Talking Heads in the Cloud


Four weeks have passed since the Salt Lake City leg of the BrainShare tour and I’m finally sitting down to reflect on our shared experiences with our SUSE Appliance Program ISV partners. One of our BrainShare firsts was hosting the SUSE Appliance Pavilion which featured nine of our ISV partners who demonstrated their SUSE-based software appliances. The Pavilion was also the base camp of our official Dister ( mascot who was seen walking the floor handing out goodies and stopping for photo ops.

We also had the opportunity to interview some of these partners. Roger Burkhardt, CEO of Ingres – a leading open source database provider – discussed his company’s latest partnership with Novell including a new joint offering- the SUSE Studio Appliance Template for Ingres Database which allows ISVs to build a complete virtual appliance that includes both the operating system and middleware database. Peter Jackson, CEO of GroundWork Open Source – a vendor who specializes in network monitoring – was also on hand to discuss how his efforts in selling virtual appliances into the market have fared. Both CEOs also joined a lively roundtable session led by The VAR Guy’s Joe Panettieri which featured John Dragoon, Novell’s CMO and Channel Chief, Al Gillen of IDC, and Chander Kant, CEO of Zmanda. Check out all of these interviews on YouTube in case you haven’t caught them (The VAR Guy Roundtable has 4 different segments).

Throughout these interviews, a recurring theme was the notion of virtual appliance deployment in the cloud. Most agree that the definition of the cloud means different things to different customers. Ingres’ Burkhardt suggests that the cloud is one of the “megatrends” that we’re still in the middle of figuring out. The virtual appliance technology is seen as a really good fit for the cloud as it allows customers to deploy their application on premise or in the cloud without doubling their investment. However, Burkhardt admits that ISVs have different strategies around the cloud and many are still working on their business models for future cloud offerings.

GroundWork’s Peter Jackson agreed that virtual appliances provide a natural progression and entry point to the cloud. He predicts that there will be sudden demand for the cloud within a year and that ISVs who build virtual appliances today will be ready to address this demand. The goal is to provide the ability for customers to move their appliance to the cloud without any reinvestment. Zmanda’s Chander Kant emphasized that open source technologies are best for cloud deployment because of their portability and absence of licensing issues – particularly if you want to move to an internal or private cloud.

So the main value proposition around virtual appliances seems to be that they can be deployed either on premise or in the cloud without additional investment. It was clear among participants of the round table that the notion of the cloud remains loosely defined which explains why appliance vendors and ISVs are still working out their strategies around it.

So how can vendors position themselves for the cloud when different customers each have their own definition of what it means? Will some of them focus on portability to private or internal clouds? Will others focus on security when deploying to a public cloud? Will open source vendors really be leading the way in this space and what themes will they lead with to win in this space? Cost savings? Portability? Security?

What are your thoughts on how vendors can position themselves for the cloud with virtual appliances?

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