Building Windows and Linux Systems with rPath

The vendor that pioneered the Linux software appliance market 5 yearrs ago is now at long last adding Windows to its roster. How do you build a Windows appliance/software stack anyways?

Back in 2006, Raleigh, North Carolina-based rPath helped to pioneer a new market for Linux based software appliances with the rBuilder service. Now rPath is moving beyond its Linux roots into the Windows world.

With rBuilder 5.8, rPath is delivering a service that will enable enterprises to build customized Windows application stacks that can then be deployed to local or cloud instances. Part of the goal in developing a Windows application stack image is to help enable enterprise IT automation. In 2009, rPath began a push toward datacenter automation with tools to enable administrators to map and replicate their IT operations.

"With Windows as on Linux, we can construct whole-stack images or deploy apps to existing servers," Jake Sorofman, chief marketing officer at rPath told "You can deploy the whole-stack Windows images we generate to bare metal, new VMs, or new cloud VMs."

Building Windows images has multiple differences over building Linux stacks, not the least of which is the fact that Windows is not free and as such has different licensing requirements. Sorofman explained that unlike rPath's approach to Linux, with Windows they do not assemble the operating system image from raw components including a kernel and libraries.

"We use a base Windows OS image provided as a WIM (Windows Imaging Format) image by the customer as a starting point, then add applications per the system version control manifest to produce an output image on demand," Sorofman said. "That's how OS licensing is handled—typically customers will provide a volume-licensed base WIM image as input."

The other key difference between building a Windows stack and a Linux stack has to do with application packaging.

"It's more challenging because Windows does not have an RPM-style universal packaging format with dependency metadata," Sorofman said. "Many Windows apps are provided as a .EXE installer or just an archive of files to deploy. Also, the OS itself is not transparently manageable as with Linux, which is why our first Windows release delivers app management but not OS patching."

With rBuilder 5.8, rPath is providing specific support for .NET applications with the ability to deploy ASP.NET applications to a Windows IIS server without special additional work. That said, Sorofman said that rBuilder 5.8 can deploy any Windows app that supports silent install including open-source stacks like Java and PHP as well as third party ISV apps.

The other key difference between rBuilder for Windows and Linux is cost.

"rBuilder Online will upgrade to 5.8 and will continue to support the open-source Linux community for free," Sorofman said. "Windows management requires a commercial on-site installation of rBuilder."

Moving forward, rPath is currently working on version 6 of rBuilder with a target release of the first quarter of 2011. Among the new features that could end up in the next rPath release is a configuration management framework as well as new drag-and-drop GUI features.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: Linux, Windows, appliances, application management, rPath

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