Is Oracle VM 3.0 finally ready for prime time?

New scalability and management features in Oracle VM 3.0 make it a more serious contender, experts say, but the jury’s still out on whether users will consider OVM as a primary hypervisor.

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Oracle users aren’t sold yet on using Oracle VM as their primary hypervisor for server virtualization, despite the announcement Tuesday of significant updates in version 3.0.

Oracle VM (OVM) 3.0 will support up to 128 virtual CPUs, four times as many as VMware’s vSphere 5, and 1 TB of memory, matching vSphere 5. Oracle is also competing on cost: The open source Xen-based OVM is a free download with a subscription-based support cost based on the number of servers, rather than features or resources consumed. Oracle also includes virtualization support with its hardware support contracts.

With version 3.0, Oracle overhauled the VM Manager management interface, in part based on intellectual property from the company’s Virtual Iron acquisition in 2009. VM Manager now allows admins to trigger virtual machine (VMs) live migrations to boost high availability (HA), based on policy around available CPU resources, networking resources or both. This release will also allow for dynamic power management of servers and centralized networking management. Users will be able to set up bridging, bonding and virtual LANs from the browser-based management server.

Finally, Oracle is announcing Storage Connect, a program that will help storage partners create plug-ins for VM Manager to manage storage array features such as cloning and snapshots. Initial partners for Storage Connect are NetApp, Hitachi Data Systems, Fujitsu, and Oracle itself, with its Pillar Data Systems and Sun Microsystems hardware.

Users cast wary eye on OVM
From a market share perspective, Oracle VM has a long way to go. Its market share numbers are so small they’re not officially tracked by IDC. According to the ongoing TechTarget Virtualization Decisions survey of 346 respondents, just one identified Oracle VM as its primary virtualization platform. Meanwhile, open source Xen, on which OVM is based, has also fallen out of favor in the Linux community in favor of KVM.

Indeed, when it comes to server virtualization, Oracle has made more headlines recently by irking IT pros with its support policies around third-party hypervisors, than by improving OVM’s feature set.

These policies have some users avoiding virtualization of Oracle databases entirely.

“No one enjoys being beaten in the head and told to use a product or find yourself without support,” said Wayne Gateman, an area coordinator of virtualization at a Fortune 15 company in the medical distribution and software field. Even if Gateman’s company does virtualize Oracle, “we have VMware and do not want to end up supporting multiple [pieces of] virtualization software.”

Some Oracle shops will give OVM a second look, but say it still has catching up to do if they’re going to use it as their primary hypervisor.

Chris Rima, supervisor of infrastructure systems for a utility in the Southwest, said his company, which currently virtualizes Oracle Apps using Solaris Zones, will probably do a proof of concept on OVM 3.0 in the next year.

“Virtualization is so important to our business and we currently don’t have HA or live migration for Solaris instances on Zones or ZFS, so there is a desire to prove out these beneficial technologies in the SPARC environment,” he said.

Outside the legacy UNIX environment, however, Rima’s shop runs VMware vSphere, and thus can make a direct product comparison.

“VSphere management is much more feature-rich and is 10 years ahead of Oracle,” Rima said. “This is critical, since one of our primary business drivers is containing labor needed to manage our virtualization infrastructure.”

Experts see new opportunities for OVM
Despite the hurdles it faces, some industry experts say the new version will open up opportunities for Oracle in the server virtualization market.

With an improved product, Oracle’s support policies could work in its favor with some customers, said Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst with Ideas International, Inc.

“I’m not saying they’re just going to roll into this,” he said. But “for the ‘belt and suspender’ types that really want to make sure they’re supported, this could be the preferred solution.”

Thomas Bittman, vice president and distinguished analyst for Gartner Inc., said Oracle is now introducing a “carrot” to go along with the “stick” of its support policies.

“They’re still well behind VMware in a lot of capabilities, but they may be getting good enough to the point that for an enterprise that manages their Oracle environment separately… Oracle VM is a good solution in that stack.”

Other Oracle-watchers have seen this movie before. In 2007, when the company first announced Oracle VM, “there were a lot of forward-looking statements, but the features weren’t really there,” said Dave Welch, CTO of consulting firm House of Brick Technologies. When it comes to the new features announced this week, Welch said, “Let’s see it. Show us: How soon will it become generally available, and how well will it work?”

At least so far, Welch said, a handful of his firm’s clients in Oracle shops have tried out Oracle VM for tier-one applications.

“As of two months ago, 100% of those customers have swung right back through the revolving door,” he said.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com.

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