Oracle's decision to take on VMware by releasing its own virtualization platform -- Oracle VM -- will force users to confront some difficult questions about support, standardization and compatibility, according to experts.
And despite all of the hype surrounding the Oracle VM announcement, don't expect companies to start standardizing on Oracle VM just yet, said Mike Amble, an independent Oracle consultant and former Oracle database and business applications user with Fidelity Investments.
"When you think about data centers, they've just become terribly, terribly expensive," Amble said. "So the only logical process from a vendor's perspective is to allow you to jam more and more processing into a smaller space, because that allows you to grow."
Oracle raised eyebrows at its annual OpenWorld conference last month when it took the wraps off its new Xen-based virtualization platform. But Oracle wasn't alone. Sun Microsystems also decided to enter the virtualization fray that day with a Xen-based platform of its own.
Oracle's virtualization announcement, and conflicting statements about whether Oracle would support Oracle applications running in VMware virtual machines going forward, led to a great deal of speculation among IT industry analysts and technology users. As it stands now, Oracle says it doesn't officially support its apps running in VMware, but does so in practice.
Oracle and Sun will be competing head-to-head with virtualization heavyweights like VMware and Microsoft. But they're also likely to spend a great deal of time and money marketing their platforms as a solid alternative to established open source virtualization providers. Iams said the stiffest competition there will come from Red Hat and Novell, which provide Xen-based virtualization capabilities along with their Linux distributions, and to a lesser extent, independent providers like Virtual Iron and Citrix.
"But the critical player here is VMware," Iams said. "VMware showed that there is a very healthy business around virtual machine platforms, and so all of these other players are here to try and take away some of that business."
It's hard to accurately predict how well these emerging open source virtualization systems will "play together," Iams said, but from an operational standpoint, don't expect much compatibility at all.
"They really are all completely different products that will have to be managed separately," he said.
Users should keep an eye on support issues
Oracle's conflicting statements about supporting VMware users are symptomatic of a larger issue affecting virtualization technology users -- an issue that cuts across proprietary and open source lines.
The problem, Iams said, is that independent software vendors (ISVs) like Oracle all have varying and sometimes confusing terms for which platforms they'll support and how they'll support them.
"It's something that users really have to pay attention to," he said. "I haven't heard of any situations where virtualization breaks the software, but you may get performance problems and tuning issues that you're going to need help with from the ISV."
Iams has, however, heard about situations where ISVs were less than helpful on support calls. For instance, he said, when there is a problem with the ISV software, the ISV will often demand that users prove the bug exists in the physical environment before they step up and support it in the virtual environment.
"That's just a lot more work for the users to make sure that the application runs correctly," he said. "It's important to make sure that the ISV fully stands behind [its] software in a virtual environment."