App support could be the party pooper that spoils the virtualization bash

Virtual server users face a lack of formal support commitments by application developers

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Voce contended that virtualization vendors, especially the less popular ones, may have to step up and perhaps even shoulder the application support burden themselves to remain competitive.

But Sun Microsystems Inc., which like Oracle recently introduced its own hypervisor technology, said that under its bilateral support agreements with Microsoft and Linux vendor Red Hat Inc., the latter two companies should provide the same level of support to users running applications that are qualified for their operating systems whether the servers are virtual or full-fledged physical machines.

A virtual server provides "the same semantics as real hardware to software running above it," said Vijay Sarathy, senior director of marketing for Sun's xVM virtualization technology. "Users today don't ask their application vendors if they're qualified on IBM, HP, Dell, Toshiba or Sony [hardware]. They ask the application vendor which version of the OS they support, and then buy hardware that is certified [as being] compatible with that OS."

In response, though, Microsoft said that just because an application may be certified as working with an operating system, it isn't up to the operating system vendor to support the app.

"Consistent with the rest of the software industry, Microsoft doesn't provide technical support for third-party applications even when those applications have been certified in traditional logo programs," the company said in its e-mailed statement.

What are you worried about?

Some virtualization vendors said that the application support issue is being overblown. Among them is Parallels Inc., a Herndon, Va.-based company that until last week was known as SWsoft Inc. Parallels sells Virtuozzo, which IDC counts as the third most popular x86 virtualization platform behind VMware's and Microsoft's technologies.

Parallels has a back-line support agreement with Microsoft that if a customer has a problem with a Microsoft application running under Virtuozzo, the software giant is "contractually obligated to help us support them," said Parallels CEO Serguei Beloussov. "Sure, support is a bit of a gray area, but every vendor provides their best effort of support."

Similarly, VMware said that despite Oracle's seeming proclamations to the contrary, customers running Oracle apps on ESX Server will still have a support safety net to rely on.

Next June, Microsoft plans to start a testing program that is designed to enable users running validated virtualization platforms from other vendors on Windows servers to get technical support on a cooperative basis from either Microsoft or the virtualization provider.

For its part, VMware is making "special investments" with software vendors to encourage certification, according to Patel. For instance, it opened a small support office at SAP's headquarters in Germany to help the business applications vendor with certification and support issues.

Companies like SAP "are giving us the solid green light" on application support, Patel said. "Companies like Oracle are giving us more of a yellow light. As the months progress, I think Oracle will become more of a minority."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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