Novell slaps iPhone interface on cloud control kit

Jobsian remote console

Novell said it would do rapid release cycles when it launched its Cloud Manager tool back in September, and sure enough, the beleaguered (and acquired) software maker is already kicking out the 1.1 release of its cloud control freak.

As El Reg explained back in September, Cloud Manager is a kind of uber-operating system that controls virtualized operating systems and the hypervisors that they run upon. It is initially focused on helping customers create private clouds on their existing iron, but will eventually span public and private clouds. You can think of Cloud Manager as an analog of the NetWare network operating system that in the 1980s turned a network of cheap PCs into something that smelled like a minicomputer suitable for running applications and sharing files across users.

You might be thinking: why Novell didn't call it CloudWare? And for that matter: why didn't it rebrand SUSE Linux something funky like UnderWare or anything else to get some attention back in 2003 when it bought the German Linux distro. But I digress.

Cloud Manager has been in development for a little more than a year and is the result of "many millions" of dollars in investment by Novell, and with the 1.0 release back in September, it supported Xen, ESX Server, and Hyper-V hypervisors. The latter two are from VMware and Microsoft, while there are a number of Xen renditions, including the main one from Citrix Systems as well as alternatives from Oracle, Red Hat, Novell, and Canonical, and Amazon's EC2 compute cloud, to name a few.

At the moment, the embedded Xen hypervisor in SUSE Linux 10 and 11 SP1 is the only Xen hypervisor officially supported by Cloud Manager, and the tool does not yet support the KVM hypervisor being championed by Red Hat, but will sometime in the first half of 2011. Novell will also extend it to be able to manage public clouds, but has not said when this will happen. That will be up to Novell's new owner, Attachmate, should the deal close by the end of the first quarter as expected. Novell's goal is to span all possible hypervisors on x64 iron, something no one does with their provisioning and management tools. And the product won't be fully useful until it can span all hypervisors - maybe those on Unix and mainframe machines, too.

Cloud Manager does not replace the console tools for hypervisors, but rather plugs into them to take control of the hypervisors. A gutsy Novell with $2bn in the bank for investments might have created Cloud Manager to replace those expensive consoles from VMware, Citrix, and others rather than cooperating with them and settling for being the single pane of glass with a consistent interface than spans those different consoles and their related hypervisors. While the latter is a good thing to do, the former might have made Cloud Manager instantly and economically appealing.

With the 1.1 release of Cloud Manager, there are two big changes. The first is that the Cloud Manager management server can now be hooked into a network of servers and automatically discover existing running VMs and their hypervisors and then automatically build templates that encapsulate these services. If a service - say a Web application or an SAP ERP suite, just to give two examples - spans multiple and inter-linked VMs, system administrators can link these tiers together and define them as a service and then provision new instances of the application in one fell swoop.

All of this is done with the Web-based GUI in the Cloud Manager, which is written in Java and Google Web Toolkit (GWT); Cloud Manager makes use of what used to be Sun Microsystems' OpenESB enterprise service bus, which is used by Novell for integration of the cloudy management tool with the server hypervisors. Cloud Manager also uses of Sun's GlassFish application server. (OpenESB and GlassFish are now, of course, controlled by Oracle.)

The second big enhancement with Cloud Manager 1.1 is a new client to access the cloudy tool through an iPhone. The iPhone is the beeper+remote console of choice for system admins trying to eat their dinner or get some sleep. (They turn their iPhones off during sex, I hope.) Benjamin Grubin, director of data center management at Novell, says that the iPhone client for Cloud Manager is in beta on the iPad, but is not quite finished because of changes that need to be made to the graphics for that version.

Cloud Manager 1.1 also can now do charge-back in multiple currencies and has been tweaked to allow for "easier workload modifications," by which Novell means allocating more resources to jobs that are hungry for CPU, memory, or network bandwidth. The funny thing is, given the way workloads are being shared on multi-tenant clouds (even among companies with private clouds, each line of business is like a single tenant) you would think that you'd want all of this resource balancing to happen automagically. (Maybe that comes in Cloud Manager 2.0?) Novell does not provide pricing information for Cloud Manager.

In a separate announcement, SAP has announced that it has tapped Novell to create a virtual security appliance to encapsulate a plug-in that allows for SAP's StreamWork online collaboration tool to be linked back into enterprise applications running on corporate systems. StreamWork was announced earlier this year as an online, cloud-style application to cope with unstructured work - the kind of project-based stuff that cannot be encoded into an ERP, CRM, or SCM application or be done easily in groupware in a serial fashion.

The StreamWork application debuted in March and was available in a freebie Basic Edition and in a Professional Edition that allowed for more projects to be run concurrently and more storage compared to that freebie edition. This week sees the launch of an Enterprise Edition, which has hooks back into SAP enterprise applications, allowing for information from these applications to be sucked into StreamWork so it can be used in the decision-making process. Links into SAP's product lifecycle management (PLM) and BusinessObjects strategy management modules will be available for StreamWork this month, with links into SAP's CRM applications coming in the first half of 2011.

The Novell hook into all of this is not that SAP is using SUSE Linux to host the StreamWork application - it is not, contrary to their respective German roots - but rather that an SUSE Linux appliance, built using the SUSE Appliance Toolkit, was used to create the agent that links StreamWork back to the SAP apps running behind the firewall. SAP says it is using open APIs, so anyone else can create hooks from StreamWork back to their applications. It is tough to imagine Oracle or Microsoft doing this, right?

StreamWork Professional Edition costs $9 per user per month, while the Enterprise Edition costs $16 per user per month, including that virtual agent to link the cloudy app to the siloed internal SAP apps in your data center.

SAP also announced that StreamWork will now be distributed through the Google Apps Marketplace, which has some 30 million users. ®

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