App Support Limitations Could Impede Virtualization

A lack of support commitments on the part of application vendors may stall the spread of virtual servers

Server virtualization feels unstoppable these days, with market research firm IDC predicting that worldwide sales of virtualization software will grow at an average annual rate of 27% through 2011.

But several factors could stall the technologys advance, according to analysts. For instance, software licensing terms often are too restrictive or expensive for users that want to run databases and applications on virtualized servers. In addition, finding IT workers who have virtualization experience can be a challenge.

Another possible roadblock that has started to loom larger is the dearth of formal support for virtualization by application vendors. That can result in a lot of finger-pointing if the virtualization, operating system and application vendor arent willing to step up and fix problems, said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Christopher Voce.

Joel Sweatte, director of IT at East Carolina Universitys College of Technology and Computer Science in Greenville, N.C., said that almost all of the specialized research and education applications he manages arent overtly supported in virtualized environments. For instance, Sweatte recently asked the vendor of an engineering analysis application about its support for VMware Inc.s virtualization software. The company told him that it didnt have a virtualization support policy and that he should call back if the application didnt work. Thats sort of emblematic of my experience, he said.

Sweatte added that he thinks vendors will need to be more prepared for the support question in the future. Our goal is to put everything in virtual environments, he said.

Market leader VMware claims that more than 100 software companies support their applications on its virtualization platform. But Parag Patel, VMwares vice president of alliances, acknowledged that many independent software vendors are lagging in support. The problem is that ISVs didnt expect virtualization to take off the way it has in the past two years, Patel said.

In addition, vendors like Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. want to steer users of their applications and databases toward their own virtualization tools.

Microsoft doesnt formally support products such as Office and SQL Server on virtualization systems other than its own. In a policy posted on its Web site, Micro­soft says it will use commercially reasonable efforts to investigate problems reported by customers that have Premier-level support contracts but use rival virtualization packages.

It also has signed joint support deals with some virtualization vendors. But the company says that in both cases, it may require technical issues to be reproduced independently of the virtualization software before it will fully support users.

Oracle, which launched a virtualization platform in November, has the same kind of support policy for its databases and applications. In the case of VMwares ESX Server, Oracle said it will only provide support for issues that either are known to occur on the native OS without virtualization, or can be demonstrated not to be [occurring] as a result of running VMware.

To encourage the certification of applications, VMware is making special investments with some software partners, Patel said. For instance, it set up a team at SAP AGs headquarters in Germany to help the business applications vendor certify its products. But VMware and other virtualization vendors think the application support issue is being overblown.

Software suppliers such as SAP are giving us the solid green light, 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 © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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