When we talk about the barriers to server virtualization, our industry often focuses on technology. But often, vendors' application support policies and licensing statements are the biggest barriers to virtualizing applications.
The word "support" -- or more specifically, the phrase "not supported" -- has become one of the most abused words in the lexicon of IT, and never more so than in the world of virtualization. The phrase "not supported" could mean:
- "This configuration doesn't work. Don't even try!"
- "This configuration will work, but the performance stinks."
- "The configuration will work perfectly. But hey, we just don't have the resources to test every possible configuration. And if it hasn't been QA'd by us, we can't support it."
Application support and virtualization competition
There's also another meaning that's commonplace in virtualization: "We don't support this configuration because it helps some other company that we compete with." Vendors always talk about about "listening to customers" and "helping customers with their challenges," but for the most part, vendors are really out to protect and grow their market share.
The gap between what vendors publicly say and what they actually do is especially telling when you read their application support policies. For example, take Oracle's position on what it calls "third-party virtualization" (VMware, Microsoft and Citrix).
Oracle application support
Oracle has a very restrictive application support policy when it comes to running its software on other vendors' virtualization platforms. The company recently tweaked its VMware support policy, which some saw as a softening of its position. Personally, I found the change so slight as to be almost imperceptible.
The support policy names VMware specifically, but I would assume Oracle's position applies uniformly to all virtualization vendors. It's quite a lengthy document, so I will just quote the salient parts (the emphasis is mine):
If a problem is a known Oracle issue, Oracle support will recommend the appropriate solution on the native OS. If that solution does not work in the VMware virtualized environment, the customer will be referred to VMware for support. When the customer can demonstrate that the Oracle solution does not work when running on the native OS, Oracle will resume support, including logging a bug with Oracle Development for investigation if required.
NOTE: Oracle has not certified any of its products on VMware. For Oracle RAC, Oracle will only accept Service Requests as described in this note on Oracle RAC 126.96.36.199 and later releases.
Essentially, Oracle's position is, "Don't call us. Call them". It forces customers to reproduce problems on physical hardware before Oracle will take responsibility.
Now, it's perfectly reasonable that Oracle cannot support totally different vendors' products. That's why VMware doesn't support Microsoft Clustering Services in vCenter. It will work; it's just that VMware doesn't go around supporting another vendor's product. But that doesn't help customers. No one wants to invalidate an expensive support contract by building an unsupported configuration.
Oracle is deliberately making life hard for its customers. In the vast majority of support cases, you will find that problems with an application in a virtual machine have NOTHING TO DO WITH THE VIRTUAL MACHINE. (Sorry, I felt the need to shout for emphasis.) Oracle has such a loony-toon application support policy because the company would much rather foist its own virtualization platform on its customers. It's no surprise that VMware's once-good relationship with Oracle started to sour when Oracle acquired its own hypervisor in 2007.
People who have been in virtualization for some time will not find Oracle's application support policy especially surprising. After all, it's very similar to Microsoft's support policy surrounding non-Microsoft virtualization from a few years ago. Thankfully, Microsoft's position has changed significantly since those bad old days. Meanwhile, Oracle persists.
I've seen the anxiety levels rise when customers ask me, "Is this configuration supported?" That anxiety is precisely the button that some application vendors are trying to press with their support statements. Sure, vendors are businesses, not charities, but that shouldn't permit them to reduce competition and choice.
Mike Laverick (VCP) has been involved with the VMware community since 2003. Laverick is a VMware forum moderator and member of the London VMware User Group Steering Committee. Laverick is the owner and author of the virtualization website and blog RTFM Education, where he publishes free guides and utilities aimed at VMware ESX/VirtualCenter users, and has recently joined SearchVMware.com as an Editor at Large. In 2009, Laverick received the VMware vExpert award and helped found the Irish and Scottish VMware user groups. Laverick has had books published on VMware Virtual Infrastructure 3, VMware vSphere4 and VMware Site Recovery Manager.