Update: OpenWorld: Oracle restricting app support to its own virtualization platform

But is Oracle narrowing its support or not?

SAN FRANCISCO -- Buried under the surface of Oracle Corp.'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 Inc., Microsoft Corp. or even Red Hat Inc.

That effectively limits enterprise users who want to run their Oracle applications more efficiently through virtualization to just Oracle's new virtual machine (VM).

Oracle VM is based on the Xen open-source hypervisor and Oracle's Unbreakable Linux software, which itself is a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). The virtualization software, which was announced at Oracle's OpenWorld 2007 conference here, costs $999 annually 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, he said, Oracle has "priced Oracle VM very aggressively so that customers can afford it."

By contrast, Red Hat's Xen-based virtualization software, 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's chief technology officer. "We just want to make virtualization ubiquitous."

About 18,000 servers are being virtualized via RHEL5 so far, said Stevens said, who added 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, however, argues that nothing has changed. Oracle has supported most of its applications (including its database) running on top of VMware since 2006, according to VMware vice-president of global partners and solutions, Brian Byun, in an interview Thursday.

As of Thursday, that hadn't officially changed, he said, pointing to Metalink Note 249212.1 at Oracle's support Web site (registration required), which he said is Oracle's official statement around support of VMware.

Byun also pointed to statements by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison during a conference call with Wall Street analysts on Wednesday (see 15:01 in Oracle Webcast), where in response to a question from a Bear, Stearns analyst over whether Oracle customers would get support on VMware, Ellison replied, "Essentially, yes."

"There's been some aggressive marketing spin and black-and-white statements made by Oracle," Byun said.

VMware also 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 asserted, however, that Oracle is choosing to support only its own virtualization platform for customer-service reasons rather than to gain 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 technology, despite its shared Xen roots, isn't 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 operating system from Sun Microsystems Inc., which announced several partnerships with Oracle at the OpenWorld conference.

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

Brad Maue, CIO of legal procurement firm Stuart Maue Co., said he 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.

Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. runs Oracle database software and middleware on top of SUSE Linux from Novell Inc. 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," Prince said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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