The program does more than just ensure that Windows and Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise play well together in heterogeneous computing environments. It also ensures that users of SuSE Linux Enterprise don't violate Microsoft's patents, providing users with so-called intellectual property (IP) "peace of mind."
When announced in November 2006, the program was denounced furiously by the open source community. A Microsoft official later claimed in May 2007 that Linux violates 235 of Microsoft's patents. However, the company has never been specific about what patents are involved.
Jay Lyman, open source analyst at The 451 Group, said that the interoperability promise is the most important aspect to the Microsoft-Novell deal. Customers he's spoken with have never mentioned IP protection as a compelling reason for buying into the program.
Still, the deal helps Novell in its battle against Red Hat, the current leader in enterprise Linux. By pledging interoperability with Windows, the deal gives organizations another reason to choose SuSE Linux Enterprise over Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Novell even rolled out a program to help organizations make the transition off Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is known as Novell's "Expanded Support Service."
A study by the Oliver Wyman Group, commissioned by Novell, examines Novell's support model, particularly its Expanded Support Service. The study is available here, but at press time, the PDF file would not download.
Also available at that link (and failing to download) is a Forrester Research study on "The Total Economic Impact of Microsoft and Novell Interoperability Solutions," commissioned by Microsoft and Novell. The study found that the joint OS interop program resulted in "82 percent ROI in under a year with regard to licensing fees, implementation and hardware," according to a Microsoft press release.
In June, Novell announced a partnership with VMware in which VMware will bundle its vSphere cloud-computing platform with Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise. The announcement that VMware planned to "standardize its virtual appliance-based product offerings on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server" drew swift reaction from Microsoft. In a blog post, Patrick O'Rourke, director of communications for Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, claimed that VMware was offering "a bad deal for customers" by locking them into using vSphere to do patching. In response, VMware said the bundling offer actually streamlines the agreements vSphere customers have to sign.
Lyman dismissed this Microsoft-VMware spat as just part of broader competitive trends.
"I think this is indicative of the increasing competition among the big enterprise virtualization and cloud computing stack providers," Lyman stated via e-mail. "VMware, in particular, is competing more and more with Red Hat and Microsoft, and perhaps Microsoft prefers to count Novell in its camp, but obviously Novell has its own interests."
Lyman also noted that while Microsoft and Red Hat have not signed an IP deal (like Novell), they have nonetheless cooperated. Last year, the two companies announced a collaboration to certify that Windows and Linux will run on each other's virtualization platforms.
VMware and Red Hat increasingly have been stepping on each other's turf, according to analysis by Canonical's Chief Operating Officer Matt Asay, in a CNet blog. Asay points out that Red Hat has been moving into the virtualization space, while VMware bought SpringSource, which competes against Red Hat's JBoss middleware product.
Red Hat has given Novell stiff competition on the enterprise Linux front, but Novell has other worries. The company has been showing up on radar screens as a possible acquisition target. In March, Novell declined a $2 billion takeover bid from Elliott Associates, an investment fund.
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