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RIP Sun xVM Server, Virtual Iron; long live Oracle VM?

As the Oracle/Sun deal nears completion, Sun's xVM Server fades from view and the future of Virtual Iron Software is unclear.

The number of Xen-based virtualization platforms is shrinking fast, courtesy of Oracle.

Oracle Corp. acquired Virtual Iron, whose technology it will fold in to Oracle VM and its Oracle Enterprise Manager. And Sun Microsystems Inc., which will soon be bought by Oracle, has backed down on plans to offer up xVM Server as a standalone hypervisor offering.

The number of IT shops directly affected by Oracle's moves is probably small. In the fourth quarter of 2008, Gartner Inc. estimated both Virtual Iron Software Inc.'s and Sun's share of the server virtualization market at less than 1% apiece. But these users tend to be risk-taking early adopters, and Oracle will have to woo them if it wants to succeed with its own sparsely adopted Oracle VM. (The Sun/Oracle deal is expected to close this summer.)

RIP, xVM Server
Sun has made hay about xVM Server, but going forward, the company will offer only the hypervisor as part of xVM Ops Center, its management console, said Steve Wilson, Sun's vice president of xVM, and as a feature of OpenSolaris. It will not be part of the commercial version of Solaris.

People thought [Sun xVM] was cool, but it didn't meet the needs of most users.
Steve Wilson,
VP of xVM,Sun Microsystems Inc.

The erstwhile xVM Server combined the bare-metal hypervisor and management in a single image. "People thought it was cool," said Wilson, but it didn't meet the needs of most users. "There was the set of users looking for an easy-to-use and freely available hypervisor, and there were those that were looking to use it for large-scale cloud deployments." Sun refers the former crowd to OpenSolaris, and the latter to xVM Ops Center. "We're not further developing that intermediary option," he said.

Members of Sun's xVM Early Access (EA) program learned the news several weeks ago, when Wilson posted on his blog that Sun would not provide them with xVM EA4. But the writing had been on the wall for several months, said Stéphane Laurencelle, a senior technician at the city of Levis, in Quebec, Canada, an xVM early adopter.

"All through the Early Access testing, no one from Sun was ever responding to our questions," said Laurencelle. "With Oracle buying Sun, they had other things to think about. Plus, they were working on [Ops Center]."

It's a shame, said Laurencelle, because xVM had some nice features. "The Web browser GUI [graphical user interface] was a beauty; it was easy to use, and you didn't need to install anything," he said. In contrast, to manage VMware you need vCenter, and while Citrix XenServer comes with XenCenter, it isn't as simple as with xVM.

Chris Wolf, senior analyst at Burton Group, knows of several IT shops that put their virtualization deployments on hold waiting for Sun to release xVM Server. The nice thing about it was the way "it gave you the best of both worlds -- Solaris Containers and server virtualization -- for better densities," Wolf said. In other words, Sun shops were looking forward to being able to run Solaris in an xVM virtual machine and further partition it using Containers. "It had the potential to be a very nice product," Wolf said.

But the decision to ax xVM Server was inevitable, Wolf said. "I don't see the need for three hypervisors [Oracle VM, Virtual Iron and xVM Server]. There's got to be long-term consolidation." Further, Wolf expects Oracle to converge on a single management framework. "Enterprise customers want a unified management framework from Oracle, whether that be [xVM] Ops Center or Oracle Enterprise Manager, but you don't want both."

Virtual Iron virtually dead?
Meanwhile, many of the 2,000 IT shops that had reportedly deployed Virtual Iron over the years have known for months that the technology's days were numbered, and they planned accordingly.

XCalibre Communications, a U.K.-based Web hosting company, had begun building out its FlexiScale cloud platform on Virtual Iron, but, "to put it bluntly but not unkindly, it wasn't suitable to our use case," said Tony Lucas, XCalibre CEO and founder. "It was the wrong product to try and build a cloud platform around."

For more on Sun virtualization:
Sun virtualization fills in checkboxes

Sun xVM Server and Ops Center update virtualization options

VMware  user on  Oracle VM: Hell no, we won't go

XCalibre has since moved most of its systems off Virtual Iron and to a combination of open source Xen plus internally developed software for provisioning and managing virtual machines. At the same time, XCalibre's software is designed to work on top of any hypervisor platform, depending on customers' requirements, Lucas said. "A hypervisor is a hypervisor is a hypervisor. We wouldn't want to be excluded from an account on that basis," he said.

Another Virtual Iron early adopter, Mobius, a provider of enterprise content management software, pulled the plug on Virtual Iron when Mobius was acquired by Allen Systems Group in 2007, said Joshua Clark, a senior systems administrator there. "Unfortunately, the new company didn't have any experience with Virtual Iron, so the project was discontinued" in favor of VMware, he said.

Nevertheless, in some smaller shops, Virtual Iron is still going strong. Gentry Ganote, formerly CIO at PGA Tour SuperStores, a golfing retailer in Atlanta, Ga. said the company went with Virtual Iron in 2007 and is still running it.. "The infrastructure was working fine," and engineers were still responding to support requests. "It's not like they had gone out of business or anything."

Now a consultant with Rojoli Technologies in Duluth, Ga., a value-added reseller focused on virtualization and storage, Ganote said today he'd recommend VMware, or possibly Hyper-V, to small shops looking. "Different market segments dictate what you look at."

At least one Virtual Iron reseller is bullish on the deal.

"The one thing Virtual Iron lacked is deep pockets to continue developing what is already a very good product. It has great value relative to cost, but has been relegated to small clients, largely due to VMware's prominence, and because [it lacks] a large sponsor like Oracle, " said David Spear, vice president of sales at Istonish, Denver, CO.

Some people might have misgivings about Oracle but " having a company like this providing funding and a runway for VI is a good thing. And having another competitor in the virtualization space is a good thing," for users, he said.

Senior writer Bridget Botelho contributed to this report, which was updated Friday afternoon with additional comment.

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

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