Red Hat moves into virtual software appliances

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Red Hat moves into virtual software appliances

Software 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 a 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 on consumer electronics devices.

In the software market, the term has come to refer to a preconfigured bundle of an operating system and applications.

Users currently have to manually install and configure 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 has already prompted many organisations to standardise on a few images 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 will not perform as well as a highly optimised system, it eliminates the need to individually test each system before applying 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,'" he said.

"Even if your application does not perform to the optimum, it will perform well enough that you can save all the labour of specialising for each environment."

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

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

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

Red Hat, meanwhile, is shipping a general purpose operating system, arguing that not doing so would undermine the value of Red Hat's standard testing and certification.

"We can deliver a great degree of customisation, but we will not 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 licence fees, whereas 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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