Novell SUSE Enterprise Linux 11 debuts today with numerous enhancements that should boost performance in the data center. Novell and IBM also teamed up on a cloud computing initiative that could potentially bolster SUSE Linux adoption in the long term.
SUSE 11 includes enhanced virtualization optimization with the Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware and Xen hypervisors, a faster package stack for updating applications and the ability to swap memory remotely over the network to prevent crashes, boosting reliability.
Of special interest to data centers, Novell also has created a support link that will automatically transmit diagnostic data via SUSE's YaST tool directly to the help desk, eliminating the need for lengthy information-gathering phone calls and speeding problem resolution.
In addition, SUSE 11 is addressing the mission critical needs of larger data centers with a High Availability Extension that offers greater flexibility and a better user interface for managing clusters. The Extension costs $699 per server on x86 processors and is free on the more expensive IBM System z or Itanium processors.
But perhaps SUSE 11's longer term impact to data center is the joint work of IBM and Novell to bolster cloud computing. IBM recently announced its selection of SUSE to deploy images of its DB2 database, Informix Dynamic Server, WebSphere Portal and other applications on Amazon's EC2; IBM will offer support for these SUSE-based images in the near future. Novell, too, is working to make SUSE 11 available on EC2 and other clouds, with further announcements expected later this year.
Another potential boost to Linux adoption in general, and SUSE in particular, may come indirectly through SUSE 11 features such as Mono, which enables customers to run Microsoft .NET applications on SUSE. Mono is now offered with Novell support in SUSE 11. The Mono extension costs $200 per server annually for x86 servers and $7,000 a year for IBM's System z.
Grant Nickle, IT director with Louisville, Ky.-based Underwriters Safety & Claims, said many of the improvements in SUSE 11 such as high-end clustering are targeted to larger users. However, SUSE's streamlined help desk operation and power optimization options will help IT shops of all sizes, he said. And its Xen 3.3-based hypervisor gives users multiple options for virtualization installation in a very intuitive way, he added.
IT analysts Stephen O'Grady of Seattle, Wash.-based Redmonk and Gordon Haff of Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., agreed that SUSE 11 is an evolutionary, not revolutionary, improvement over its predecessor.
"Ultimately, the most important upgrades are boring," O'Grady said of SUSE 11. "They deal with interoperability, virtualization and management and scaling up workloads on the same platforms, but these are things that data centers care about. The better the data center runs, the quicker the cost savings add up. It's pretty simple."
As for SUSE 11's potential impact on its share of the Linux market, Red Hat had 62% of the market in the latest independent study in 2007 and Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff doesn't see the dynamics changing any time soon.
SUSE is strong in the mainframe arena but its growth in the x86 space has merely kept pace with the overall market and has failed to dent Red Hat's lead, Haff said.
But Grady pointed out that IBM's selection of SUSE for its EC2 deployments "is a coup for [Novell] in terms of market share because it means that customers that go forward with IBM software on EC2 instances will be doing so on top of SUSE."
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