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App Stacks Coming to You on Virtual Appliances

I've been thinking a bit about virtual appliances lately, prompted in large part by Novell's summer announcement of its SUSE Appliance Program. Under that program, Novell gives independent software vendors (ISV) a helping hand in building, updating, configuring and delivering virtual appliances.

Under the program, which of course is built on top of Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise platform, ISVs get access to a free Web-based appliance building tool called SUSE Studio Online. Novell reports that within the first month, 2,000 ISVs signed up for the appliance program, with thousands of people registering for the building tool. It shares these stats:

  • 20,000 total requests for new accounts in the first four weeks of the program, with more than one request per minute in the first week alone following the launch.
  • 28,000 appliances built.
  • 13,000 appliances tested with SUSE Studio's integrated test function.
  • Since the beta program started four months ago, more than 27,000 total accounts created.

The draw, Novell says, is being able to create a single integrated stack for an application that can be deployed seamlessly across physical, virtual and cloud infrastructures.

I recently talked with Daniel Lopez, co-founder of BitRock, a provider of cross-platform deployment tools and services, to get his take.

Lopez says he believes virtual appliances will help BitRock get more of its BitNami open-source applications into users' hands. That's because they'll help address a problem BitRock has seen for its open-source stacks. While a lot of open-source software is fairly advanced, it's also stable and free. Still, some installs require more knowledge than many users possess, and so they skip the download. "It can be hard to set up even though it's not necessarily hard to use," he says.

"We decided to launch virtual appliances to address that gap," Lopez says. "We figured with the rise of virtualization, which is mainstream as of 2008, that people are used to consuming virtual appliances."

So now just about all 30 or so BitNami Stacks, including those for popular applications such as Drupal, SugarCRM and Wordpress, are available as SUSE-based virtual appliances.

For the first month, the number of virtual appliance downloads hit 5,800, or about 10 percent of total BitNami downloads, Lopez says. The folks downloading the appliances must be developers familiar with virtual machines, he reasons. But many end users come to BitNami.org as well, and they haven't gravitated to the appliance offerings yet, he says. "I don't think they know what to do with a virtual machine yet," he adds.

Another consideration, he says, is file size. "Appliances tend to be bigger, say 50 megabytes vs. 250MB," so that may detract the curious, he says. This likely will change, however, as virtualization comes packaged with the operating system, a la what Microsoft is doing with Hyper-V. "Especially as virtualization comes with Windows, people will be much more inclined to download a virtual appliance," he predicts.

So I'm curious: How many virtual appliances are floating around out there in the enterprise, in hardware or software versions? Ping me if you're using a virtual appliance and tell me how it's working.

Posted by Beth Schultz on 09/03/2009 at 12:49 PM


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