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Oracle relents (a bit) on hypervisor support policy

With its new move to support VMware in Oracle E-Business Suite shops, Oracle caves -- a bit -- on its rigid virtual machine support stance.

Oracle quietly revised its virtualization support policy last month, and it now will provide best-effort support for E-Business Suite applications running on any x86 hypervisor, including those from VMware, Microsoft, Citrix Systems and other virtualization providers, reported Chris Wolf, a senior analyst at Burton Group, on his blog.

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According to an Oracle document "Platform Vendor Virtualization Technologies and Oracle E-Business Suite" ( Metalink 794016l.1) the company will support E-Business Suite 11i and R12 on third-party virtualization platforms, although it will not explicitly certify them. Problems isolated to the virtualization layer (i.e., those issues that cannot be replicated on nonvirtualized hardware, must be referred back to a company's virtualization provider, the document said.

Oracle's VM support stance softens
This new support stance is something of an about-face for Oracle Corp., which has long resisted officially supporting its applications running on anything other than its own Oracle VM hypervisor, a technology that by all accounts has had limited uptake. In practice, it appears that Oracle was less draconian in its policies and did in fact offer best-effort support. But that comes as cold comfort for many IT shops holding out for Oracle's blessing to virtualize Oracle apps -- and databases -- in production.

For production-ready Oracle shops, this change in support policy is a big deal.

Since E-Business Suite includes a version of the Oracle database, this shift is an implicit concession by Oracle but the company has not publicly given in to pressure to offer third-party VM support for its databases beyond the E-Business suite scenario.

Still, for production-ready Oracle shops, even this change is a big deal, according to Richard Warren, the principal at North Carolina Technologies, a technology consulting firm in Wilsons Mills, NC.

It would be a bigger deal for Oracle to support VMware (or Hyper-V or other third party virtualization offerings) with its databases across the board. "The kind of support you get with Oracle is so far removed from what you get with [Microsoft] SQL Server that if you're very risk averse, you go to Oracle no matter what. Removing the ability for Oracle to point the finger at another vendor is absolutely critical for operations management."

It is unclear how large an immediate effect Oracle's change of heart will have on mainstream IT.

For one thing, users have run Oracle in virtual machines (VMs) for years regardless of official support stance, said a senior solutions architect at a Virginia- based IT consultancy. "If you have a problem, you just say that it is running on a physical box or you use a [physical-to-virtual] tool to migrate it back to one," he said.

More to the point, most Oracle environments are too large to virtualize, said Rick Vanover, a systems administrator at Belron US, a vehicle glass repair and replacement company in Columbus, Ohio. "Oracle databases are usually pretty big, and like with all my largest systems, I don't feel comfortable making them virtual right now," he said.

Others agreed that databases may be virtualization's last frontier. "There are still some bad virtual transition states and caching considerations with running databases in VMs. … They'll get desktop before they get the database," Warren said.

Gordon Haff, a principal analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H, said this hesitance is common. For a variety of reasons, "most people don't virtualize their production databases:" Why the resistance to virtualizing these workloads? High I/O loads, performance overhead, or because "very mission-critical databases tend to be large so the server consolidation aspect is less beneficial."

Broader virtualization support inevitable
But things won't always be this way, Haff said. "We're moving toward an environment where virtualization is just the way systems are built." Oracle opening up its support policy was inevitable, he said. "For them to say, you can't virtualize is like them saying you can't run their software on x86."

Oracle's expanded support policy also calls into question how successful the company has been in promoting Oracle VM and what kind of success it will have going forward with turnkey hardware-software technologies based on its acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc.

"Customers by and large have not bought into the idea of a complete Oracle hypervisor stack," Haff said. "VMware is the 800-pound gorilla in this space, and people don't want to run a different virtualization environment, because they want the same management structure."

In his blog, Burton Group's Wolf said he hoped Oracle's next move will be to offer virtual CPU-based pricing for all virtualization platforms, and not just for Oracle VM. As it stands, users running Oracle on another platform must license it for the total number of CPUs in a box and regardless of how many virtual CPUs the application actually consumes.

Haff concurred. "They'll probably have to do more with licensing down the road. Anyone still licensing based on specific physical assets will have to move to user- or usage-based pricing."

Senior news director Barbara Darrow and news writer Bridget Botelho contributed to this report.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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