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Oracle one-ups VMware with Java virtualization

WebLogic can now run a Java Virtual Machine without a guest operating system, but – surprise, surprise -- it's supported only on Oracle VM.

Oracle has resuscitated avant-garde virtualization technology: a Java Virtual Machine that runs directly on the hypervisor, without an operating system. The technology promises improved system performance and server densities, but with support limited to Oracle VM, it's of little use in VMware or Hyper-V environments.

For more on Oracle and virtualization:

Oracle licensing, support pose VMware virtualization hurdle

Oracle virtualization licensing, pricing still prohibitive

Gained with Oracle's acquisition of BEA Systems, the new Oracle WebLogic Suite Virtualization Option combines the venerable WebLogic Server with the OS-free JRockit Virtual Edition technology. It also includes the new Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder, for identifying and converting existing WebLogic workloads into collections of virtual appliances, or "assemblies."

JRockit Virtual Edition derives from Liquid VM, the virtualization-friendly JVM from BEA and handles traditional operating system functions such as TCP/IP, hardware device interaction, file I/O and process scheduling. In this way, JRockit eliminates OS overhead not needed to run a Java application. This delivers improved performance of about 33% compared with Java applications running on an OS, said Steven G. Harris, Oracle senior vice president of product development.

Early roots on VMware
BEA's JRockit/Liquid VM technology originally supported VMware Infrastructure 3, and showed great promise. Mark Vaughn, an enterprise architect at a national financial services firm, tested the technology and said it was much easier to manage and deploy than traditional WebLogic instances.

Traditionally, Oracle is not very user friendly.
Mark Vaughn,
enterprise architect, national financial services firm

"There was no OS to patch, and it was much faster to provision because you didn't have to build a server," Vaughn said. "It was really easy to automate. I can imagine that with today's VMware environments and vApps, it would have been even better."

In 2007, however, BEA announced prohibitive licensing for the technology that forced Vaughn's firm to abandon plans to deploy Liquid VM in production. "The WebLogic Server Virtual Edition license was about 25% less than the traditional WebLogic Server license, but our environment would have required 15 times the number of licenses," he said. "We were anxious to deploy this product, but simply could not afford to."

Oracle steps in
Since BEA's licensing misstep, the JRockit technology spawned little discussion. But Harris said that Oracle has been working on it -- optimizing it for Oracle VM, adding application lifecycle features, developing the Virtual Application Builder, and performing general "stack hardening and performance optimization," he said.

Meanwhile, VMware Inc. has moved to increase the performance and preponderance of Java applications running in virtual machines. Last month, VMware announced a promotion for free SpringSource tc Server licenses running on vSphere.

Dana Gardner, the principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions in Gilford, N.H., said that the WebLogic Suite Virtualization Option news signals that Oracle has moved into virtualization and cloud computing in earnest. Until now, Oracle has clung to the idea of the application built around the database, he said, but seems to have changed its tune. "They recognize the marketplace around cloud and virtualization opens up more opportunities than building apps on top of a database."

Still, Oracle's steadfast refusal to support its applications on hypervisors other than Oracle VM may limit those ambitions.

Despite being a long-standing WebLogic customer, "I'd have to look at the pricing very carefully," said Vaughn. "Traditionally, Oracle is not very user friendly. And unless the pricing was very compelling, "I can't imagine that I'd introduce the complexity of another virtualization platform into the environment."

That attitude is not unique among Oracle customers, and illustrates the conundrum faced by the company. "I think they're struggling right now with the Sun acquisition, because a huge portion of their installed base is on a different platform," Vaughn said. "Either they promote VMware, and abandon their own product, or they abandon their customers, but keep their product."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at abarrett@techtarget.com, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.

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