VMWare’s stranglehold might keep Oracle virtual machine in check

VMware Inc.’s stranglehold on the virtual server business will likely limit Oracle Corp.’s new virtual machine technology to its current customer base. That was the conclusion of some attendees at the Oracle OpenWorld user conference here, where Oracle VM was unveiled earlier this month.

“The idea [that] people will gravitate to Oracle VM for virtualization for non-Oracle applications [is interesting, but] I don’t think they will,” said Galen Shreck, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Shreck predicted that non-Oracle sites will continue to turn to established virtualization technology from companies such as VMware, Microsoft Corp. or Citrix Systems Inc.

Oracle, he said, lacks the systems management capabilities and independent software vendor partner relationships needed to create a virtualization platform for the masses. “I don’t think Oracle can keep up” with the virtualization capabilities of market leader VMware, or even Microsoft and Citrix, Shreck added.

Oracle’s decision not to support its own software running on the virtualization servers of other vendors may give it an advantage in its installed base, users noted.

That decision already has officials at Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Co. looking to use Oracle VM when the retailer begins work on virtualizing its Oracle database and middleware, said Chief Technology Officer Michael Prince. Considering the Burlington, N.J.-based company’s significant Oracle investment, any loss of support “would be a detriment to us running VMware,” Prince said.

He noted that Burlington Coat Factory is also evaluating whether to replace its SUSE Linux software with Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux implementation, which would give the company another reason to use Oracle VM.

Oracle VM is built on Xen hypervisor open-source code and is designed to support and centrally manage Oracle and non-Oracle applications within virtualized environments, company President Charles Phillips said at the conference.

Oracle said that several partners, including Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Intel Corp., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Network Appliance Inc., have agreed to ensure that their products are certified to run on Oracle VM.

Jeff Valine, director of IT applications and project management at Glendale, Calif.-based International House of Pancakes Inc. (IHOP), a user of Oracle products since 2004, plans to evaluate Oracle VM.

The company uses virtualization software from VMware but would replace it with Oracle VM if the technology works better with its Oracle applications and database software, he said.

“Oracle VM is very interesting to us,” he said. “Although we are quite happy with VMware, we still need to do the right thing for our business.”

IHOP’s willingness to evaluate Oracle VM corresponds to the restaurant chain’s strategy of cutting IT costs by reducing its number of suppliers, Valine said. “We don’t believe best of breed is the way to go anymore,” he contended.

IHOP runs Oracle’s Unbreakable Linux operating system, along with the software vendor’s E-Business Suite and Property Manager applications and database management system.

Meanwhile, he noted that Applebee’s International Inc., which IHOP is in the process of acquiring, runs Oracle’s PeopleSoft applications. “That makes our Oracle footprint even bigger,” he said.

On the other hand, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, has no plans to evaluate Oracle VM, even though it runs the vendor’s database software on virtualized Windows and Linux systems.

“We’re already established with VMware,” said systems administrator Tim Antonowicz. “We may look at [Oracle VM], but I don’t consider us moving in that direction. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s only so many resources we can contend with as far as different operating systems and virtualization platforms.”

Antonowicz suggested that smaller organizations evaluating virtualization technology may benefit from Oracle VM. However, the technology will be hard-pressed to compete with what he called “the established” virtualized architectures, like those of VMware, Microsoft and others.

Bowdoin College’s IT operation runs about 150 servers, including 100 that are virtualized with 11 VMware ESX servers, Antonowicz said. The school has been using the VMware software since 2004.

Ed Screven, Oracle’s chief corporate development architect, asserted at the conference that Oracle chose not to support third-party virtualization servers to ensure that its support operations remain strong.

“The very hardest bugs for us to address are those that span the operating system and the virtualization layer,” he said. “To provide the best performance and quality of service, we didn’t think we could support all of the third-party virtualization solutions.”

But during the same OpenWorld conference, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison told financial analysts that Oracle would “essentially” continue to support customers running VMware.

That’s why Karl Ehr, IT operations manager for Golden Gate University in San Francisco, isn’t worried.

This “is nothing more than a ‘good cop, bad cop’ ploy,” he said. The school plans to move some of its Oracle applications to VMware within half a year. Oracle pulling support, he said, “is not going to happen.”

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