Technically, SLE 11 SP1 is based on openSUSE 11.2, the Novell community Linux distribution, which was released in November, and the 2.6.32 Linux kernel. OpenSUSE 11.2 is an outstanding distribution in its own right, and its commercially supported big brother is a worthy successor for business users.
From a corporate viewpoint, I see several important advantages. First, the new SLES is going to continue to support several kinds of virtualization.
While Red Hat has turned its back on Xen, Novell is continuing to support the Xen 4.0 hypervisor. In addition, SLE also includes support for KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine), Linux's built-in open-source virtualization hypervisor.
However, unlike any other Linux, it supports integration with Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor. SLE also includes SUSE Linux Enterprise Virtual Machine Driver Pack, a set of drivers which improves the performance of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual guests. The last, according to Novell's senior product marketing manager for SUSE Linux Enterprise, Kerry Kim, is the fruit of Novell continuing to work closely with Microsoft.
On the desktop side, Kim added that SLED's Evolution e-mail client now has improved Microsoft Exchange integration with MAPI (Messaging Application Program Interface) support. Kim also claimed that the Novell edition of OpenOffice also includes better support for Microsoft Office's formats.
While this Microsoft partnership may vex some Linux users, Markus Rex, senior vice president and general manager of Open Platform Solutions at Novell, explained in a statement that "Our customers have told us what they want, and we've listened." And, like it or lump it, Novell's customers want integration with Microsoft's software stack.
Novell has also made some interesting improvements to its clustering support. For example, it now includes simple node recovery with ReaR (Relax and Recover), an open-source disaster recovery framework, and new administrative tools including a cluster simulator and web-based GUI.
Moving away from the merely technical, another new and interesting feature for businesses is Novell's Long Term Service Pack Support. This will allow customers to stick with reliable programs while still allowing them to deploy new service packs. As Kim explained, "By adding maintenance repositories with more flexible support, customers can stay on older package releases during the product's life-cycle. This is great for customers who want to stay with the solution stack they know works, while updating the rest of their system."
Novell, along with such partners as IBM and Symantec are also working on Partner Driver Accelerator tools. These specifications, processes and program support programs are designed to make it easier for ISVs (independent software vendors) and hardware vendors to easily and cost effectively bring their technologies to SUSE Linux Enterprise. According to Novell, "Novell's partners already provide more than 5,000 certified applications today for SUSE Linux Enterprise, twice that of the next closest enterprise Linux distribution provider."
Taken all-in-all, what we have here in SLE 11 SP1 is not just another technology release, but a re-focusing by Novell on both its partners and corporate customers. Novell is determined to win business customers not only with its technologies, but with support for older applications and programs from its corporate development partners. This may not win it any more friends in the Linux community, but it may do the company quite well in the broader world of businesses that already have existing relationships with IBM and Microsoft.