After a year on loan as CTO at the Linux Foundation, Markus Rex has returned to Novell just in time to shepherd the final push for SUSE Linux Enterprise 11. Due for release in the next few months, SUSE 11 has been in the works for two years. Rex says SUSE 11 includes major improvements in virtualization, cloud computing and interoperability.
"Everybody is interested in Linux in the data center," said Rex, who is now the acting general manager and senior VP of the Open Platform Solutions business unit at Waltham, Mass.-based Novell Inc. "The new cloud appliances and virtual appliances are a tremendous growth opportunity for Linux and Novell.""
SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 enables customers to preconfigure and install operating system images in the cloud, but SUSE 11 will add more tools to help customers benefit from their cloud deployments, he added.
In addition to virtualization and the cloud, SUSE 11 improves interoperability with Microsoft Windows. As most data centers have mixed environments, interoperability is a high priority for SUSE, said Rex. Therefore, Microsoft and Novell continue to improve interoperability at their joint research lab in Cambridge, Mass.
Interoperability with Microsoft originated with a November 2006 pact between the two companies in which Microsoft agreed to buy $240 million in SUSE software certificates. Microsoft in turn resells the certificates to customers who prefer to run Linux on some of their servers. To date, Microsoft's SUSE sales have run ahead of the five-year commitment that Microsoft has agreed to buy up to $100 million more, starting with a first installment of $25 million. According to Novell, through Oct. 31, 2008, Microsoft had resold $195 million in SUSE certificates.
In another move toward collaboration, in 2008 Novell became the first vendor to achieve certification under Microsoft's Server Virtualization Validation Program, which certifies that SUSE is optimized to run as an enlightened guest on Microsoft Hyper-V, with two-way visibility between the respective hypervisors and special drivers to boost performance.
To date, Novell has received "very positive customer feedback" on its joint efforts to optimize cross-platform virtualization, Rex said. Windows, in turn, has been optimized to run on SUSE.
As for other plans for the SUSE platform over the next few months, Rex said Novell will work to convert some of its proprietary software lines to run on Linux, will develop a few SUSE add-on products and will beef up SUSE thin-client desktop product.
Rex declined to comment on reported statements by Novell CEO Ronald Hovsepian that he is interested in shoring up the SUSE platform with new acquisitions. Last year, Novell purchased PlateSpin Ltd. for cross-platform provisioning, monitoring and disaster recovery and SiteScape, an open source collaboration application.
Despite the soft economy, Novell will continue to invest in SUSE because Linux offers customers an attractive lower-cost alternative to proprietary software, Rex said.
"Even in tough times, CIOs and CFOs are open to SUSE Linux Enterprise" because it increases efficiency, reduces costs and speeds up processing, he said.
Rex, a five-year SUSE VP of engineering before Novell bought the German startup in 2004, said the young software company initially sold its software on CDs to consumers but soon redirected marketing and development to data centers, which represented greater long-term growth potential. SUSE addressed those needs, and continues to do so today, with a stable release cycle, support services and a broad range of hardware platforms, he said.
Asked if SUSE is continuing to gain ground on Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc., Rex said he believes that SUSE is "actively taking market share" from its larger rival but that he, like everyone else, will have to wait for the annual report from Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp. to know for sure. With a boost from Microsoft certificate sales, Novell SUSE's market share increased 3% to 29% in 2007 while Red Hat's declined to 62%.
As for staff reductions, Novell recently announced up to 100 layoffs from its 4,200 global workforce. Rex declined to say whether any of the reductions affected the Open Platform Division; however, because SUSE revenues are growing at more than twice the rate of the other divisions, cuts in SUSE staff appear to be unlikely.
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