OPENWORLD - Oracle restricts app support to its virtualization platform

VMware, Red Hat and such need not apply, but customers shrugging

Buried under the surface of Oracle's Monday announcement that it plans to get into the virtualization market is the fact that the company won't support its database and many other applications if they are running on virtualization software from VMware, Microsoft or even Red Hat.

That effectively limits enterprise users who want to run their Oracle applications more efficiently through virtualization to just one platform: Oracle's new VM.

Oracle VM is based on the Xen hypervisor and its Unbreakable Linux, itself a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). It costs US$999 a year per system.

"We have no current plans to support our apps" on other virtualization platforms," said Ed Screven, Oracle's chief corporate development architect. Instead, Oracle has "priced Oracle VM very aggressively so that customers can afford it."

By contrast, Red Hat's Xen-based virtualization, which became available with the release of RHEL5 in March, comes free.

"Oracle is trying to monetize a separate product," said Brian Stevens, Red Hat CTO. "We just want to make virtualization ubiquitous."

About 18,000 servers are being virtualized via RHEL5 so far, Stevens said, who said that Red Hat will support RHEL-certified applications on VMware.

"We will support IT choice, even while we try to compete with and out-innovate VMware," Stevens said. Oracle is not recognizing VMware at all... this is the company you trust to have your best interests?"

VMware offered its own response in a detailed blog post entitled "Ten reasons why Oracle Databases run best on VMware" in which it claims that its VMware ESX Server can deliver "near-native performance."

Competition or customer service?

Screven asserts, however, that Oracle is choosing to support only its own virtualization platform for customer service reasons, rather than for some competitive edge.

"The very hardest bugs for us to address are those that span the operating system and the virtualization layer," Screven said. "To provide the best performance and quality-of-service, we didn't think we could support all of the third party virtualization solutions. So we decided instead to provide Oracle VM."

Supporting RHEL's virtualization, despite its shared Xen roots, is not easy, Screven said.

"Even if they are using the exact same hypervisor as us, there is still the Dom O and management console," Screven said.

Other verboten virtualization platforms include Containers, a feature of the Solaris 10 OS from Sun Microsystems Inc., which announced several partnerships with Oracle at this OpenWorld.

"Just because they are a partner doesn't mean we will certify our products on every single combination of their platforms," he said.

Brad Maue, CIO with legal procurement firm Stuart Maue Co., felt that Oracle had "the best of intentions."

"When you build your own hypervisor, you know how to design it efficiently," he said. Stuart Maue has been testing Microsoft's Virtual Server 2008. Despite that, "we don't feel our choices are being limited," he said.

The Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Co. runs Oracle database and middleware on top of Suse Linux from Novell. The retailer has done very little virtualization so far. But if the company moves to Unbreakable Linux -- which it is testing now, according to CTO Michael Prince -- it would also likely adopt Oracle VM for its Oracle applications, rather than a competing virtualization solution.

The lack of support "would be a detriment to us running VMware," Price said.

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Eric Lai

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