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Oracle and Sun: A virtual sweetheart deal for VARs

As Oracle and Sun complete their deal, many wonder which company's virtualization technologies will survive and prosper.

Despite the media attention over Oracle's surprise plan to buy Sun Microsystems, little has been written about the deal's effect on the virtualization market. Yet, analysts and VARs feel that the deal could have a huge impact there.

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Speculation that Oracle Corp. has large ambitions in this space were confirmed when it announced its purchase of virtualization vendor Virtual Iron Software Inc. less than a month after pursuing Sun. Indeed, according to VARs and analysts, Oracle wants nothing less than to be a major player in the rapidly expanding virtualization universe.

"Virtualization is [a] big business, and it's growing bigger every day. So it's not surprising that Oracle would want to play a prominent role," said Mike Shook, CEO of Consonus Technologies Inc., a Sun VAR based in Cary, N.C. "We're not talking about early adopters, either. Of our more than one thousand accounts, there isn't a single one that hasn't asked us for help with virtualization. The Oracle-Sun deal will only accelerate that trend."

If its goal is to seize a piece of this expanding market, it has chosen a strategically sound path, according to Cliff Ulrich, the practice leader for systems and storage at Dewpoint, a Lansing, Mich.-based Sun partner and solution provider.

"Sun has developed a broad portfolio of virtualization solutions -- from server virtualization to desktop virtualization to virtualization management -- that Oracle will now own," said Ulrich.

There are hardware-based virtualization capabilities built into Sun's SPARCstation that allow businesses to take a larger box and break it into multiple machines. "These make terrific application servers for Oracle applications," said Ulrich. Then, of course, there's the "very nice" virtualization built right into Sun's Solaris operating system. "You have all these containers -- exceedingly lightweight and easy to use -- that allow you to run multiple instances of Solaris very effectively," he said. "Taken altogether, it's a rich assortment of virtualization capabilities that Oracle could offer to its installed base as well as to the general market."

All of this is good news for solution providers, said Eric Burgener, senior vice president of marketing and product management for InMage Systems Inc., a Sun storage software VAR based in Santa Clara, Calif., that specializes in disaster recovery solutions. "I think it'll be a good thing because it will give us another major supplier in the same class as IBM and HP [that will have] a very broad portfolio of virtualization products," he said. "We'll see more integrated hardware and software solutions and more competitive prices for customers. It's good for the channel and good for end users."

Oracle may see more virtualization is more or cut redundancies

Specifically, with regard to virtualization, Oracle and Sun together form a much mightier player than either could be alone. "Oracle plus Sun creates a third integrated supplier of virtualization solutions that includes the hardware, the operating system, the database and all the integration services," Burgener said. "It's a very attractive combination."

The Oracle-Sun deal also makes sense given that Oracle has been pushing customers to deploy virtualization of its applications and databases, according to Shook. "With Sun involved in virtualization at the operating systems, server and middleware levels, you have this completely integrated stack where they are working collaboratively on delivering an entire solution," Shook said. "It's actually a very exciting prospect."

The fact that Sun's virtualization products are more mature than Oracle's is good for Oracle as well, said Shannon Snowden, a consulting partner at New Age Technologies Inc., in Louisville, Ky. "That will cover the enterprise space. Then you have the Virtual Iron purchase, which gives Oracle coverage on the small and medium-sized business market because of its nice management interface and easy-to-use feature set. Then Oracle covers the full range of virtualization solutions."

Although most VARs tend to stress the synergies of the deal, there's the potential for conflict as well. Oracle's own virtualization product, OracleVM, is based on the Xen hypervisor. Sun's xVM virtualization product -- long delayed and now slated to be released in mid2009 -- is also based on the Xen hypervisor. Whether Oracle will just kill it or find some way of reconciling the two products "is not yet clear," Ulrich said. Complicating matters even more is Oracle's purchase of Virtual Iron Software, which sells yet another Xen-based hypervisor. "So you've got three Xen hypervisors -- one at Oracle and two coming in -- which makes things very interesting," he said. Ulrich's guess is that Oracle will merge the three products "and get the best of all worlds."

Oracle-Sun be damned: VMware still reigns supreme

But Rod Lucero, chief technical officer of St. Paul, Minn.-based VAR VMPowered, said the deal is not as earth shattering as some have proposed. VMware is still on top of the game, he said, and the new 800-pound gorilla in the virtualization arena is Microsoft, not Oracle. "Everyone is waiting for Hyper-V," he said. "We're hearing a lot more buzz about that than we'd ever heard about Xen. To be honest, neither Sun nor Oracle ever showed up on the radar of our enterprise customers when it came to virtualization."

Others disagree. "This will undoubtedly impact VMware, as open source virtualization is going to have a lot more credibility for enterprises with Oracle so firmly behind it," said Ulrich. He's not recommending that customers wait to see which way Oracle will go in the virtualization arena. "I don't think there's much risk that they will change direction. This just expands their portfolio," he said. "We would have been more concerned if IBM had bought Sun, as there would have been so much overlap there."

What will be really interesting, said Shook, is what could happen if Oracle completely leverages Sun's virtualization assets with its own strengths. "It's great for Oracle to have all these products out there, but Oracle could really take things to the next level," Shook said. "You have Sun, with its virtualization skill sets around the servers and storage and operating system. Then, you've got Oracle with the application and database layer. If Oracle wanted, it could put out an integrated and scalable top-to-bottom solution set that would put them at the absolute top of mind of customers."

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