Oracle must improve VM licencing to thrill IT shops, analyst says

While Oracle Corp. came under fire last month from pundits that claim it left Virtual Iron customers out to dry, the company continues down its virtualization roadmap with the launch of a virtual software appliance builder. But while the move looks good on paper, at least one analyst says that enterprises should expect added licence fees.

Using Oracle Enterprise Linux JeOS-based scripts (“Just enough Operating System”), the Oracle VM Template Builder tool aims to speed up virtual software deployment times by allowing developers the ability to embed applications inside an Oracle VM image.

“Oracle VM templates are kind of like software appliances,” said Monica Kumar, Oracle’s senior director of open source product marketing. “They are pre-installed, pre-configured virtual machine images of specific software that can be copied onto a server without having to install the software from scratch. It makes software deployment much faster than the traditional installation and configuration process.”

While the template builder will bring direct benefits to software vendors and extend the reach of their products, Kumar added, Oracle also plans to roll out its own VM templates.

For IT shops without the ability or desire to create their own VM templates, customers will be able to download and customize a variety of Oracle product templates that work inside of their Oracle VM environment. The company announced the availability of a Siebel CRM template, which Kumar said would allow the product to be quickly and easily deployed in a virtual environment.

Other templates now available include Oracle Database, Oracle Enterprise Manager, and Oracle Fusion Middleware.

Chris Wolf, a senior analyst who covers virtualization for the Burton Group Inc., said that announcement highlights a great way to ease the testing of Oracle applications. But while the availability of pre-packaged VM appliances is common among many vendors, he warned that Oracle still has some licensing issues that will set it back against the competition.

“Oracle defines x86 virtualized platforms as ‘soft partitioning’ and requires applications running on x86 virtualization to be licensed against physical CPUs,” he said. “There are two exceptions to this policy: Amazon EC2 and Oracle VM. Still, the policy often requires organizations to pay increased licensing fees in many instances because they are licensing against all the physical processors in a given hypervisor cluster, even if VMs may use a quarter of them at any given time.”

“Basically, this means that you’d have to pay a higher licensing fee to run an Oracle application in an x86 VM.”

Wolf added that he’s talked to a number of clients that are in the process of moving Oracle apps to IBM z/VM Linux, since the mainframe gives them the sufficient availability and they can avoid added licensing fees.

The bottom line, he said, is that while Oracle is doing a good job of simplifying the way applications are distributed, most enterprises will not be able to reap the benefits until the company’s licensing model is updated to recognize virtual processors on x86 virtualization platforms.

Andi Mann, vice-president of research for Enterprise Management Associates Inc., questioned the interest in the template builder itself, calling it a “lackluster release” that is only relevant to a small segment of enterprises.

“It fills a very small need for the 10 per cent or less of the market that is using Oracle VM,” he said. “But it does so only for the subset that is also using Oracle Linux — a number so small that it is inconsequential in the market, as less than three per cent of Oracle’s own customers use Oracle Linux.”

Even for this small market, Mann added, the template builder doesn’t do much that a competent VM admin with Linux skills can’t already do.

He added that the tool does not appear to address advanced management features like image archiving, integration with provisioning systems, image and snapshot management, image version control, deployed image tracking and harvesting, among other areas.

“As a result, this hardly comes close to VMware, Citrix, or Microsoft, which all have far superior image creation and management capabilities,” Mann said. “It is probably most useful for Oracle system integrators to sell add-on packages and customizations for Oracle applications as virtual appliances, but even for them, there are much better options, like the newly released Novell SUSE Studio, or rPath rBuilder.”

Brett Waldman, a research analyst covering system software for IDC Corp., argued that the template builder could be attractive for some enterprises who typically shy away from software appliances.

“Enterprise IT organizations are like car mechanics. They typically like to get their hands deep into every piece of software,” Waldman said. “By allowing enterprises to build their own ‘templates’ or ‘appliances,’ enterprises can gain the value-add of this form factor, while maintaining total control of what is inside of it.”

Oracle VM Template Builder and the company’s pre-built templates can be downloaded free, but users must have a licence to use some of the products, such as Siebel CRM.

The company also published a list of validated configurations to give companies more details on how to deploy Oracle VM server virtualization software.

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