Enterprise Linux Log

Nov 13 2007   10:08AM GMT

Oracle VM: Shaking up the OS world

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While VMware’s stock dropped another 6 points yesterday, losing about one-third of its trading value in the past two weeks, Oracle’s stock soared after investors rushed to buy following the database giant’s surprise virtualization announcement. Conveniently, traders ignored any analysis of the unpatched zero-day vulnerability (public exploit available) that the company won’t patch until Jan. 15 (link courtesy of a tip at Slashdot).

Lucky Larry, no?

And that’s just the stock news. On the tech side, Oracle’s announcement signals clearly that the future of the operating system as we know it today is again in flux. Truly, Oracle VM is Target: Red Hat AND Microsoft Windows.

Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. was, as always, in front of this issue from the beginning. He was quoted heavily in our sister site’s day one coverage of Oracle VM and then mere hours later he was posting more of his expert analysis on the Illuminata Perspectives blog on how Oracle would love for the kids to start just saying no to drugs and operating systems, thank you very much.

“There’s a nasty little war afoot over the future of the operating system.” — Gordon Haff, Illuminata

That’s Haff’s lead to a blog post titled “Oracle: Just Say No to Operating Systems,” and it’s pretty spot on, IMO.

The battle has many sides, each with many players, and every one of them has officially solidified his or her strategy for the future. You have smaller players like application vendor rPath carrying a big stick with rBuilder and pre-packaged virtual appliances; then there are the operating system vendors peddling new wares like Red Hat Appliance OS (AOS), announced last week, which seeks to create a massive Red Hat-certified channel of appliances built on an “optimized RHEL” in the first half of 2008.

And let us not forget another major operating system vendor: Viridian and Microsoft’s standalone hypervisor. Due out next year, it will officially make Microsoft the last big name vendor to get a hypervisor of its own out onto the market, but … that last point is a moot one, I think, and Haff agreed in a recent post covering the MS hypervisor’s big reveal. “Microsoft has a huge footprint in data centers — and even more in the IT installations of smaller companies. Thus, however tardy and reluctant Microsoft’s arrival to virtualization may be (Virtual Server notwithstanding), its plans and presence matter.”

But back to this operating system war. Billy Marshall, CEO of rPath, has been particularly vocal about this topic during the past year, and for good reason: This former Red Hatter has built a business around mitigating the importance of the operating system in the enterprise and couldn’t wait to lace into his former employer following the AOS announcement.

“It will be interesting to see how Red Hat manages the conflict between their legacy general-purpose operating system business and the technology requirements associated with delivering JeOS to support an application vendor-maintained virtual appliance,” Marshall said in a statement sent to SearchEnterpriseLinux.com.

He even blogged a Top 10 list, Letterman-style, to prove his anti-certification point even more:

Top Ten Responses to Certification Problems
10 – Re-install and call me back if you are still having problems.
9 – Can you send me a test case that reproduces that problem?
8 – It works for me.
7 – Have you been to any of our training classes yet?
6 – This is obviously not an application problem. Call the OS vendor.
5 – My shift is about to end and I am going to need to transfer you to someone else
4 – Did the sales guy talk to you about our consulting services?
3 – I’m going to need to escalate this one to engineering
2 – Your support contract doesn’t cover this type of issue
1 – Take a picture of your screen and email it to me because I have never seen anything like this

I half expected a flying pencil or Paul Shaffer to burst forth from my laptop after that last one. Perhaps the certification touted over and over again by Red Hat during our call last week is more Achilles Heel than Golden Fleece? We shall see.
Roger Burkhardt from Ingres gave some real world examples of why he thought rPath’s model would work best (hint: it’s because they built their BI appliance with rBuilder).

I’m in your camp, (Billy) … I’ve never bought a “kit car” myself and back in my CTO role at the NYSE I didn’t want my team building the software equivalent. I had 30 people just building development stacks for trading systems alone and – to your point – they started with certified components. The need to coordinate patches between various vendors sometimes led to substantial project delays. Now, at Ingres, we have addressed this with your team and our customers and partners are reporting enormous reductions in effort from our rpath and JasperSoft-based Ingres Icebreaker BI Appliance. A 75% reduction in effort is at the low end of the metrics reported back and the speed improvements are even greater.

And then there’s Oracle. According to Haff, the Unbreakable Linux department, from which this Xen-based Oracle VM announcement sprung yesterday, is “based on the idea that when you buy an application from Oracle you also get some bits that let the application sit on top of the hardware and perform necessary tasks like talking to disk. Oracle has been subsuming operating system functions like memory and storage management for years; subsuming the whole operating system was just the next logical step,” he said.

And I’ll let you connect the dots from here: Oracle VM is based on Xen, which is a hypervisor, which by definition is all about subverting the role of the OS. Oracle is just taking the whole thing a step further, a step roughly the size of Larry Ellison’s private yacht, to the point where they want to reduce not only the role of the OS (with Unbreakable), but also the hypervisor. Trouble is, there’s really no data available today to support the theory that IT managers are ready to accept separate silos of hypervisors from a slew of different vendors and then one dedicated to just Oracle applications.

For now, the biggest challenge Haff saw facing Oracle is similar to that facing software appliances in general. “There’s an implicit assumption that users will be willing to have one virtualization for their boxes that run Oracle and another virtualization for everything else. That the maker of the hypervisor bits doesn’t matter,” he said.

So far, there’s scant evidence that users are willing to be quite so blase about their server virtualization. Furthermore, brand preferences aside, it remains early days for standards that handle the control and movement of virtual machines across virtual infrastructures sourced from different vendors. — Gordon Haff

This is an announcement and a trend with long term implications. There’s nothing to see here in the short term and, just like Unbreakable Linux, once the original run of press stories and industry discussion dies down, it will stay pretty quiet. For now.

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