Government // Enterprise Architecture
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8/3/2009
10:33 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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SUSE's Amazing Software Vending Machine

SUSE Studio may well be the neatest thing in Linux so far this year. It's a web service where you can build a custom Linux distro or "appliance" in minutes. I think of it as a software vending machine, a way to get exactly the product you want the first time.

SUSE Studio may well be the neatest thing in Linux so far this year. It's a web service where you can build a custom Linux distro or "appliance" in minutes. I think of it as a software vending machine, a way to get exactly the product you want the first time.

The idea of the software appliance isn't new, of course, but what SUSE and Novell have done here is take creating the whole thing to a new level of ease and, frankly, sheer cool. Consider this: You can build you image of choice to a number of formats, including a VMware disk image. If you use that format, you can test-boot it directly in the browser (via a VNC connection, I believe) and try it out to make sure it's behaving as expected.

This is actually not the first time I've seen a web-based configuration system for Linux distributions. Back in 2007 I talked about NimbleX Linux and its web-based configuration system, where you could spin together your own custom .ISO from a menu of ingredients. The idea was brilliant and I wanted to see it adopted in other contexts, and now it looks like SUSE has picked up on that.

Curious to learn more, I got in touch with Matt Richards, senior program manager for the SUSE Appliance Program, and asked him a few questions about it. For starters, I asked what sorts of problems the Appliance Program could solve. His answer:

"[This is] the only offering that enables ISVs to customize a fully-supported operating system and then build, test and get to market with a complete software stack. It will transform the way ISVs package and distribute their software, enabling them to quickly deliver existing applications to physical, virtual and cloud computing environments, reduce sales cycles and quickly pursue new market opportunities."

Despite the program still being quite new, I asked if people were already expressing interest in it, and if so what for.

"Several ISVs - including Adobe, HP, IBM and SAP - have voiced tremendous support for the SUSE Appliance Program. IBM is using it for IBM Foundations Start, a small business server that provides email connectivity in an easy to install, easy to use manner. Adobe Livecycle is also a good example, where you can download a configured SUSE Linux Enterprise, MySQL, JBoss, and LiveCycle appliance as a single image."

When I asked if this program also addressed existing problems within Novell, Matt put it this way: "IT buying behaviors are shifting from the traditional model where customers buy operating systems, middleware, databases and applications. to a new model where customers buy solutions to business problems. SaaS is an example. While the OS, middleware and database are still important technically, customers don't want to worry about this complexity. The customer wants a solution. We saw an opportunity to embrace this change, to build relationships with ISVs - more than 800 now - and to provide a solution for both Novell and our ISV partners." In short, it's a new and creative way for Novell to get SUSE into people's hands, a step above the stock live CD tryout.

Something else that becomes clear through all this is how granularity of function is becoming increasingly important to those who consume software, whether it's in the form of the "old-school" model or the "appliance" model described above. Open source routinely gets props for offering granularity of function as a standard feature, and this is one of the best examples I've seen of it to date.

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