Novell is upgrading its support for virtualised operating systems running under a Xen environment, with a bundle of virtualisation drivers to be released next month.

The SUSE Linux Enterprise Virtual Machine Driver Pack is a bundle of para-virtualised network, bus and block device drivers for various versions of Windows and Linux.

The drivers, Novell claims, will allow guest operating systems to run unmodified at near-native performance under Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 10 SP1 and Xen 3.0.4, and with AMD and Intel chips that have virtualisation support built in.

While Xen can already run these operating systems unmodified using the right hardware, Novell claims it's the first to offer a supported solution, as well as claiming that the software will run significantly faster using the drivers.

The drivers open more communications channels between Suse's implementation of the Xen hypervisor and the guest OS, accelerating network and storage input/output and improving efficiency, Novell said.

Other versions of Xen, from XenSource for instance, are capable of running guest OSs without a host OS - just a stripped-down Linux kernel. The Linux kernel also contains a relatively new technology called KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) that promises speed benefits.

The initial version of the Driver Pack, due in July, will focus on Windows, with support for Windows Server 2003 (32 bit and 64 bit), Windows XP (32 bit and 64 bit) and Windows 2000 (32 bit only).

This will be followed later in the summer by drivers for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4 and RHEL 5, which will be supplied as a free update. SLES 10 already includes drivers for virtualised Suse instances.

An annual subscription will cost $299 per physical server for up to four virtual machines, or $699 per physical machine for five VMs or more.