Novell grabs for big role in virtualisation security

Plans to play off the company's strengths in network and identity management

Novell this week will lay out an ambitious plan to secure applications across heterogeneous virtualization platforms at customer sites and off-premises, an effort designed to play off Novell's strengths in network and identity management.

Novell's Intelligent Workload Management initiative will be designed for the creation of application workloads, described by the company as portable, self-contained units of work built through the integration of the operating system, middleware and application, to run on server virtualization products from VMware, Microsoft and Citrix, among others. Under the plan, workloads will maintain security and compliance policies, along with real-time reporting and monitoring capabilities, wherever they go.

The company says it will roll out eight products over the next year to support the plan.

"It's somewhat revolutionary," said CEO Ron Hovsepian during an interview with Network World. "[In the core trends around virtualization and the cloud] what's bogging down the CIO? Security."

While Novell is taking an aggressive approach, other management vendors such as HP and IBM are also in the mix. For its part, Novell during the first quarter of next year plans to release a tool simply called Workshop that customers can use to build their workloads on Linux and Windows. Offerings following that will include the SUSE Appliance Toolkit for deploying and maintaining Linux-based appliances in physical and virtual environments for update, access and configuration.

Analysts say Novell's initiative is likely to first win adoption among the company's existing customers that are virtualizing their servers and already using products such as Novell's Identity Manager. But Novell's approach should catch the eye of non-Novell customers, too, industry watchers say.

"Today, the workload is moving around. You might shift it to New York, for instance, if your main usage is there, and traditional firewalling and identity management aren't enough anymore," says James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester. "You want something very lightweight that sets policy and identity in the application."

Novell needs its Intelligent Workload Management effort to pay off in light of falling revenue and growing losses, even as the company's Linux-based products business is on the rise (the company last week posted a fourth fiscal quarter-over-quarter revenue dip of 12% and a loss of $256 million, which swelled in large part due to acquisition and other costs).

The foundation components for security in Novell's Intelligent Workload Management initiative include capabilities available in Identity Manager 4 for real-time provisioning, reporting and management as well as the already announced Cloud Security Service, also expected to debut in 2010.

Novell today offers management products under the brands PlateSpin Workload Management and Business Management, but the company will introduce new products that integrate and extend management capabilities to the cloud.

These will include PlateSpin "Atlantic," a self-service provisioning portal, PlateSpin "Bluestar" for physical server change and configuration management and monitoring, and ZENworks "Workbench," a master repository and change/control system for on-demand deployment of workloads.

Other Novell products, including Business Service Manager, Business Experience Manager, myCMDB, Sentinel and Sentinel Log Manager, will also be tailored for service-level reporting of workloads across physical, virtual and cloud environments. Another new product is expected to be Compliance Automation to integrating Sentinel security information and event-monitoring with Business Service Manager for monitoring events.

While there are a lot of unknowns about how exactly the effort will play out, Forrester's Staten says Novell is bringing a strong argument to the table about managing workloads in a virtualized environment. He notes this has been a weighty topic for other vendors, including HP with its Orchestrator, though it's not oriented toward heterogeneous virtualization.

Mary Johnston Turner, research director at IDC, says Novell is addressing a new set of requirements. "As we move into dynamic virtualization, you need to integrate and have a more policy-based approach," she says.

However, Turner notes that this approach presents challenges in that organizations have an installed base of management tools and are not set up to run the way that Novell envisions. There is also the practical matter of seeing how well Novell delivers on its promises, though she gives the vendor "credit for being early to the game."

Laura DiDio, principal analyst at Information Technology Intelligence Corp., points out there's a real need for a heterogeneous approach to container virtualization because companies often do use more than one type of server virtualization. In a recent survey of about 1,000 organizations, DiDio said almost 40% used multiple types of server virtualization. "They get VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, and a real surprise, Parallels for the Mac," she says.

DiDio says Novell's core identity and security technologies are widely regarded as "top-notch" and it makes complete sense to include them in the container approach outlined in the Intelligent Workload Management strategy. This will potentially enable Novell customers to "quickly and safely" go into public and private cloud computing "because it will minimize the risk" at deployment.

She also notes it will probably represent a huge opportunity for Novell to get its foot in the door to woo new customers.

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