Inconsistent application support policies remain an impediment to adopting virtualization.
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Software vendors vary widely on their support policies for virtualization; some only support virtualization users if they can re-create their problems in a physical environment -- an almost archaic requirement that frustrates users and prevents them from virtualizing certain applications.
Michael Stoos, the CTO of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), began virtualizing systems five years ago to reduce operations costs but ran into roadblocks when it came to software support, he told attendees at VMware's Virtualization Forum 2009 in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
At that time, most application providers refused to support their products in virtual environments, and though many more vendors support virtualization today, the issue persists, he said.
"This has been a running theme for us since we started virtualizing," Stoos noted. "In fact, we deployed an application just six months ago, and the provider said they support virtualization, but if there is a problem with the app in a virtual environment, they don't support us. How is that supporting virtualization?"Flimsy virtualization support: Squeaky wheel gets the grease
Users responded to a question about support on the IT community Ars OpenForum with complaints about flimsy support policies as well. One said he doesn't bother virtualizing his enterprise content management (ECM) platform because the ECM vendor doesn't have a solid support policy.
"Our ECM vendor has the same policy Microsoft used to have, which is they will support you until they decide they don't want to anymore. Then they will make you reproduce the problem on hardware," he said. "It's really too much of a risk from our perspective. I figure by the next hardware refresh for that app in three years, they will have come around."
But assuming software vendors "will come around" isn't enough, wrote one self-employed computer consultant and systems integrator. Instead, playing hardball with software vendors is the best way to effect change, he said.
"If you're running one of the mainstream virtualization tools and you have a software vendor that chooses not to support it, you need to inform them that you intend to virtualize all your servers and that you'll only be running tools that are supported under virtualization," he said. "If they want to continue to be part of your environment, they'll provide the required support." "Customers need to exercise the single strongest argument they have -- their checkbook -- to get the support they need. If you're willing to continue accepting the outdated support philosophy described above, your current vendors will be glad to continue taking your money."
But when it comes right down to it, some users take the risk and virtualize their applications with our without software vendor support.
"People have been running Oracle in VMs forever anyway, and if there is a problem, they just tell support it is running on hardware, or they use a [virtual to physical] migration tool to send the app back to the physical server," said Rick Keefer, a senior solutions architect at Total Computer Solutions Inc. who also consults with virtualization users.Support variations trickle down throughout industries
When it comes to virtualization licensing and support, one of the major offenders is Oracle Corp., which has refused to support running certain applications, such as PeopleSoft, in virtual environments, unless these applications run the Oracle VM hypervisor.
Oracle softened a bit recently and released a support update saying it will offer "best effort" support for E-Business Suite 11i and R12 on third-party virtualization platforms, but it will not explicitly certify them. As for Oracle applications that aren't supported in virtual environments, users have to demonstrate their problems on physical servers, a practice VMware engineers say is unnecessary.
Microsoft's support policy for running its software on non-Microsoft platforms also requires that users re-create problems on hardware sometimes, but the company offers support for virtualized platforms that have been validated through its Server Virtualization Validation Program, including VMware ESX.
It appears policy changes start at the top and trickle down when it comes to virtualization support; there are lots of small and medium sized software companies that follow policies of the big vendors like Oracle and Microsoft, either because those vendors are industry leaders or because their applications are tied to Microsoft and Oracle products.
The software company the Cbord Group Inc., for example, depends on various third-party software packages from Oracle, Sybase Inc., Microsoft, and Micros Systems Inc., and each of those companies has its own virtualization support policy. For that reason, Cbord will not recommend virtualization in any case where its vendor does not support virtualization, according to the company website.
But virtualization industry influencers like Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf puts pressure on big companies such as Oracle and Microsoft to broaden their virtualization support policies, and some progress has been made.
Wolf frequently presents on licensing and support issues at virtualization conferences such as VMworld and typically urges users to pressure their vendors for better support policies.
"Pressure from customers has led to the positive licensing changes" seen so far, Wolf said.
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