Novell has laid out a technical strategy to let users mix and match physical and virtual machines, along with management tools, identity services, collaboration software, and open source operating systems.

The company said its new strategy, code-named Fossa, aims to allow companies to dynamically assign workloads to server resources within their datacentres. It will also include enhancements to Novell's virtualisation, Linux, orchestration, policy, identity, compliance, and collaboration tools.

"Enterprise computing will change and we will be at the centre of it," said Jeff Jaffe, Novell's CTO, during the opening keynote of the company's annual Brainshare conference. He said the key was "agility."

A fossa is the largest carnivore on the African island of Madagascar, known exactly for that. But Jaffe drew a laugh from his audience when he said Fossa stood for "free and open source software plus agility."

For Novell, Fossa is a way to rationalise how all its infrastructure tools, from Linux to ZENworks, fit together into what can be thought of as a single architecture.

The development of flexible, adaptable infrastructure isn't revolutionary as vendors such as HP, IBM and Microsoft have been working toward that goal for several years.

"The question is what is fundamentally different from what Novell wants to do with Fossa over what they are doing today," said Mark Levitt, an analyst with IDC. "This feels more like an internal review of their vision and roadmap and I don't think Fossa will be a dramatic change but a validation of the direction they have been going."

However, an IT manager from a large health care company (who asked to remain anonymous) said of Fossa, "this is the kind of stuff we want to be using."

At Fossa's core, Novell wants to use the modular capabilities of Linux to create what it called Physical Distributions – Distros for short – which in essence are host operating systems running on server hardware. The other piece are Virtual Distros, which would include a virtualised guest OS, either Windows or Linux, along with middleware and an application.

The Virtual Distros would include all the standards to hook into Novell's management, identity and compliance systems. ISVs would be able to bundle their applications into Virtual Distros that users could deploy within their architecture. The Virtual Distros could be stored on a server, copied at will and deployed on demand. Users would be able to dynamically deploy Virtual Distros when they need an increase in capacity.

When those Virtual Distros are deployed, meta-data associated with their architecture would be used to plug into management systems and identity systems.

At Brainshare, Novell also said it would begin development on SuSE Linux 11, including alignment with its agility vision. Novell said SuSE Linux Enterprise 11 would also include the latest virtualisation technology and desktop improvements. Novell said it also would rely heavily on work from the openSuSE community.

Novell also announced a partnership to optimise SAP on SuSE Linux Enterprise and with Novell's virtualisation and identity platforms. The companies also will optimise Novell's OS for SAP's datacentre infrastructure.