Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., threw its cap into the virtual appliance ring Wednesday when it announced that Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) would soon be delivered to independent software vendors (ISVs) as an optimized virtual appliance OS.
On a conference call with reporters and analysts Wednesday, Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens said the appliance, which is called the Red Hat Appliance Operating System (AOS), would be delivered to ISVs as a pre-configured package complete with a virtual appliance software development kit (VADK) in the "first half of 2008." AOS will share full application binary interface and application programming interface compatibility with RHEL And VADK will leverage Red Hat Network for support and software updates, he said.
Citing Red Hat's new corporate mantra of "any application, anywhere, anytime," Stevens said the appliance OS is certified to run on Amazon EC2, VMware's ESX Server, and eventually on Microsoft Windows Viridian "if and when it ever ships."
The burgeoning virtual apps scene
The AOS announcement has come during a period of increased activity in the virtualization arena, where Linux has taken a starring role as a cheap, flexible OS on which to build virtual appliances.
Red Hat AOS isn't the first Linux distribution to cater to virtual appliances. In October, Canonical Ltd. released Just Enough Operating System, or JeOS, a 215 MB version of Ubuntu that has been stripped of MySQL; the Common Unix Printing Layer, or CUPS; email; and Lightweight Access Directory Protocol functionality. And since 2006, Raleigh, N.C.-based rPath has targeted the virtual appliance market with its rBuilder appliance packaging product.
Like existing virtual appliance OSes, Stevens said the time from purchase to install to usage of a Red Hat AOS appliance would be a "matter of minutes." The difference between AOS and the competition, however, is the large number of applications already certified to run on RHEL, he said.
"The big problem we solve with Red Hat Appliance OS is that it is an RHEL-certified offering," he said. "Other appliances out there today are generated with homegrown Linux, and that doesn't scale. … It has security problems. … We tried to address that with a certified appliance," Stevens said.
For Gordon Haff, a senior analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., the point is significant.
"The main difference [between AOS and rPath Linux] is that RHEL is certified to run with a huge number of applications," Haff said. "The Red Hat Appliance OS possibly allows people to have it both ways: an appliance model, but on top of a standard OS,"
For customers, the downside to Red Hat AOS virtual appliances is that they'll inevitably cost more than an appliance using a generic Linux as its foundation," Haff said.
A new tack
Virtual appliances and AOS represent a shift from Red Hat's traditional business model, competitors said. In a statement sent to SearchEnterpriseLinux.com late Wednesday, rPath CEO and former Red Hat executive Billy Marshall said the demand for virtual appliances compelled Red Hat to respond with AOS. "It will be interesting to see how Red Hat manages the conflict between their legacy general-purpose operating system business and the technology requirements associated with delivering JeOS to support an application vendor-maintained virtual appliance," he said.
At Novell Inc., Justin Steinman, director of product marketing for Linux and open platforms, said the company has a "roll your own" SUSE distribution called the openSUSE Build Service, available since January. Red Hat's news, he said, will have little to no effect on rPath's strategy.
"We've actually been doing appliances for while," Steinman said. "Several large vendors have been building storage appliances, for example, using SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as the OS, but they've chosen to do so privately. [Novell] sees no need to publicize the fact that it has an appliance OS."
Meanwhile, ISVs aren't sitting around waiting for Linux OS vendors to wake up to the virtual appliance movement. Some have partnered with rPath, and many more have built homegrown virtual appliances themselves based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SUSE Enterprise Linux Server.
VMware Inc. was pleased with Red Hat's decision to create an appliance platform, said Dan Chu, vice president of emerging products and markets in an email. "Virtualization is a large market, [and] customers are continuing to virtualize their business-critical Red Hat Enterprise Linux environments on Virtual Infrastructure, enabling them to manage their Red Hat instances in the same VMware resource pool as all of the rest of their Windows, Linux, Solaris environments," he said.Support, distribution questions
On the support side, Scott Crenshaw, senior director of product management and marketing for Red Hat, said tier 3 support for Red Hat AOS would be provided by Red Hat to ISVs. ISVs would in turn handle tier 1 and tier 2 support for end users downloading appliances.
"This appliance model will be distributed through the ISVs," Crenshaw said. "They will take their appliances, mate them with the optimized RHEL appliance OS [using the SDK], and then create a pre-configured appliance. ISVs will essentially be the channel for Red Hat."
Red Hat also announced Wednesday that a wide range of software applications on Red Hat Exchange (RHX) are already available for trial and purchase as pre-configured software appliances.
Red Hat Exchange, which was announced at the annual Red Hat Summit in May, is a user-driven review site for a stable of open source applications, including enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, business intelligence, and database and systems monitoring. It is hosted by Red Hat.
With an RHX and AOS combination, Illuminata's Haff said Red Hat could streamline the appliance distribution process, but he stressed it's too early to give a definitive answer on that front. "We'll have to see how the integration with ISV updates and so forth gets put into place because that's an integral piece," he said.
At press time, no pricing for Red Hat AOS or VADK had been disclosed.