The week before VMworld, Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc.and Microsoft jointly announced Thursday that Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise has been optimized to run as an "enlightened" guest on Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor platform.
Windows Server 2008 customers have been able to run as a virtualized guest on SUSE since last June, when SUSE became the first member of Microsoft's Server Virtualization Validation Program, which Novell has helped to fine-tune. Now SUSE is optimized to run on Microsoft's Hyper-V as well.
In addition, Novell's new Linux server pack for Microsoft's System Center management console will enable administrators to control all servers, physical or virtual, running Windows or SUSE, with a central tool. The advanced management pack will be available in 2009.
Finally, Dell is the first hardware vendor to commit to testing and validating the dual systems on its servers for use in mixed environments.
"Customers can order a Dell server with Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V and SUSE with Xen virtualization all in one package," said Joshua Dorfman, Novell's senior product marketing manager. "The key thing is customer can have great confidence in reliability, because we've tested this is our labs. And they'll have joint support from Microsoft and Novell. We'll work together to solve customer problems.
"Novell is the preferred Linux vendor for Microsoft customers," he added.Interoperability and paravirtualization
The creation of SUSE virtualization drivers for Microsoft Hyper-V is the result of 18 months of research at Microsoft and Novell's jointly run Interoperability Lab in Cambridge, Mass., which was founded as a result of their November 2006 agreement. Collaboration in numerous other areas is ongoing.
The key to optimized virtualized performance with the two platforms is the adapters, or Linux integration components, that give the host virtualization system better visibility into the operations of the virtualized guest and can, therefore, adjust certain parameters [memory, for example] to perfect performance, Dorfman said. These components can be downloaded at the Microsoft Connect website. They will be included automatically in new servers from Dell and other hardware partners.
In a parallel move, Novell added adapters to VMware's Virtual Machine Interface into the SUSE kernel last May in Service Pack 2, optimizing SUSE's performance as a guest on VMware's ESX Server.
"We have the perfect guest strategy," Justin Steinman, marketing manager for Novell's open platform solutions, said recently. "Whichever hypervisor you choose, Hyper-V or VMware, SUSE is a first-class guest and is optimized to run on either one of them."
According to Frank Rego, Novell product manager at the Interoperability Lab, the adapters are a translation layer between SUSE's Xen hypervisor and Microsoft's Hyper-V that provides two-way visibility into activity of the respective hypervisors. The adapters also contain several drivers that speed up the network and disk drive paths between the guest and the host and improve performance, he said.
In other words, the SUSE Xen and Hyper-V hypervisors are implementing a form of paravirtualization in which the guest is recompiled with an interface to the virtual machine, making it run faster than it would otherwise, he said.
The Red Hat fallout
While not giving relative performance benchmarks of Red Hat versus SUSE on Hyper-V, Rego said Hyper-V has no comparable integration components for Red Hat guests. Red Hat "could choose" to use some of the components, but its current move from Xen to a KVM-based hypervisor "will change things quite a bit," added Dorfman.
Tony Iams, an analyst at Rye Brook, N.Y.-based Ideas International Inc., said the significance of the announcement is that the virtualization adapters are now a reality.
"This is an encouraging sign that [Microsoft and Novell] are progressing and their relationship remains as strong as ever," Iams said. "They've delivered a crucial milestone."
In theory, Novell SUSE should perform better than Red Hat on Hyper-V, but the difference is "hard to quantify," he said. Nevertheless, Red Hat is "retreating from Xen to KVM" and "there is no evidence that Red Hat will seek a similar relationship" with Microsoft, he said.
Although Red Hat probably won't achieve the best performance as a guest on Hyper-V, that doesn't prevent Red Hat users from running on Hyper-V, and the speed gap may not be a critical issue for everyone, he added.
"Red Hat is the most popular Linux distribution and some companies may have standardized on it," Iams said. "It's just a different decision tree [path]."
Gordon Haff, a principal IT adviser at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., said collaborations like this have "become the norm rather than the exception in operating system and virtualization wars" not only for legal reasons but because customers demand them, he said.
The joint Microsoft project may help Novell, but it isn't a major setback for Red Hat either, according to Haff.
"Microsoft interoperability has given Novell some incremental advantages, but the overall impact certainly hasn't changed the landscape," he said.
Red Hat could not be reached for comment on this story.