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Oracle's open source virtualization strategy no match for VMware

Open source virtualization got a boost this week with Oracle's introduction of its first Xen-based hypervisor and Sun's unveiling of a virtualization and management platform, but VARs and analysts say there's no threat to VMware.

Oracle Corp. is making a lot of noise this week about its introduction of the Oracle VM Xen-based hypervisor. But analysts and channel partners -- many of whom sell or use open source virtualization software -- still think Oracle's virtualization effort is too weak to make much of a difference to them.

"I don't care what Oracle comes out with and I don't care what Microsoft comes out with -- VMware owns the market and they are two to three years ahead compared to their competitors, who all have to catch up," said Sandy Cohn, general manager and director of technical services at the Albany, N.Y.-based ATEC Group. "I can't change what we've started with our customers; VMware has a proven product and I can't shift now to another virtualization vendor," Cohn added.

Cohn said he's suffering from information overload as vendors elbow each other for space in the open source virtualization market.

Earlier this week, for example, Microsoft introduced a standalone virtualization server, the description of which is still fuzzy, but it won't require users to run the Windows Server 2008 operating system. In addition, VMWare Inc. introduced version 2 of its VMware server, a free product that provides many of the key functions of the company's ESX server. VMware also refuted Oracle's claim that its virtualization products are three times as efficient as competitors that run on Intel-based servers.

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And yesterday, at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco, Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Jonathan Schwartz unveiled xVM, a virtualization and management platform that includes xVM Server, a bare metal virtualization hypervisor, and Sun vVM Ops Center, which is a virtualization management tool.

Cohn is mainly interested in VMware Server 2. Among the improvements to the software, VMware Server 2 supports 30 types of operating systems including Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 (beta), Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 and Ubuntu 7.10. The move, Cohn said, is more proof that VMware's products are mature and can work with open source, Windows and any other OS on the market.

Further, VMware's dominant market position has shortened the time Cohn takes to discuss virtualization with customers, because it's the one virtualization software that IT managers already know. Additionally, he said, the profit his company has earned from VMware is incalculable.

"For a reseller it comes down to [this]. For every dollar you sell from VMware, you sell $5 to $8 of other products such as servers, storage, services and so on. It's not just how much you make on that virtualization software, it's how that software affects your entire solution set," Cohn said.

"When push comes to shove, VMware really does add value to companies, and it is past the tipping point. Oracle is focusing on Linux virtualization and it's coming into an open source market that has formidable players," said Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG).

Kaplan, who is also senior consultant at Chanhassen, Minn.-based systems integrator Datalink Corp., said he does think the Oracle-on-Linux virtualization stack could yield the company some success in open source virtualization.

"There is a real benefit for the Oracle-on-Linux stack since it's just one support call. Oracle can handle calls from the Xen to the VM side to the Linux Unbreakable side to the database, so I do think that Oracle does have that advantage in that specific space," Kaplan said.

"I don't think in the long run Oracle VM is going to hurt VMware to the point it starts to affect that company, but I think that it's better for the customers that we have to have different paths to go down as far as how they want to approach virtualization," said Phil Sauvageau, chief operating officer at Omaha, Neb.-based MSI Systems Integrators.

Both Sauvageau and Kaplan say they will test the open source virtualization product to find out where it fits with other technologies as they seek to explore Oracle VM's potential and build systems around it.

However, Illuminata Inc. analyst Gordon Haff isn't optimistic about Oracle VM gaining traction in a very competitive virtualization market.

"Oracle probably cannot go very far with this product," Haff said. "I look at this in a similar vein as Unbreakable Linux, which has not had the impact some people thought it would have when it was first announced."

"If anything I see Oracle coming out with a hypervisor as having even less of an impact," he said.

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