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VirtualBox hypervisor part of Oracle virtualization roadmap

Future Oracle virtualization plans include the VirtualBox hypervisor, but the VirtualBox roadmap will need improvements to compete in enterprises, experts say.

Oracle plans to make the VirtualBox hypervisor -- the virtual desktop software popular with developers and the open source crowd -- part of its enterprise virtualization portfolio, right alongside its Oracle VM for server virtualization.

Many are skeptical of the Oracle virtualization push, specifically concerning the enterprise viability of the VirtualBox hypervisor. And even supporters, who see promise in VirtualBox's open source roots and platform compatibility, agree that the Oracle virtualization team will have to do a lot of work on the VirtualBox roadmap to bring the software to enterprises.

The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle Corp. said it will integrate the VirtualBox hypervisor, one of the many assets picked up in its Sun Microsystems Inc. acquisition, with Oracle VM, its server virtualization hypervisor. Administrators would be able to use the VirtualBox hypervisor as a sandbox to create virtual desktops and deploy them to Oracle VM pools.

Enterprise potential of the VirtualBox hypervisor
Prior to the acquisition, neither Oracle nor Sun made many waves in the virtualization market. VirtualBox expert Rick Vanover said the platform won't catch on in business IT departments as it exists now.

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"But I see potential," said Vanover, IT infrastructure manager at Alliance Data in Columbus, Ohio.

For one thing, VirtualBox supports VMware's VMDK file format, the Virtual Hard Disk format used by Microsoft and Citrix Systems Inc., as well as its own VDI file format.

"VirtualBox is very format-friendly," Vanover said. "Maybe they're on to something."

Integration with Oracle VM is one thing, as is support for other file formats. But to really catch on, the VirtualBox hypervisor will need to add value to VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V environments, said Edward Haletky, the owner of AstroArch Consulting.

"They need to gain market share from existing users," he said.

VirtualBox hypervisor uses and competition
Even then, "VirtualBox would have to be beefed up quite a bit," Haletky added. "It's missing functionality to make it work as a desktop."

The VirtualBox hypervisor is very popular among developers -- amateurs and IT staff alike -- but overall, its appeal is limited within enterprise IT. (Other common uses are for debugging and demonstrations.) Plus, VirtualBox competes with VMware Workstation, and VMware has a larger following in the business world.

"They really don't use VirtualBox in the enterprise," Haletky said.

And although VirtualBox is a hypervisor (of the Type 2 variety), VMware ESX, Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer dominate that market.

"Will VirtualBox compete in that space? Probably never," Haletky said.

Integrated Oracle virtualization stack
Still, the overall Oracle virtualization strategy could give VirtualBox a boost among business users. With the Sun acquisition, Oracle is the only company that can reach from the SAN to the hypervisor to the virtual desktop infrastructure to the guest operating system, Vanover said.

"You had it with Sun before, but Oracle can make it better," he said. "It's a market they want to get into."

More than the VirtualBox roadmap, the ability to manage this entire stack will be key to the success of Oracle virtualization. Oracle seems to recognize this fact; the company has already said its Oracle Enterprise Manager will manage both Oracle VM running on x86 systems and Solaris LDoms (or Logical Domains) running on Sparc CMT chips from the same console.

"Oracle can make an enterprise management piece of software that people would like, and Sun has the VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] pieces and hardware to make it happen," Vanover said. "There's an opportunity to manage everything with ease."

It's also important to note that Oracle has displaced large software partners in Oracle database shops before. For example, a large portion of Oracle shops once ran Veritas backup, but Oracle CEO Larry Ellison declared war on Veritas and led a push to install Oracle backup in those accounts. Now, according to Oracle partners, Veritas is pretty much nonexistent in Oracle accounts.

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