VI users shouldn

Oracle Corp. tried to ease the concerns of discontented Virtual Iron customers on Tuesday with a company Webcast, laying out the advantages and future direction of its jointly integrated Oracle VM software suite. But with Oracle VM migration expected to be difficult and full VI functionality not ready anytime soon, industry experts are advising VI users to start looking elsewhere.

Almost immediately after purchasing the server virtualization vendor in May, CEO Larry Ellison and company decided to kill off the VI portfolio. The company made the announcement via a letter to VI sales partners, indicating that it was suspending development work and delivery of the product to new customers.

The quick decision to end-of-life VI was met with enough backlash by jilted customers that Oracle actually took the time to clarify its position.

“We didn’t say we would stop supporting customers, we just said we wouldn’t sell the product anymore,” said Wim Coekaerts, vice-president of Linux and virtualization engineering at Oracle, adding that Virtual Iron users will receive support for as long as they wish to run the software.

In addition to that promise, Oracle also laid out its roadmap for the Oracle VM platform. The company will partially integrate some of VI’s dynamic capacity and power management capabilities into Oracle VM 2.2, with plans for full integration in Oracle VM 3.0.

While both products are expected to become available before the end of Oracle’s fiscal 2010, the company didn’t offer any solace for customers in the meantime. In response to numerous questions about future migration from VI customers on the Webcast, Oracle offered little advice other than asking users to call Oracle’s sales department and consider deploying Oracle VM side-by-side with current VI software.

“If full integration doesn’t happen until Oracle VM 3.0, then VI customers using those features will be left hanging,” said Andi Mann, vice-president of research for Enterprise Management Associates Inc. “Meanwhile, Oracle support for those customers is not going to be forward-looking, pay no attention to development requests, and at best, keep a holding pattern. And with a reportedly high attrition rate from VI, I suspect even that level of support will be poor.”

To add more insult to injury for some VI customers, Oracle admitted that migration to Oracle VM is “not going to be seamless” and will require more than “just a software upgrade.” But with other virtualization vendors — some offering big discounts to snatch away VI customers — waiting in the wings, Coekaerts did assure VI users that Oracle will develop migration tools to ease the process.

Gary Chen, research manager of enterprise virtualization software at IDC Corp., said that while Oracle’s decision to consolidate the virtualization platforms is a practical one given VI’s modest install base, the company will need to deliver strong migration tools and services to avoid further alienating VI’s base.

“The really crucial part for Oracle is executing on migration tools and support,” he said. “They have said they will do so, and the excellence of these tools and support will show how serious Oracle is about these VI customers.”

Chen added that VI customers should “wait and see” how the migration tools and support shake out. “If they are good, migrating to Oracle VM could be the most economical solution. If they aren’t done well, I think they will take a closer look at other vendors.”

For Richard Jones, vice-president and service director for data centre strategies at Burton Group, while Oracle’s integration roadmap looks good, the biggest mistake with the acquisition was the amount of time the company has waited before speaking with VI’s customer base.

“They should have had this talk back in May right when the acquisition was announced,” he said. “They knew the roadmap back then because they shared it with us analysts under NDA (non-disclosure agreement).”

Jones added that Oracle should also have reconsidered its decision to kill off VI’s distribution channel. “This is one of Oracle’s weakest points — they don’t understand the SMB market, only the enterprise market. I don’t know if they can get that one fixed up.”

Mann said that while Oracle has certainly acted well for its own customers with the integration of solid VI capacity and power management functionality, the acquisition has been a “horrible” ordeal for VI customers.

“And I can’t see it getting better,” he said, adding that when Oracle’s PR and marketing machine describes VI-to-Oracle VM migration as challenging, it might actually be more like a complete nightmare in practice.

“So if migration is not going to be much easier than rip-and-replace, full VI functionality is not going to be in Oracle VM any time soon, and support is going to be weak, then VI customers need to consider all their options,” Mann said.

Migrating to VMware Inc.’s ESX or Microsoft Corp.’s Hyper-V would not save any headaches and would also require a completely new skill set, he said. “Logically, then, all Xen-based systems need to be high on their radar.”

“At this point everyone should steer away from (Sun’s) xVM, at least until its future is clear,” he said. “Red Hat is not supporting Xen in the long run, and Novell SUSE Xen does not have the maturity of management that VI had.”

For Mann, Citrix Systems Inc.’s XenServer could be the clear choice for VI customers looking to migrate.

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