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Volume 5, Number 16 -- April 22, 2008

Novell Puts Out JEOS Beta, Starts Appliance Effort

Published: April 22, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Last fall, at the VMworld 2007 virtualization conference hosted by VMware, the juggernaut in the X86 and X64 hypervisor space, commercial Linux distributor Canonical announced that it was creating a streamlined variant of Linux it dubbed Ubuntu JEOS, short for Just Enough Operating System. This JEOS Linux was intended to be used as the core system inside a virtual machine appliance. The idea has taken hold now over at Novell, which last week announced its own SUSE Appliance Program and a beta of SUSE Linux Enterprise JEOS.

The JEOS approach, and that word is pronounced juice not gee-oss apparently, takes all the bits of a Linux distribution that are not necessary to run atop a virtual machine hypervisor like VMware's ESX Server, Citrix Systems' Xen, and Microsoft's Hyper-V and rips them out. In the case of Ubuntu, which has a main memory footprint of between 320 MB and 686 MB depending on the installed options, the high-end version of JEOS could come in at around 215 MB of main memory, not including the 32 MB footprint for the new ESX Server 3i hypervisor. A regular ESX Server 3 hypervisor weighed in at over 2 GB. So this is a radically improved memory footprint, therefore making it appropriate for hypervisor-style appliances.

That Novell would want to jump onto the virtual appliance bandwagon along with Ubuntu, Red Hat, and others is no surprise. Market researchers at IDC reckon that such software appliances will account for $700 million in sales in 2011, and that is presumably not counting the application software inside of the virtual machines.

The SUSE variant of the JEOS idea is called Project LimeJEOS, which is part of a larger project at the openSUSE development project called cocktail.lin.cat that was part of the Google Summer of Code that built software appliances on a minimalist variant of SUSE Linux using the Kiwi system imaging software and the EIS application building program.

According to Nat Friedman, chief technology and strategy officer for Novell's Linux and open source division, there are a couple different approaches to building these software appliances. First, you can hack the thing together by hand, using standard operating systems and application packages. Then there are more automated approaches backed by application repositories, such as the rBuilder product from rPath or Kiwi; and then there is an effort to put appliances inside of JEOS-enabled virtual machines running atop hypervisors. The full cocktail.lin.cat project is mixing all three of these approaches, really, with EIS being the application builder and Kiwi building the application and JEOS images inside the hypervisor partitions. Because each hypervisor has its own eccentricities--ESX Server has a virtual SCSI disk, but Xen doesn't--companies that want to deploy software appliances are not experts in virtualized environments, and they don't want to be, either.

"These are barriers to adoption," explains Friedman. "What we have built in terms of platform updating and patching is what appliance makers need."

The JEOS implementation of SUSE Linux Enterprise server is in beta now--you can check it out here--for 64-bit VMware ESX Server and Citrix Xen hypervisors. SUSE Linux Enterprise JEOS is based on SLES 10 Service Pack 2, which is not going to be finished for a few months yet, according to Friedman, which is why the JEOS variant is not being announced yet.

The SUSE Appliance Program, however, is up and running today, and Novell is keen on getting independent software vendors to play around with JEOS and experiment with the idea of creating virtual machine software appliances to help them more easily distribute preconfigured software to their customers. Friedman says that Novell is looking for early adopters to give it feedback on how to structure the program and to work out the kinks of allowing ISVs to, in essence, redistribute and support, through Novell's own systems, a SUSE Linux instance. The JEOS kit comes with a supportability analysis tool that will show ISVs the effect on supportability of any changes they make to the JEOS stack. Incidentally, Novell expects companies to use the full SLES instance as well as the trimmed down and virtualized JEOS variant to make appliances. It is not an either-or situation.


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