A few years ago now I remember asking a colleague of mine whether he was going to Novell Brainshare that year. "Why," he answered, "would I want to go to anything connected with Novell, a company in its death throes."

I thought of this conversation when I read about the partnership between Novell and VMware because of Novell has not just limped back from the dead, it's suddenly right in the forefront of today's technology.

It's a partnership that makes a great deal of sense for both parties.For all its strength in the virtualisation field, VMware hasn't got an operating system and a hypervisor, in the same way that Microsoft has Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V, while Novell's SuSE is both lagging a long way behind Red Hat in the enterprise Linux stakes and doesn't have the virtualisation capability that Red Hat acquired when it bought KVM company Qumranet.

The name of the game is virtual appliances and it's going to be vital one for virtualisation vendors. While much of the effort has concentrated on virtualisation of servers, virtual appliances (ie a pre-built software solution) offer a way forward for enterprises that don't want to handle the complexities of virtualising in the server and are a perfect medium for cloud deployments. While Linux has long been seen as a great OS for virtual appliances, the wide number of Linux distributions has rather mitigated against it being adopted - leaving the path more open for Microsoft, Now, everything has changed: Novell SuSE has the considerable weight of VMware behind it and the world looks very different.

The partnership has achieved one thing however: it's clearly got Microsoft's goat.Little wonder, one of the few things that Microsoft had going for it was its OS, now that advantage is being taken away from then. Hence the rather bitter-sounding blog from Patrick O'Rourke, Microsoft's director of communications for the server and tools business. In one respect, you can see why he's annoyed, by allying the OS with virtualisation, VMware is going down a path that Microsoft has itself supported for some time and, in addition, the Microsoft partnership with Novell has been flourishing, despite the efforts of the cynics and doubters. But, on the other hand, I feel some considerable schadenfreude when you see Microsoft grumbling about customers getting locked in with a rival vendor.

And as for Novell - well, they're like the virtualisation Lazarus. Its partnership with VMware should lead to interesting times.

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