Red Hat moves into virtual software appliances

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Red Hat moves into virtual software appliances

Appliance promises to slash management costs.

Red Hat has teamed up with database vendor Sybase to deliver its first virtual software appliance. The Linux vendor expects to sign up additional software vendors in the future.

The appliance offers preconfigured bundle of the database and the Red Hat Enterprise Server 5 Advanced Platform operating system. Users will be able to download the appliance directly into a virtual compartment.

Appliances traditionally refer to bundles of hardware and software, such as the Google Search appliance that allows enterprises to sift through corporate data or consumer electronics devices. In the software market, the terms has come to refer to a preconfigured bundle of an operating system and applications.

Users currently have to manually install and configure both Red Hat and Sybase applications. This causes large organisations to end up with unique configurations for each server that have to be tested every time a server is patched or updated.

This already has promoted many organizations to standardize on a few images that are used across multiple applications. The move to virtual appliances is just a further extension of the trend, the companies argued.

While a pre-packaged appliance won't perform as well as a highly optimized system, it eliminates the need to individually test each system before updates, Raj Nathan, chief marketing officer with Sybase argued in a press conference at the Red Hat Summit in San Diego.

"Now [users] can have a pre-packaged image that says: 'Here are all the parameters that are set. Just slap this on your hardware.' Even if your application doesn't even perform to the maximum optimum, it will perform well enough that you can save all the labor of specializing for each environment," Nathan said.

The idea of virtual software appliances is far from new. When deployed in combination with virtualization, the technology makes true on the promise of zero configuration installations.

Start-up company rPath is building its business on creating customized Linux distributions that are tailored towards individual applications. The company for instance has built an for database vendor Ingres.

rPath's appliances are configured to ensure optimal performance for the intended application and stripped of unused components to reduce size and reduce the software's attack surface.

Red Hat meanwhile is shipping general purpose operating system, arguing that doing so would undermine the value of Red Hat's standard testing and certification.

"We can deliver a great degree of customization available, but we won't create a Linux fork," said Scott Crenshaw, Red Hat's vice president for Enterprise Linux.

The introduction of the appliance introduces several new challenges. The Sybase database for instance is proprietary software that requires license fees, where Red Hat is sold on a subscription basis. The companies also have to work out a way to allow existing users to migrate to an appliance.

Pricing and licensing structures will be released when the software ships by the second half of this year.
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