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Implications, questions on SUSE Linux, but not the endJay Lyman, November 23, 2010 @ 4:30 pm ET
There is no shortage of implications and questions from the Novell sale to Attachmate, which includes a side-deal for unknown IP assets from Novell purchased by Microsoft-backed participants. Bottom line, it appears as though Attachmate has acquired the SUSE Linux technology and business, based on the fact it announced plans to split SUSE from Novell, which we believe is wise. Still, the deal has significant impacts for the Linux OS, the enterprise Linux market, cloud computing, community Linux, competing vendors and operating systems, partners and more. Below are some thoughts on the impact and some of the questions that remain unanswered.
Novell has always been a major contributor to Linux development. It appears Attachmate sees value in the SUSE Linux business, as it is wisely separating it from Novell’s other technology, which may have been a bit of a drag on the thriving development and use of SUSE Linux, SUSE Studio and OpenSUSE, particularly in virtual appliance and cloud computing scenarios. It was good to see some acknowledgement of the importance of the OpenSUSE community from Attachmate. Though it was not very thorough or detailed, and plans for SUSE Linux, OpenSUSE, the business and customers around it are still very unclear, it’s more than we saw from Oracle on OpenSolaris, which illustrated Oracle’s challenges with open source communities. Nevertheless, the fact that Novell has been such a significant contributor to not only Linux kernel, hypervisor and other software development, but also to market penetration for Linux means that Attachmate, or whoever ends up owning SUSE, has big shoes to fill.
The separation of the SUSE Linux technology and business also leads us to wonder whether it is poised for another sale, perhaps to another third-party that was interested in only the SUSE piece. Amid speculation that Microsoft may have helped make the deal happen to thwart a rumored SUSE buyout by VMware, we believe there is still a possiblity VMware, or other player, could acquire SUSE Linux. However, this appears increasingly unlikely given signals from Attachmate it will keep and run the SUSE Linux business, perhaps more effectively or aggressively in the virtual appliance and cloud computing environments where there is perhaps most opportunity for Linux. We will also be watching vendors such as HP and IBM, which are significant supporters of both SLES and RHEL, to see if the recent deal for Novell has any impact on their Linux positions.
Of course, uncertainty about the development or direction of SUSE Linux may steer some enterprise customers toward competing operating systems, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Windows, HP-UX from Hewlett-Packard, AIX from IBM, Solaris from Oracle or community Linux distributions such as CentOS, Fedora and Ubuntu (which also comes with commercial support fro Canonical in some cases). However, the Novell deal probably does not come as a surprise to SUSE Linux users, and many of these customers — in financial services, HPC, insurance and other enterprise verticals — are among the most advanced Linux users and are capabile of continuing with SUSE Linux on their own, with Attachmate or both. We see Red Hat as among the big winners in the deal, since it emerges as the only enterprise Linux provider of its kind, but mostly because SUSE Linux does not belong to VMware, which is aggressively competing with Red Hat on several levels, including support of OS, hypervisor and middleware technologies. Microsoft also stands to benefit from SUSE Linux under Attachmate rather than VMware, given Microsoft’s interest in and support for SUSE Linux through a longstanding partnership with Novell. The big question in regards to Microsoft concerns the IP acquired by CPTN, which is backed by Microsoft, for $450m.
While there are numerous customers, vendors, communities and people impacted by the deal, one of the often-overlooked factors is the hypervisor. Novell and use of SLES are a significant part of the Xen hypervisor community. This may be another win for Red Hat, which favors the Linux-integrated KVM hypervisor, particularly if this move for SLES means it also moves more toward KVM and away from Xen.
In conclusion, it was about this time of year in 2006 that Novell and Microsoft announced their landmark partnersip, which over the years has produced greater Windows-Linux interoperability and co-management and large enterprise customers for both. At the time, there were cries that this was the end of SUSE Linux. This was also about the time that Oracle rolled out its own Unbreakable Linux, which was heralded as the end for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. I believe, as these previous lessons and the history of open source software show us, we’ll continue to see significant use and development of SUSE Linux and OpenSUSE, regardless of who is backing them, and that SUSE Linux will continue to be a prominent part of the enterprise IT and enterprise Linux landscape.
NOTE: 451 Group subscribers can read more of our analysis and take on the deal in our report.
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