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Oracle reverts to bad old days on virtualization support

After cracking open the door on virtualization support, Oracle slams it shut on official support for VMware and Xen hypervisors.

Oracle shops that thought the software giant softened its stance on VMware virtualization support have another think coming.

For more on Oracle's virtualization support policies:
Oracle relents (a bit) on hypervisor support policy

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A revised Oracle document posted last month said that Oracle would not certify but would make its best effort to support Oracle E-Business Suite running third-party "platform vendors' " virtualization.

That move opened the door to Oracle support of VMware Inc. and Xen hypervisors running in its environments. Oracle's previously stated policy was not to support those technologies unless the problem could be replicated in a nonvirtualized environment -- thus proving that it was an Oracle issue, not a third-party VM problem.

That change was first flagged by Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf and reported on by on May 7. On May 8, Oracle re-revised that post, replacing the term platform vendors with hardware vendors. So Oracle will make a "best effort" to support Oracle software running Sun Microsystems' or even IBM's virtualization, but VMware and Xen virtualization is left in limbo.

That puts Oracle shops back at square one when it comes to their VMware and Xen deployments. "They are not fully supporting VMware or Xen hypervisors like Citrix XenServer, and that needs to change," Wolf said.

Oracle virtualization: What's old is new again
Basically, this means that Oracle's stance on non-Oracle virtualization, first detailed in November 2007, remains in force. "If it's a known Oracle bug, they support you. If it's an unknown bug, you have to replicate it on a physical machine to get their support," Wolf said.

[Oracle is] not fully supporting VMware or Xen hypervisors like Citrix XenServer, and that needs to change.

This is a major issue for the many Oracle shops that run VMware, according to several Oracle partners. Even Oracle insiders admit that the free Oracle VM is not widely used in Oracle shops. It is especially sensitive now, as recession-constrained customers balk at paying Oracle's 22% annual support fees.

Oracle's official stance is that this third-party virtualization is a customization and, as such, is not certified, said one Oracle source. The company had no comment for this story.

Still, its rule is more theoretical than real, several Oracle partners and customers said. Oracle does, in fact, help support VMware in some shops, especially if they are large accounts, according to several partners.

"Our experience is that [Oracle] supports VMware to a point," said Scott Jenkins, the president of the EBS Group, a Lenexa, Kan.-based Oracle partner. "It depends on the client. They're obviously going to help a tier-one customer or a customer in negotiations," he said.

Jenkins said none of his Oracle customers run Oracle VM. A West Coast partner said maybe one or two of several dozen Oracle clients run Oracle VM.

Indeed, some of the fiercest critics of Oracle's stance are Oracle's own salespeople, an insider said. These Oracle reps said that the company's virtualization position inhibits its ability to sell more databases and applications. It may even open the door to Microsoft SQL Server database.

Oracle's ultimate goal is to get more customers on Oracle VM, a free Xen-based virtualization variant. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has long battled to get more portions of Oracle's stack entrenched in Oracle database shops. That helped drive the company's application buying spree and its addition of storage management and other capabilities to its portfolio, displacing Veritas and other companies' software.

Users go their own way
Some customers have blazed their own trail. Tucson Electric Power, for example, does not require vendor support of its VMware ESX, a position they adopted in 2006, according to Chris Rima, a supervisor for infrastructure systems at the company, a subsidiary of UniSource Energy. He acknowledges that this may be unusual but he has his reasons. "Nothing on Windows is accessing the hardware anyway, so we don't see a need to ask the vendor to support ESX before we put it in production."

His company has about 50 ESX hosts and 300 virtual machines running Windows. Applications include SQL Server, FileNet, Symantec EnterpriseVault, RIM BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Oracle's Hyperion business intelligence and PeopleSoft applications.

He said the company is running a greater number of Oracle apps courtesy of the company's buying spree. And he said he hasn't' gotten pushback from Oracle on VMware use. "Even if they did, we wouldn't listen to them. Worst-case scenario, we do a V2P [virtual-to-physical] move."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Barb Darrow, Senior News Director or Alex Barrett, News Director. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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