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Oracle’s Java virtualization support policy reignites controversy

With Oracle’s new Java 7 virtualization support policy, users fear they won’t be able to run the popular programming language -- or its apps -- on VMware or Hyper-V.

Oracle’s Java 7 virtualization support policy has IT professionals worried that their Java applications will not be properly supported on their virtualization platforms of choice.

With the release of Java 7 this week, Oracle posted a support policy expressly stating that it would not support the new Java 7 software development kit on VMware or Microsoft Hyper-V. Oracle has since said that it “mistakenly created” the policy page, but that the company will stick to its standard policy regarding non-Oracle components in a mixed stack: They’re not supported unless users can prove the problem stems from the Oracle part of the stack.

As of Friday afternoon, the policy remained unchanged on Oracle’s site. It read:

“All supported platforms are also supported when virtualized in a supported hypervisor, except where noted. Supported hypervisors are: Oracle VM 2.2, VirtualBox 3.x, 4.x, Solaris Containers, and Solaris LDOMs. VMware and Microsoft Hypervisor are not supported.”

Java virtualization support open to interpretation
IT pros parsed that Java virtualization support language very carefully.

“The problem you have is the ‘otherwise noted’ bit,” said Edward Haletky, CEO of The Virtualization Practice. “It leaves the door open for interpretation. So what we have here is that it requires an attorney, basically, on your IT staff to interpret the licensing agreement to see if you’re in violation or not.”

“That’s the problem,” he continued. “It’s not that they’re saying, ‘Yes, we’ll support it. It doesn’t matter where you run it,’ which is the real answer. Instead they’re saying, ‘Well, we’re going to do some double-talk here.’ And that double-talk is confusing people.”

Steve Giovannetti, CEO of Hub City Media, a New Brunswick, N.J. application development shop that does a lot of Java work, said this lack of clarity is  for business.

“If the worst fear is true, that they won’t support Java on VMware, that you’re on your own … it’s a problem,” he said. “If you’re J.P. Morgan Chase and are running Java apps in a virtualized environment, the first thing you do is call your Oracle rep and demand they fix this. Then the next call is to VMware to ask what they’ll do for you.”

Jay Weinshenker, who runs Austin, Texas-based Weinshenker Consulting, covered the Java 7 virtualization support news on his blog. In response, Henrik Stahl, Oracle’s senior director of product management for Java, wrote:

“The supported platforms page was mistakenly created using a standard Oracle template which is not applicable to Java. It will be updated to clarify that we support Java explicitly on certified platforms (eg those called out in the page) and on other platforms as long as we don’t run in to platform specific issues. In that case (eg, if VMware is broken) you will have to go to the platform vendor for troubleshooting and a fix."

An Oracle spokeswoman said the company was standing by what Stahl wrote. In an interview, Weinshenker said the issue, if not resolved, will hit home for him and other database administrators (DBAs).

“The biggest point where it could be a problem for me as an Oracle DBA and sysadmin is running various products like Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Agile, which heavily rely on Java,” he said. “Once those get certified for Java 7, sooner or later Java 6 will be desupported. If Java 7 then isn’t supported on VMware, well, I’m in a really bad quandary.”

In defense of Oracle
An executive with another IT firm that does a lot of Java and Eclipse work was willing to cut Oracle some slack, however.

“If Oracle said it would support Java on VMware and Hyper-V, they’d have to test it on all those hypervisors prior to release, and that’s nuts,” he said. “What they’re saying here is if you can’t replicate the problem on one of their four VMs, I’m not sure that’s all that different from IBM. All these companies operate the same way. They support their own stuff top to bottom, but if you run a mixed stack then they won’t support all those parts.”

In this executive’s view, people have a hair trigger reaction to anything Oracle does because of its Machiavellian reputation.

“People thought the world would end when Oracle bought Sun and Java, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “There’s too much money caught up in Java for Oracle to screw it up.”

The issue of Java virtualization support is new; there is no mention of virtualized environments in the Java 6 support policy, probably because Java 6 came out before the server virtualization wave hit.

“Obviously now virtualization is huge, due to the cloud computing emphasis, so Oracle decided to explicitly address what is supported and what is not, rather than not mentioning it or leaving it ambiguous,” the executive said.

The bulk of software applications run the same in virtualized mode as they do in the physical world, so Oracle's stance on supporting virtualization makes no sense to many, IT pros. "VMware is pretty good across all software packages," said Giovannetti.

That being said, Java is a different beast, Giovannetti added. 

“There are some differences in the way some [Java virtual machines] deal with memory, and that needs to taken into consideration when you go to a virtualized environment,” he said. “In Java’s case, in the operating environment you need to do some tuning, and that means supporting a JVM in a virtual system is not the same as it is in a physical system.”

What’s Oracle’s motivation?
The rap on Oracle is that it is using its virtualization support policies -- and its dominance in the database and enterprise applications markets -- to push for broader adoption of its Oracle VM hypervisor, which has tiny market share relative to VMware. 

In the past Oracle has leveraged its powerful database to invade new markets once relegated to third parties. For example, it pretty much supplanted Veritas storage management tools when it came up with its own, competitive products. 

Many Oracle watchers said they think the company is pulling out all the stops to push customers into all-Oracle solutions.

What did you think of this story? Email Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director, and Beth Pariseau, Senior News Writer.

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