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4/5/2006
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Novell: Tiered OS Could Get OEMs Into Linux Distribution Game

Novell is working on separating the Linux distribution into two stacks that would allow OEMs to bundle and optimize core Linux distributions for their hardware while it focuses on application virtualization and other data center services

IBM and HP are open to optimizing mini-Linux distributions for their hardware platforms so that software partners could focus on application virtualization services, a Novell executive said.

At a LinuxWorld Expo panel on Wednesday, Novell Linux CTO Andre Hill said the Waltham, Mass., company is working on the development of a two-tiered Linux distribution stack -- a physical distro, which he called P Distro, and the virtual distro, dubbed the V Distro.

Such an approach -- which would splinter the core operating system services from the application-related system services -- would enable OEMs to optimize Linux for their respective hardware platforms, while freeing Novell and Red Hat to develop advanced application services using these V distributions, Hill also said.

Novell recently announced a major upgrade of its Linux distribution, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, which incorporates the Xen virtualization hypervisor.

The research work is currently underway on Novell's open source stack, OpenSUSE. Abstracting the application services from the core Linux distribution would have many benefits, Hill said.

For instance, application encapsulation would allow customers to develop virtual application workload run-times that execute across all platforms and can be portable across the data center, he said.

"We're working on that in research mode right now," Hill said. "We're looking at a key distro you put on a server that gets the box up and running and does nothing else. But we'll put the hypervisor and a [second] B-list distro services tuned for applications.

He noted that nearly one third of the code in Linux distributions address hardware-related issues and that approach to Linux prevents software vendors from developing advanced data center services.

The former Dell executive and engineer who also serves as the director of Novell's Linux Program Office told CRN after the Linuxworld session that early discussions with OEMs look promising but it's not a done deal.

"I'm selling the business model," Hill said. "It gets me out of the driver business."

Application encapsulation would also ease complexities associated with managing and deploying different virtual machines in the data center, he said.

In related news, application virtualization leader Softricity said it plans to launch version 4.0 of its namesake desktop at Microsoft's Management Services Conference later this month in San Diego, Calif. The solution will plug into any systems management platform and allow customers to extend virtualization and on-demand application streaming beyond desktops and laptops to virtual machines.

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