Oracle’s VMware support policy like Jekyll and Hyde

IT shops running Oracle on VMware say they often get mixed messages regarding support. Oracle Support does one thing; Oracle sales reps say another.

Rob Lowden, IT Director at Indiana University, has heard all the fears about Oracle’s VMware support policy. They don’t scare him.

Maybe that’s because the university has been doing server virtualization since 2003 and now runs 31 of 33 Oracle tier 1 applications -- comprising more than 100 Oracle instances -- on VMware. Lowden hasn’t seen anything to support some well-publicized concerns that Oracle won’t support customers running their database and applications on VMware.

“It has literally been a nonevent,” he said. “We’ve seen these scare tactics (about virtualizations) for almost a decade from all sorts of vendors. It didn’t scare us then, and we proved it over and over. Oracle was no different.”

Lowden, along with other shops running Oracle on VMware, says that Oracle’s VMware support policies are something akin to Jekyll and Hyde. But, they all add, IT shops shouldn’t be discouraged by the split personality.

Organizations that have run Oracle Database and applications for years on top of VMware’s virtualization technology said they have had little to no problem getting Oracle Support to work with them on issues. At the same time, they are hounded by what they call scare tactics by Oracle sales reps trying to convince them to stay away from VMware.

Oracle did not reply to requests for comment, either on the phone or in writing.

Oracle’s VMware support policy, technically speaking

Anyone with an Oracle Support contract can read Oracle’s technical policy regarding VMware, entitled “Support Position for Oracle Products Running on VMware Virtualized Environments:”

Oracle has not certified any of its products on VMware virtualized environments.

Oracle Support will assist customers running Oracle products on VMware in the following manner: Oracle will only provide support for issues that either are known to occur on the native OS, or can be demonstrated not to be as a result of running on VMware.

We have successfully opened many support cases on hardware and virtual. We have yet, in two years of this journey, had to reproduce anything on a physical system where they have come back and said we think this is a problem with VMware.

Nick Howell, data center engineer at IPC

That looks a little worrisome. Some IT shops have been scared off because the note says that Oracle hasn’t certified any of its products on VMware. Certification typically means that the Oracle product will be fully supported on that platform.

Traditionally, however, Oracle has only certified its products for operating systems, not anything below that at the hypervisor or hardware level. There is one recent exception: Oracle will now certify products on its own Oracle VM virtualization platform. But those running Oracle on VMware say the noncertification on VMware shouldn’t put you off.

A second area of concern is the prospect of having to replicate a problem on native hardware if Oracle Support can’t find a solution through other avenues. But this appears to be more of a way for Oracle to legally protect itself -- or spook Oracle shops considering virtualization on VMware -- rather than a practice it uses regularly, or at all.

“We have successfully opened many support cases on hardware and virtual,” Nick Howell, data center engineer at IPC, a California-based medical services company, said in a recent webcast. “We have yet, in two years of this journey, had to reproduce anything on a physical system where they have come back and said we think this is a problem with VMware.”

“They don’t not support it,” Howell added. “They just don’t certify it.”

Lowden said it has been the same at Indiana University. Despite running Oracle on VMware in production for three years, he and his staff have never had to replicate a problem on native hardware.

And only a few days after announcing its own Oracle VM hypervisor back in 2007, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison himself said in a meeting with analysts that Oracle would support its products on VMware.

“So, if a customer has a problem running on VMware and -- with the Oracle database, then call for support, the support will be given in that kind of configuration?” one analyst asked.

“Yes, essentially, yes,” Ellison replied.

The Jekyll and Hyde of Oracle VMware support and sales reps

Organizations running Oracle on VMware describe an environment in which Oracle Support provides full assistance for its products running on VMware, but sales reps do their best to discourage it.

Lowden, when talking about the “scare tactics” vendors had used over the years to discourage server virtualization, said most of them came from the reps.

“I think, from our perspective, the majority was on the sales side,” he said.

Dave Welch, chief technology officer at IT consultant House of Brick, said that IT shops can save a lot of money through server virtualization. It used to be that data centers would have one server per application, with each server running at 10% CPU utilization. With server virtualization, companies can consolidate servers and have multiple applications on one box running consistently at 60% or 70% utilization. That allows companies to save money on hardware, as well as potentially on software licensing.

Virtualization is definitely growing in Oracle shops. A SearchOracle.com survey of 438 members last year found that 52% were using virtualization, up from 44% the previous year. Two-thirds of those doing virtualization use VMware.

“The field, the reps are scared to death of shops like this,” Welch said.

Welch described one situation where an Oracle Support analyst sent a customer a support notice. At the top was a big paragraph in red font trying to discourage the end user from running Oracle Database on VMware and strongly encouraging that they replatform. Immediately below it, in regular font, the analyst wrote details on how a particular problem could be fixed.

Welch said it almost seemed like the paragraph in red was some kind of boilerplate inserted in there to frighten the customer, something that was out of the Oracle Support analyst’s hands.

“The thing is, if you look at Oracle’s numbers, a lot of it comes from support renewal and registrations,” Welch said. “That’s a cash cow they don’t want to rock.”

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