VMware's new deal to distribute Novell's SUSE Linux server makes its first serious step into the operating system market, a shift which could help it counter the bundled nature of offerings from virtualisation rivals Microsoft and IBM.
Under an expansion of the partnership between VMware and Novell, VMware will begin offering SUSE Enterprise Server directly to customers of its vSphere software, and make support options and patches available.
SUSE will also become the base operating system for VMware's virtual appliance products. Ultimately, the deal will enable businesses to "port their SUSE Linux-based workloads across clouds", a statement from the companies said.
The deal resembles Microsoft's similar partnership with Red Hat, but has a different focus, said Sam Higgins, research director at analyst firm Longhaus.
"The difference here is that unlike that kind of cross-certification agreement, which is really about compatibility, this is very much about VMware filling a strategic hole. VMware don't have an operating system."
While much of VMware's strategy to date has focused on the relative unimportance of individual OS choices in a virtualised server environment - and it remains the dominant supplier in the virtualisation space - competitive pressures from rival offerings make the Novell partnership a sensible one, Higgins said.
"Whether it's intended or not, it does give some credence to the strategy that Microsoft IBM and Red Hat and Oracle and everyone else has, which is that operating systems are going to remain important in the medium term," he told iTnews.
The deal to include SUSE on virtual appliances would be less significant, Higgins said.
"I'm not convinced that the appliance thing is the most important thing to the market. The only people I hear talking about virtualised appliances are the virtualisation vendors."
While the expanded relationship would also give Novell a new channel, that might prove difficult to exploit, Higgins predicted.
"Most people that are deploying VMware technology have already got an OS strategy in place anyway. Although it does make a nice channel play, are you really going to be swapping out something you already have?"
The deal builds on an arrangement from early 2009 under which the two companies have offered free access to SUSE-based appliances to software developers.