors – Microsoft, Oracle, and Red Hat – are offering a hypervisor as part of a vertical stack that also includes their own supported OS. VMware is at the mercy of OS vendors and it’s understandable that its competitors would optimize their own OSs to work best with their hypervisor offerings.
- VMware’s Open PaaS strategy is designed to give organizations the option to deploy Java applications to a variety of cloud providers as well as to internal infrastructure. When you deploy an application internally, it has to be on an OS accepted and supported by the IT organization. JeOS wasn’t a sure bet, so VMware needed more. The logical answer is SUSE.
Acquiring SUSE Linux is not about what VMware is doing over the next 2-5 years. They’ll continue to do very well running Windows OSs as VMs. However, over the next 5-10 years, the stakes will change. Microsoft will work to more closely integrate the Windows OS and its Hyper-V hypervisor. Paul Maritz knows that as a platform for Windows apps in a market where Microsoft is a direct competitor, VMware will eventually succumb to Microsoft. VMware has to work to chip away at their customers’ reliance on Microsoft OSs and applications. Propping up partners such as Google and Salesforce is a necessary step. Building a competitive application platform (via the SpringSource acquisition) is another. Offering an accepted OS for the application platform completes the puzzle.
If VMware acquires Novell SUSE Linux, it will have a vertical offering much like Microsoft, Oracle, and Red Hat. Many of VMware’s predecessors have proven that the best technology often doesn’t win in the long run. You can ask Novell that. This strategy will not guarantee long term success for VMware (Maritz is intimately familiar with Microsoft’s ability to compete and win), but offering an OS and a vertical stack is necessary to fend off similar offerings from competitors.
What do you think?