Oracle plots VM 3.0 for next year

VI shops frozen in time

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Oracle briefed partners peddling its Oracle VM server virtualization product and those of its recently acquired Virtual Iron product line three weeks ago, and today it was time for those products' customers to get a little more detail about what Oracle has in mind for its future Oracle VM products.

As El Reg surmised when an ever-hungry Oracle snapped up Virtual Iron for an undisclosed sum in May, the acquisition was made as much for technology to make the Xen hypervisor - upon which both the VI and Oracle VM products are based - friendlier to data centers as it was for the people who know how to sell, support, and develop server virtualization.

And as we reported in June, Oracle indeed is going to mothball the VI products and has stopped shipping new licenses to an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 customers worldwide. It copped to this during a webcast today hosted by Wim Coekaerts, president of Linux engineering at Oracle, and Monica Kumar, senior director of product marketing for Linux and open source products at the company.

Being a webcast, none of the attendant VI customers had a chance to raise their voices to Coekaerts and Kumar about cutting off the sale of new licenses to VI shops - something that puts such shops in a bind unless they want to start moving over to Oracle VM manually and forgo the very benefits for which they probably bought VI in the first place.

Coekaerts was unapologetic about Oracle's decision to stop selling new licenses to VI shops as he walked through his presentation. The goal, he said, was to take the best of the Oracle VM and VI product sets and create a single, better product.

And to do that, Oracle has to graft some features to help VI shops prepare for a converged product onto the Oracle VM 2.2 release that's in testing now and due for release soon. Then it will focus on getting Oracle VM 3.0 out the door some time during its fiscal 2010, which ends next May.

"From a development point of view, we wanted to ensure that we could combine the two quickly," explained Coekaerts. "If we continued to enhance a separate product, we would not have the time to do the integration."

The pieces of the VI tools that Coekaerts singled out to be used in the future converged Oracle VM 3.0 product include the capacity-management and power-management features that Oracle VM currently does not have and that allow for processors and servers to be powered down when workloads don't need them, as well as an open, scriptable API and a Java-based, web-enabled management interface that's easy to use.

What Oracle is bringing to the table is a Xen hypervisor that has been tweaked to encrypt data in memory relating to VMs as they move around the network, and that knows about clustered file systems and high-availability failover right out of the box.

Oracle VM also has the virtue of supporting the entire stack of Oracle database, middleware, and application software for Linux and Windows platforms, and has a slew of appliance templates for distributing stacks of software that are pre-configured and ready to run.

The current Oracle VM product line includes Oracle VM Server, the Xen hypervisor with Oracle special sauce that is open source and distributed for free, and Oracle VM Manager, the management tool that is free to download but not open source and which carries support fees if you want tech support as you use it.

Oracle's uber management tool, called Enterprise Manager, has plug-ins to interface with VMs and their hypervisors as well as to Oracle's remaining software stack. Both Oracle 2.2 and Oracle 3.0 will have these same three elements.

With the last VI release being Extended Enterprise Edition 4.5.16, which is due to lose premier support in February 2010, it seems reasonable to expect that Oracle VM 2.2 will come out well ahead of then. Probably by the end of the year, and maybe sooner.

Coekaerts would not be pinned down on dates, but Kumar said that next week Oracle would put out a FAQ to try to answer some questions raised in the webcast, and maybe it will be more specific.

Anyway, Oracle VM 2.2 will include the Xen 3.4 hypervisor and Dom0 (which boots the hypervisor onto bare metal), and will be based on an updated Linux kernel so it can support more recent hardware, including the latest x64 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices and new operating systems as guests.

The 2.2 release will also include updates to the open source OCFS2 clustered file system that Oracle sponsors. Oracle will also be weaving some of the CPU-capping technologies from the VI set into the 2.2 release, and will have a tool to import VI VHD images into the Oracle disk image format, as outlined above.

Oracle VM 3.0 will have the dynamic power and capacity management code from the VI stack and its API and management tools woven into it, as well as features to automate the configuration of network and storage devices.

What Oracle keeps missing, of course, is that many VI customers are not asking for updates to the Virtual Iron Extended Enterprise Edition 4.4 and 4.5 hypervisor and toolset, but just the ability to but more licenses of the frozen product.

Customers are no doubt happy that Oracle will offer paid-for premier support on four VI releases throughout the fall and into February of next year, and for an additional (and undisclosed) fee will offer what it calls sustaining support with no end date for customers who want to pay the bucks and keep using the licenses they have.

But many shops want to deploy Virtual Iron Extended Enterprise Edition on new hardware platforms as they roll out and keep using it until the converged Oracle VM 3.0 product is ready. And, quite frankly, this is the right way to do it if you want to keep your customers happy.

If Oracle is rich enough to eat Sun, it is certainly rich enough to do right by VI shops. Period.

What VI shops are getting instead is an invoice from Oracle when their Virtual Iron contract runs out, and are being told that the product they currently use will be supported, but that Oracle is only doing bug fixes when they are "technically feasible." Also, Oracle will not patch any VI product as new x64 servers or peripherals or Xen hypervisor patches are available.

In a further annoyance, because of the incompatibilities between Oracle VM and Virtual Iron Extended Enterprise Edition, the path to the converged Oracle VM 3.0 product will not be an "upgrade and done" move, in which customers press some buttons and everything gets moved.

Coekaerts said it was unfortunately not going to be a seamless upgrade, and encouraged customers to start running Oracle VM 2.1.5, which was released a month ago, and get ready to take a look at Oracle VM 2.2, which has been updated with a tool to convert virtual machines stored in VI's VHD format to the format used by Oracle VM. He didn't say what that format was, but apparently Oracle VM has its own format.

After Oracle VM 2.2 ships and before Oracle 3.0 comes out next year, Oracle will provide a migration tool to help customers make the move to Oracle VM. But this tool will only help with, not automate, the process. ®

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