VMware/SUSE: Stacking the Deck in Favor of Enterprises

The recent wave of vertical integration among enterprise IT vendors appears headed for another crest: There are reports in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere that Novell is preparing to split itself in two, selling its SUSE Linux operations to a strategic buyer and the balance of its properties to a private equity investor.

The most likely suitor for SUSE Linux appears to be VMware, which has been busily amassing middleware and application acquisitions such as Zimbra and SpringSource to layer on top of its virtualization stack. While the rumor that some tech titan might add an enterprise Linux distribution to its holdings is always within earshot, a VMware/SUSE pairing makes particular sense.

Despite its stack-building efforts, VMware has been without an operating system layer. But in recent months, VMware has cozied up to SUSE, with deals around bundling SUSE Linux with vSphere and building virtual appliances atop Novell’s Linux platform.

More than just adding new product pieces, a SUSE pickup would leave VMware better equipped to compete with and interoperate with its chief virtualization rivals. Novell’s SUSE virtualization solutions are based on Xen, which powers the products of Citrix, Amazon, Oracle and others; SUSE’s engineers are no strangers to the KVM and libvirt technologies that drive Red Hat’s virtualization products; and SUSE has maintained a considerable effort around interoperability with Microsoft’s Hyper-V products.

If Novell’s SUSE holdings include its open-source .NET implementation, Mono, that piece could provide an additional plank in VMware’s competitive platform.

While it’s easy to get carried away thinking about the potential synergies that major acquisitions might bring, for enterprise IT customers, the sort of vertical integration that Oracle and VMware have pursued must be greeted with some measure of concern. With consolidation comes the specter of reduced competition, and, potentially, loss of focus, as large organizations work to digest their acquisitions.

With regard to a potential VMware/SUSE matchup, the good news for enterprises is that the virtualization, operating system and middleware layers in play are matched with a certain amount of standardization, which is bolstered in places by solid open-source reference implementations. This standardization promises to preserve play among the layers, and make the specter of vertical integration less ominous.

This dynamic, whereby vertical integration exists alongside enough standardization to allow customers to choose among the layers, is reflected in the cover story of Monday’s eWEEK print issue. In it, Wayne Rash examines the ways in which enterprises are achieving unified communications success without swallowing entire unified product stacks from their UC providers.

As with the stack layers in play in a potential VMware/SUSE matchup, standardization and a demand for interoperability in the UC landscape work as a balance against vendor inclinations to differentiate themselves into silos. Of course, neither product space is an interoperability nirvana, but offerings from each class are delivering real results for customers, and that’s what’s most important.