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Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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If Novell Is For Sale, VMware May Buy Its Expertise

The New York Post reported Sept. 15 that Novell was for sale and a deal in two parts was about to be consummated. The Wall Street Journal's Digital Network reported the next day that two of the companies involved in the talks are Attachmate and VMware. Might IBM be involved as well?

The New York Post reported Sept. 15 that Novell was for sale and a deal in two parts was about to be consummated. The Wall Street Journal's Digital Network reported the next day that two of the companies involved in the talks are Attachmate and VMware. Might IBM be involved as well?I personally would not be surprised if IBM has had its own discussions with Novell since it was revealed in March that the company might be put up for bids. In March, the Novell board of directors disclosed that it had received an unsolicited offer from Elliott Associates, a hedge fund that specializes in distressed companies. Novell rejected the Elliott offer of $5.75 a share but said it would consider offers that boosted stockholders' value. It closed yesterday at $6.05.

Everyone knows that Linux runs on the mainframe, but not everyone realizes the bulk of that Linux is Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise System. Linux is a key component in IBM's ongoing mainframe strategy. Linux has been instrumental in keeping its mainframe hardware alive and for selling more mainframe MIPS year after year. Surely IBM wants to ensure that SUSE Linux remains alive and healthy as the mainframe. But as I look at the current situation, I see a case similar to IBM's approach to Sun Microsystems, where many people predicted IBM would make the acquisition, but it doesn't. Whether it bids or not, IBM would still be very likely to partner with a new owner of SUSE, just as it has with Novell.

I suspect the real interest in Novell lies with VMware, which is expanding out from its base at the virtualization hypervisor -- hypervisors are something of a commodity these days -- into a future data center management system. Novell offers two key ingredients to help VMware reach that goal.

It has cross hypervisor expertise, particularly with Microsoft's Hyper-V, enabling it to launch Novell Cloud Manager Sept. 13 capable of managing VMware ESX Server, Microsoft's Hyper-V and open source Xen.

And Novell has Microsoft .Net language expertise in its Mono open source project. I alluded to Mono last week on the heels of VMworld when I pointed out that it might be possible for VMware, in less than three years, to provide a Spring Framework that could embrace not only Java but Microsoft's .Net C# as well. That is, programming in C# with the Framework would result in output that would be similar to programming in Java -- a pre-compiled byte code based on ANSI standard ECMAscript.

I don't know all the ins and outs, and such is not the case today with the Spring Framework. But it seems to me possible this future Spring output, if it materializes, could run in the browser window, in the Flash Player, in the Java Virtual Machine and in Microsoft's Common Language Runtime, with adjustments and conversions supplied by the framework itself for each. That covers a lot of bases that Web and cloud developers are interested in.

Rod Johnson at SpringSource, now part of VMware, has an instinct for simplification that he's poured into the Spring Framework. It's almost as if he's learned a lesson or two at a school most self-respecting Java programmers would never go to -- Microsoft's class on ease of use.

What if Spring became a preferred development platform for building Web and cloud applications, and developers of widely varying skills felt comfortable using it? It could give them a choice of an open source virtualization, but for true enterprise data center operation and cloud-style management, Spring apps would be well integrated with the VMware virtualization infrastructure. Applications could be best managed for performance there.

What kind of vendor is VMware at that point? A virtualization vendor? I think not.

It's a supplier of the environment to which the next generation of Web and cloud applications will be deployed. That's a position of strength far beyond the hypervisor.

I don't think VMware really needs to own Novell or Mono to pursue such an outcome. But when there's IP in hand to stare down the challengers and those who like to wave patent sabers, it might happen more quickly than it would otherwise.

As virtual servers, storage, and applications become the norm in the data center, vendors are offering products to consolidate host communications into a single channel and manage that channel with a central appliance. Get the lowdown on the various options before diving in. Download our report here (registration required).

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