Software appliances are applications that come prepackaged with an operating system on, for example, a virtual machine or a USB stick.
For the IT department they hold the promise of simplifying deployment by getting rid of the installation process, which is not only difficult, but also quite error prone, according to Nat Friedman, chief technology and strategy officer for Linux at Novell, who spoke at VMworld in a session entitled "The Future of Linux is Software Appliances" on Wednesday. Novell distributes SUSE Linux Enterprise.
"What we found, talking to our ISVs (independent software vendors) and partners, is that up to 50% of support issues come from improperly installed software," said Friedman.
The appliance model also makes it far easier for enterprises to evaluate a new application, he said. Again, companies don't have to go through a complicated installation process, but can just drop it in and try it out, according to Friedman.
Modularity and licensing are two advantages of Linux that make it better suited to building software appliances than any other operating system, according to Friedman. Stripping out all the parts you don't want from the operating system, configuring it and then shipping it would be impossible with Windows, but with Linux it's possible, he said.
"I think the software appliance distribution model is so important, not only does it make it easier for you to install it, but it also makes the application cloud ready," said Friedman.
Novell wants to be a part of this new ecosystem. It is developing Suse Studio, which is a Web-based platform that aims to make it easier for ISVs to create software appliances.
When creating a software appliance with Suse Studio, users are guided through the creation process from selecting a name through picking software components and configuring them to building the appliance.
Suse Studio is currently available in an alpha version. Novell isn't ready to say when it will be done.
"We have a couple of thousand users, and we are rolling out more users as the features and stability improve," said Friedman.
Today, SuseStudio builds appliances based on the openSuse community Linux distribution, but Novell will shortly allow the creation of supported appliances built on its Suse Linux Enterprise distribution. That will happen a soon after the release of Suse Linux Enterprise 11, which is due in less than three months, according to Friedman.
An important part of Suse Studio will also be the ability to analyze the appliance, and tell the creator if Novell can support the included operating system components or not, he said.
Novell will also provide an on-site version of Suse Studio this year.
"A year ago when we started developing Suse Studio a lot of ISVs said 'We are thinking about appliances, but not really sure.' Now the interest level is really high because people get it now. It takes time for the idea to percolate, and also the advent of virtualization is more widespread," said Friedman.