Novell launched OES last year as a successor of sorts to NetWare 6.5, combining elements of the SUSE Linux distribution which it acquired two years ago. Novell has pledged support for NetWare through 2015, but it is touting the Xen virtualization capabilities of OES as a way for customers to make better use of their data centre infrastructure.

The next version of OES, code-named Cyprus, will see deeper integration with Xen when it comes out in the second half of 2007, according to Novell product manager Jason Williams. Unlike commercial products from companies such as VMWare, Williams said Xen performs “para-virtualization,” in the sense it abstracts a layer of hardware, but does not create a simulation of the entire machine.

“It essentially puts that (hardware layer) in a jail,” Williams said. “It means the performance becomes much less processor-driven.”

Novell has worked closely with Intel to exploit the Virtualization Technology features of its latest chipsets, Williams said. SUSE Linux Enterprise 10 will be the underlying platform for Cyprus. Details on the next version of OES, code-named Ponderosa, are still under wraps. So far, two thirds of all OES customers are running Linux, said Novell chairman and CEO Jack Messman during a keynote at the conference. But he drew the biggest applause of his speech when he announced ongoing support for the proprietary version of NetWare through to 2015.

“That’s about as close to forever as you’re going to get,” he said, adding Novell normally supports products for about 10 years. “We believe our customer environments are heterogeneous, and we must be like them.”

While Novell executives have called OES the fastest product ramp in its history, customers interviewed by Computing Canada said they are only beginning to explore its potential in their organizations, though most sounded optimistic.

Auto parts supplier TRW, for example, has been doing virtualization using VMWare for several years, said Robert McInerney, its IS infrastructure manager.

“It’s been a great thing for us,” he said. “You’re saving dollars, but you’re also simplifying your environment. You end up being able to run 60 servers on eight boxes.”

TRW, which has plants in St. Catherines, Midland and Woodstock, Ont., has been using NetWare since the time before McInerney started with the firm 11 years ago.

Major strides
It has been making major strides towards open source — it recently moved its ERP off Unix to a Linux cluster — but it tends to happen on new projects.

“You have to pick the right time,” he said.

“We use it for builds or upgrades, but to pull resources out just to convert everything doesn’t make sense to me.”

It’s a similar situation at the University of New Brunswick, which depends on NetWare for a variety of file and print services. Fred Weber, UNB’s technical analyst for enterprise systems services, said it hasn’t adopted OES yet, either.

“We probably will eventually,” he said, “but we’ll do something like storage, something near the edge of the network first, to see how it goes.”

Toronto’s Bridgepoint Health, which recently began a project to integrate Novell’s identity management products with its forthcoming Meditech HR system, is also eyeing OES, said Marc Lamoureux, its director of information systems. Many systems at Bridgepoint might be using 10 per cent of their resources, he said, so virtualization could improve performance.

“We use NetWare now,” he said. “But if the future for scaleability and performance is Linux, we have no problem going that way.”

Microsoft has said it already offers similar capabilities in Active Directory, Virtual Server and other products, while Red Hat last week announced its own plans for Xen.

Novell’s Williams, however, said the company is streamlining virtualization from Xen directly into its SUSE distribution.

“Saying you support virtualization could just mean you’re shipping a CD,” he said.

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