Microsoft, Oracle Diverge on Outside VM Support

In case there was any doubt that virtualization is the hottest trend in IT, witness the rush of vendors glomming onto this technology.

Virtually every tech player is either working on its own hypervisor, embracing industry-leading players or, in Microsoft's case, both.

Microsoft last month said its Hyper-V virtualization technology will be available both as a standalone server and bundled with some Windows Server 2008 editions. It will be delivered within 180 days of Windows Server 2008's expected first-quarter launch.

The company also vowed to provide validation testing to enable third-party virtualization providers to try out their goods on the upcoming server operating system.

"The goal is to validate Windows Server for these solutions. We'll validate our own [virtualization] but VMware is out there, Xen and Citrix are out there," says Jim Ni, group product manager for Windows Server marketing. The tests should be available in mid 2008.

That is interesting given the consensus that, as one Microsoft partner notes, EMC's "VMWare scares Microsoft to death."

"The somewhat surprising thing here was news of the standalone server since Microsoft has insisted that the hypervisor belongs in the operating system," says Al Gillen, vice president systems research at IDC. Some might construe the separate SKU as a way to defuse any claims of bundling and the anti-trust worry that might erupt.

Oracle muddied the waters when it announced its own Xen-based virtualization at Oracle Open World and seemed to suggest it would not support third-party hypervisors, including the very popular VMware. In reality, this is no real change because Oracle typically restricts in-house support to its own stack.

"There is no change in the Oracle support policy for VMware," Oracle says in a statement. "Oracle has not certified any Oracle Software on VMware virtualized environments. Oracle Support will assist customers running Oracle Software on VMware in the following manner: Oracle will only provide support for issues that either are known to occur on the native OS without virtualization, or can be demonstrated not to be as a result of running VMware. If a problem is a known Oracle issue, Oracle support will recommend the appropriate solution on the native OS without virtualization. If that solution does not work in the VMware virtualized environment, the customer will be referred to VMware for support."

What is particularly confusing is that Oracle continues to support Red Hat Linux 4 and 5, along with its own Linux. All of those distributions already come with their own virtualization, so there was concern about whether Oracle would stop supporting the Red Hat implementations, Gillen explains.

"Oracle is trying to optimize a hypervisor for their environment and they really can't do that inside Linux for the simple reason that it would fork the code; They have to do it externally," Gillen says.

Oracle did say it will continue to support the hypervisors bundled with supported Red Hat Linux 4 and 5. "They're supporting the OS they way they promised but may not support the implementation," Gillen notes.

One thing's for sure: Virtualization, whatever its provenance, is incredibly invaluable for developers for testing out their work.

"I carry around a portable hard drive with a complete Microsoft VM on it for testing," says Mike Drips, a developer and consultant based in Folsom, Calif. "It lets you rapidly set up an environment to test whatever you need to do.

Gillen concurred: "Any developer who's not already using VMs had probably get going. As a developer I can have a dozen clients virtualized, if I have a problem, I can blow it away and spin up a new [instance.] I can do destructive testing. It's incredibly useful."

The good news is that with these new entries the cost of virtualization will fall. EMC's VMWare tends to be pricey -- there is a free server -- but the management tools are another matter (Sun released its own virtualization management tool to the open source world earlier this week.) And they are required. Microsoft will charge $28 for the Hyper-V. Oracle offers the binary code for server and manager for free and then $499, and $999 for support and updates for a year.

About the Author

Barbara Darrow is Industry Editor for Redmond Developer News, Redmond magazine and Redmond Channel Partner. She has covered technology and business issues for 20 years.

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