Apparently, Novell is breaking with tradition in all the right ways. For years the software company has struggled to truly shine in the ISV (independent software vendor) market. But a new initiative -- dubbed the SUSE Appliance Program -- could help ISVs and resellers to more rapidly deploy SUSE Linux applications on premise or virtualized in the cloud. Here's the scoop.

To be sure, SUSE Linux enjoys a critical mass of application support. But in some ways Novell depended too heavily on ISV endorsements from old-reliables like SAP and IBM. Plus, Novell sometimes failed to connect the dots between ISVs and its channel partners. Meanwhile, Red Hat has built rock-solid relationships with Alfresco, MySQL, SugarCRM and other leading open source application providers.

The big question: How could Novell make a unique name for itself in the ISV market? The answer potentially surfaced when Novell today launched the SUSE Appliance Program. The VAR Guy must confess: Assuming the program works as advertised, our resident blogger is impressed.

According to a Novell press release issued today (July 28, 2009):
"Built on top of the SUSE Linux Enterprise platform, the SUSE Appliance Program will transform the way ISVs package and distribute their software offerings, enabling them to quickly deliver existing applications to physical, virtual and cloud computing environments, reduce sales cycles and pursue new market opportunities."
Translation: The SUSE Appliance Program is Novell's on-premise, virtual, cloud and ISV strategy -- all rolled into one. The idea is to help existing SUSE Linux ISVs to rewrite their applications for next-generation settings, within a corporate network or in the cloud. Along the way, Novell also hopes to attract a new generation of ISVs to SUSE Linux.

New Names, Please

To Novell's credit, today's announcement pushes beyond feel-good quotes from SAP and IBM, both of whom are long-time Novell backers. Eager ISVs include Adaris Technologies, Adobe, BitRock, Codice Software, Four J's Development Tools, Hewlett-Packard, Infobright, Ingres, Messaging Architects, Packet General, Quest Software, Sonoa Systems, VMware and Zmanda.

At the same time, Novell has partnered with Tech Data, the massive IT distributor, to help resellers embrace the SUSE Appliance Program and related third-party applications. In recent months, Tech Data has quietly been developing an open source channel partner strategy. Tech Data's sense of urgency escalated, The VAR Guy hears, once Red Hat and Synnex (a Tech Data rival) launched the Open Source Channel Alliance in May 2009.

Shifting to Software Appliances

Back to the story at hand. The Novell SUSE Appliance Program isn't about selling more hardware boxes. Rather, it's all about software appliances -- tightly written, purpose-built applications that run on specific SUSE Linux configurations.

In theory, the SUSE Appliance Program will allow resellers and end-customers to more quickly deploy SUSE Linux applications on-premise or in the cloud, on virtual or physical servers.

Novell Chief Marketing Officer John Dragoon (who also serves as Novell's channel chief) says the company will work to ensure the SUSE Appliance Program (and related applications) support third-party clouds. Point blank,  Dragoon says Novell has no plans to launch its own cloud, nor does the company plan to launch an App Store filled with SUSE Appliance Program ISVs.

For the first time in a long time, The VAR Guy understands how Novell is striving to recruit and empower ISVs and channel partners.

Battle Lines Are Drawn

Still, plenty of competition looms as Red Hat continues to push its ISV relationships deeper into the IT channel, and Canonical strives to build its fledgling Ubuntu Linux partner program.

Watch for Red Hat, Synnex and potentially the Open Source Channel Alliance to make an appearance at CompTIA Breakaway (Aug. 3-6, Las Vegas), a major conference for resellers and VARs. Then, Red Hat will play an encore at its own Red Hat Summit, scheduled for Sept. 1-4 in Chicago.

For today, however, all eyes are on Novell's SUSE Appliance Program.

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