Oracle Buys Virtual Iron

So now Oracle has decided to buy Virtual Iron. Like Wow.

With this move, Oracle has staked its claim as a major virtualization player. Following its acquisition of Sun, Oracle now has not one (its own), not two (the Sun xVM suite), but three (Virtual Iron) separate virtualization stacks. That's pretty amazing.

It may also signal a shift in Oracle's virtualization strategy -- maybe not so much a shift, though, as an expansion. Oracle plays almost exclusively in the enterprise sandbox, with its database, and now with the hardware (Sun servers) and software (Java, MySQL, xVM) it acquired from Sun.

In stark contrast, Virtual Iron has planted its flag in SMBland. I've talked with Virtual Iron a number of times over the past several years, and that's what they emphasize. Virtual Iron knew it couldn't "out-VMware" VMware, and it wisely didn't try. About two-thirds of its sales are to the SMB market, I was told last year.

Virtual Iron is a very capable virtualization stack (note that everything comes in one package with Virtual Iron; the hypervisor, management component, and so on. The company doesn't dole the stack out piecemeal.) The list of features for the $799/socket Extended Enterprise Edition includes live migration, unlimited virtual servers, HA and P2V/V2V through a PlateSpin module. It's a solid offering that's well-regarded in the community and by users. We gave it a favorable review as well last year.

Oracle also gets, of course, Virtual Iron's Xen-based hypervisor, one of the things missing from Sun's stack. Oracle's own hypervisor is Xen-based, so one question is whether Oracle will consolidate these hypervisors into one offering, or keep them separate, since both have been tweaked for use with its own products.

A related unknown is whether all the virtualization technology Oracle's been buying up will eventually result in one mega-virtualization package, or if it will maintain separate product lines targeted at different business segments. One thing is sure, however: Oracle has decided to move beyond the closed boundaries of running only Oracle databases on only Oracle VMs.

Given Oracle's virtualization buying spree, I now see it as a competitor with the potential to become the No. 2 virtualization player behind VMware, edging out Microsoft. This assumes it executes a sound strategy, and does it with alacrity, given how fast companies like Citrix, Microsoft and VMware are moving the industry forward. I'm not predicting this will happen, but saying the possibility exists.

What's your take on the purchase? Smart or dumb by Oracle? Can it successfully sell to the SMB market? Let me know, or talk about it below.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/13/2009 at 12:48 PM0 comments

My Virtual Outlook

I've been working hard on making my Dell Studio XPS my new main work machine. It's outfitted with Vista 64-bit, 8GB RAM and an Intel Core 2 Duo P8700 processor. I had to enable virtualization in my BIOS (which begs the question -- why isn't it enabled by default? I don't know, but I'm going to be asking Intel soon), and it's ready to go.

Other than having to reinstall the OS, the biggest issue I've had is with Cisco's VPN client -- you know, the one Cisco never wants to update. Quite simply, there is no 64-bit client version of the VPN (and why should there be? It's not like anyone has 64-bit clients these days. Yes, that was sarcasm). And although many of my 32-bit applications have worked just fine on my 64-bit OS, the VPN refuses to install.

Since I like and use Outlook, this presented a problem. My solution was to go virtual. I downloaded the free VirtualBox, which installed easily. I then created a VM with 512MB RAM and 15GB virtual hard drive -- also a snap with VirtualBox.

Next, I loaded 32-bit Windows XP SP2 in the VM, then installed Outlook (the Office 2003 version). One of the really nice aspects of VirtualBox is that NAT translation is enabled by default, meaning that outside-the-VM connectivity happens automatically, without messing with any settings.

After a reboot, I held my breath and tried the VPN, then opened Outlook. After a few small hiccups, I had my Outlook open, and everything worked perfectly. I've been running it for about five days now, without issue.

VirtualBox couldn't be simpler to set up and get going with. It does what I need it to do, and doesn't try to do too much. What a great little product. I know it's a Type 2 hypervisor (i.e. hosted by the OS), but it runs XP very fast for me, and uses almost no CPU and about 28MB RAM, according to Windows Task Manager. In other words, almost negligible system impact. I'm delighted.

On the other hand, would it kill Cisco to update its VPN client? I'm not sure why they've orphaned it, but making users (and, I'm sure, many IT departments) do these ridiculous workarounds is extremely aggravating. Get in the game, Cisco, and assign an engineer or two to deal with this situation -- I imagine you have the resources.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/12/2009 at 12:48 PM6 comments

Windows XP Mode: Boon for AMD?

Ed Bott at ZDNet shares some of my concerns about Windows 7's Windows XP Mode; namely, that many Wintel (i.e. Windows running on Intel processors) computers won't be able to take advantage of the mode due to lack of hardware-assisted procs. It's a worthy read.

I would add that I checked out the processors very carefully before putting in the order for my new laptop. It has a P8700 Core 2 Duo chip, fully virtualization-aware. I discovered, though, that virtualization assist isn't enabled by default; I had to dive into the BIOS to take care of that. It's not really difficult, but your average user just won't know how to do it (BTW, so far, mostly so good on the laptop. I ended up having to do an OS reinstall, when Dell support determined that the factory-installed copy was likely corrupt. That was aggravating, but Dell's support was superb and that helped a bunch.)

I'll be interested to see if AMD's sales pick up as a result of all this. AMD includes virtualization assist in most of its procs, and has for some time. Thus, most off-the-shelf WAMD computers (Windows running on AMD -- I call copyright!) can handle XP Mode. Are enough businesses and consumers interested in virtualization to make a difference to both chip-makers' bottom lines? We'll find out.

Does AMD's inclusion of virtualization-enabled procs make you more likely to consider non-Intel machines? Let me know, or comment underneath.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/11/2009 at 12:48 PM1 comments

Slinging the YouTube Mud

YouTube has become a force on the Internet. That's not news, of course. What is interesting from a virtualization perspective is how it's being used for marketing purposes.

One of the first instances of this was Microsoft's now-infamous "De-bunking VMware myths" video. In this, two Hyper-V Microsofties call foul on VMware's superiority. Unfortunately, they do a lot of FUDging to make their points, and they've rightly been eviscerated by many in the blogging community for this not-well-thought-out attempt to promote Microsoft virtualization.

Now, the YouTube is on the other foot. A video has been posted of VMs in Hyper-V repeatedly crashing, followed by a bluescreen of the host itself. It's pretty scary stuff if you're using, or considering, Hyper-V.

Unfortunately, the video is no more convincing than Microsoft's comical attempt at FUD. There is no context given at all. No parameters of the test. No sense of whether something unrelated to Hyper-V caused the crash. Without any additional information, how can this video possibly be judged accurately? Answer: it can't.

This hit-job video was then highlighted on the popular, and normally quite good, Yellow Bricks virtualization blog. I'm more in agreement with the comments posted under this entry. One of the best was from "TimC," who said the following:

Hyper-V doesn't just randomly crash on "consolidated workloads". Anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes with the product can tell you that. I can make VM's crash left and right on ESX if I set it up the right (wrong) way as well. Does that mean I should post up a video proclaiming ESX is only fit for crashing VM's on a consolidated workload?

Right on, Tim.

Digging a little deeper reveals the source of the Hyper-V video, and the root cause of the VMware FUD: Scott Drummonds. The author of the video is listed as "drummonds1974." Checking out his other videos shows a definite pro-VMware slant. And he identifies himself as "Scott Drummonds" in this video. He's as far as one can get from a disinterested third pary. Here's his profile on VMware:

Scott Drummonds has been working for VMware since January of 2007. He participates in a wide variety of performance issues including VDI, performance probli solving, field support, competitive analysis, and general marketing activities.

So his job basically is to look at the competition and spread the word about VMware superiority. Unfortunately, Drummonds doesn't identify himself on the Hyper-V crashing video. Why not? Cynics might say because the video would have less impact if they knew it came from Microsoft's chief virtualization competitor. I don't know if that's the reason, however. Scott, if you read this, I'd love to hear from you.

In the meantime, the lesson, as always: don't believe everything you read (or see) on the Internet. And VMware and Microsoft, can we please stop this infantile video mud-slinging? It doesn't help customers, either present or potential. Put the facts out there and let people decide honestly, without this bloviation.

Update: Drummond has a blog entry that gives some details of the test. From what I've seen, the details are somewhat sketchy, and Drummond doesn't deal with the fact that he didn't identify himself and his company at the beginning of the video. Still, it fills in some gaps, and is worth reading.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/07/2009 at 12:48 PM3 comments

XP Mode Requirements: Vista-Sized Mistake?

The incomparable Mary-Jo Foley, a columnist with Redmond magazine and ZDNet blogger (and friend), has an excellent post comparing and contrasing Windows XP Mode and Virtual PC.

One of the key things I learned is that XP Mode and Virtual PC are separate products, so Virtual PC won't just be a Windows 7 appendage. I wonder, however, whether Microsoft is repeating bad history here. Consider: for some confounding reason, XP Mode requires virtualization-aware processors from Intel (Intel-VT) or AMD (AMD-V). This makes me considerably less enthused about XP Mode than I was a couple of days ago.

This strategy seems seriously flawed to me. By doing this, Microsoft is almost assuring businesses and consumers that they won't be able to use most of their older, and probably many of their current, PCs to run XP Mode. It's mostly higher-end computers that have virtualization-enabled procs (at least for Intel; AMD has AMD-V across most of its product lines, but far fewer machines run AMD hardware).

In other words, most businesses are going to need a hardware refresh to take advantage of XP Mode. But we're not in an economic environment conducive to refreshes. If, however, XP Mode didn't require virtualization procs, companies could just upgrade current computers to Windows 7 and still have the backwards compatibility XP Mode provides. Alternatively, they could refresh with less-expensive Wintel boxes that don't have virtualization capabilities. Now, if they want XP Mode, businesses need to go the more expensive route -- not a pleasant option in the current economic environment.

One more point -- Virtual PC 2007 and older versions didn't require virtualization-enabled procs. Why does XP Mode, since it's just an upgrade of the same program?

A big issue with Vista when it first came out (besides application compatibility) was the hardware requirements, which were much higher than XP (especially if one wanted the Aero interface). I hope Microsoft isn't repeating that mistake.

Does what I'm saying make sense, or am I out in left field again? Will the virt-tuned proc requirement turn you off of XP Mode? Discuss below or e-mail me your thoughts.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/06/2009 at 12:48 PM6 comments

Citrix 'Dazzles' at Synergy

Citrix's Synergy conference is happening in Las Vegas this week, and I had a chance to talk with Dave Moxey, director of product marketing, to go over some of the bigger announcements.

A few things stood out to me. First is Dazzle, which Citrix calls a "self-service 'App Store' for corporate employees." Dazzle presents a "storefront" view to get applications that are part of XenApp (formerly Presentation Server). There are two views: a more traditional list view, and an icon-based view which Moxey likens to the look and feel of iTunes.

Dazzle can be used for any IT service, according to Moxey. In addition to making XenApp programs available, Citrix envisions this being used for entire desktops, Sofware-as-a-Service apps, SharePoint and so on.

Moxey says Dazzle will be a free product for all Citrix customers with an active subscription. A technology preview should be available July 1, Moxey adds.

The second announcement of interest is Receiver, Citrix' iPhone app for accessing XenApp applications. Formerly in beta, the final version is available now in Apple's App Store. One upgrade in the release version adds two-factor authentication for increased security. Moxey says similar versions are coming for Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Android and other smartphones in the future.

Next up is XenClient, the bare-metal hypervisor that was known as Project Independence. This is one of the technologies I'm most looking forward to. Being able to separate the desktop OS from the underlying hardware means the freedom to do things like make your desktop and apps portable, from one device to another, or load separate OSes, like a work desktop environment along with a personal one, on an end-user computer. Moxey says Citrix will be demoing XenClient with Intel on Wednesday. That's a Webcast I'm going to catch.

XenServer is now up to version 5.5 with several upgrades, including integrated backup, enhanced search and new guest support. Nothing earth-shattering here, but worth checking out. I asked Moxey about uptake of XenServer since Citrix made it free. While he didn't have hard numbers available at that moment (he's promised to get them to me), he called downloads of the hypervisor "phenomenal; beyond our expectations."

Finally, Citrix announced a new Enterprise Licensing program. Moxey says the program has been repackaged and simplified, with six tiers of pricing. We'll see how simplified it is in the future.

There were lots more things announced, including (of course) a number of cloud computing initiatives, but I think that should be enough to chew on for awhile. Let me know what things stand out to you among these announcements.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/05/2009 at 12:48 PM0 comments

Windows 7 Bundles Virtual PC

It's one of the smartest things Microsoft has done with Windows 7. And, in New York cheesecake-thick irony, if Redmond had done it with Vista, it may not have been in such a rush to push Windows 7 out the door.

Windows 7 will feature "Windows XP Mode", allowing greater backwards compatibility of XP applications. The Mode is really just a user-friendly title for Virtual PC, which is due to have a beta of the new version released Tuesday.

The blog description implies that XP Mode will be automatically set up and running, without any user input. Virtual XP will be available from the Windows 7 Start menu, making it transparent for all intents and purposes. The integration with Windows 7 looks really interesting. Users won't even know, apparently, that they're running the app from a virtual machine (VM).

Apparently, there will be no requirement to license another copy of XP. Although not explicitly stated, I assume this is the case. Since Virtual PC is free, it would make no sense to offer this and still have to pay for a license for another OS, on top of the Windows 7 license. I'll check with Microsoft about this, however.

The question is what would have happened if Microsoft had done this with Vista? One of the Vista's great drawbacks at first was its lack of application compatibility. If something similar to XP Mode had been part of base Vista, perhaps the much-maligned OS would have seen greater uptake. With greater uptake (and more favorable media coverage), Microsoft would likely have not felt the pressure to get Windows 7 out the door so quickly and help everyone forget about Vista.

At this point, we'll never know. In any event, congratulations to Microsoft for integrating virtualization in a way that makes a ton of sense. Are you looking forward to Windows 7 and "XP Mode"? Let me know or comment below.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/04/2009 at 12:48 PM12 comments

The Laptop Arrives

Light, almost non-existent, blogging week for me. But, as Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are known to say, "It's not my fault!" I've been out on personal time for a number of days.

The other blogging impediment has been my new laptop. It's here! It even got here early (nice job, Dell.) As I mentioned recently, I ordered a new one to use for virtualization. My goal is to build a vitrualization infrastructure on the computer, to better learn the ins and outs of the technology. I know this is something others need to do as well; for example, sales folks on calls that need to demonstrate their companies' latest and greatest VI3.5 or Hyper-V add-on.

We'll also be posting an article on how to do this yourself from virtualization expert Edward Haletky; keep an eye out for that.

Posted by Keith Ward on 05/01/2009 at 12:48 PM5 comments

Hyper-V Server Does Not Require System Center

My recent blog about Hyper-V Server R2 and the free stuff Microsoft is giving away raised a number of questions from readers. Basically, they wanted to know if you get high availability (HA) and live migration without also shelling out for a higher-level management framework like System Center or System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM).

Since I live to serve, I asked Microsoft these questions (which are in bold). Their answers are under the questions.

Folks want to know if Live Migration and host clustering require System Center to work.
No, system center is not required. However, from a Windows Server point of view Windows Server Enterprise or Datacenter is required to utilize Microsoft's Cluster Services.

If not, does that mean that Hyper-V Manager can handle those chores?
A live migration can be performed from cluster manager. System Center 2008 R2 will also support live migration but is not a requirement.

If System Center or SCVMM is required, that would mean in essence that LM and HA in Hyper-V Server R2 isn't free, correct?
System Center/SVCMM is not required.

So, there you go. If you want me to pass along any more questions, e-mail them to me or respond in the comments below.

Posted by Keith Ward on 04/27/2009 at 12:48 PM7 comments

Microsoft Gives Away More Free Stuff

Microsoft has further ratcheted up the price pressure on VMware, giving away some high-end functionality in Hyper-V Server 2008.

Zane Adam, senior director of virtualization and System Center, announced on a blog that Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 will include not only live migration, but host clustering (up to 16 nodes) for high availability. Hyper-V Server is the free, stand-alone version of Hyper-V; you don't need to buy Windows Server 2008 to get it.

This move has echoes of Citrix' recent decision to make XenServer free. It was the first time a feature as critical and advanced as live migration (Xen's version is called XenMotion) was given away; now Microsoft has upped the ante and added HA capabilities to the mix.

Compare that to the new suite of product offerings with vSphere. The lowest level that will get you HA features is Essentials Plus, at $1,000 per (dual-proc) server. If you want HA and VMotion, be prepared to shell out almost $4,500 per server, as both capabilities aren't available below the Advanced tier. Hmmm. HA and live migration for free, vs. HA and live migration for $4,500 per server. So having it on three servers sets you back nearly $13,500. Seems to me there's a strong value proposition there for Microsoft.

VMware would no doubt point out that it's the most enterprise-ready virtualization solution, something Virtualization Review columnist Chris Wolf has dionstrated. Again, however, the question is one of value: is your shop one that can get along without some of VMware's features in order to save thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars? That's a question only you and your CIO can answer. Riiber also that live migration and HA are available right now for ESX and XenServer. You'll have to wait until next year to get Hyper-V Server R2, unless you like beta testing.

One thing that's beyond doubt, though, is that customers now have more price points -- all the way down to free -- and options than ever. As VMware continues to push the envelope of technology, Microsoft and Citrix expand the boundaries of value. I'd say that we, the customers, are the big winners here.

Posted by Keith Ward on 04/24/2009 at 12:48 PM6 comments

VMware Earnings: Steady as She Goes

VMware's first quarter earnings were announced yesterday, and fit into the category of ho-hum; in a way, though, that's a good thing.

Overall revenue was about $470 million, up 7 percent from Q1 2008. Non-GAAP profits, at 25 cents a share, beat expectations by a bit. Any time expectations are exceeded in this recession is cause for cheer.

Additional good news came from a big boost in service revenues, up to 45 percent of total revenues from 33 percent a year ago. Those gains were offset, however, by a 13 percent decline in important license revenues. VMware chalked that up to "the challenging macroeconomic environment." No kidding. But it's worrying that those licenses, which represent a steady revenue stream, are drying up a bit.

The road ahead looks bumpy, too. VMware CFO Mark Peek said to expect Q2 revenues to be flat or down. What will be interesting to see is the company's guidance for the third and fourth quarters of 2009; it will be an indication of the expected uptake of vSphere.

Still, compared to the rest of the economy, there's not too much to be depressed about here; treatding water these days is like a solid revenue increase in a good, or even average, economic climate.

Posted by Keith Ward on 04/23/2009 at 12:48 PM1 comments

Breaking Down vSphere Pricing

Now that vSphere has been announced, the analysis and nitpicking begins. I'm happy to add to all the blognoise (hey, I like that term -- has anybody trademarked it yet? If not, I call dibbs.)

One area I'd like to dig into today is pricing. In my news story, I quote Enterprise Strategy Group Analyst Mark Bowker saying that pricing is the biggest factor in vSphere -- more than VMsafe, Fault Tolerance, VStorage, distributed virtual switches and so on. Burton Group Analyst and Virtualization Review "Virtual Advisor" columnist Chris Wolf also praised the pricing model.

So let's break it down.

There are two entry-level suites: Essentials and Essentials Plus. Essentials Plus adds high availability and data protection onto Essential's base offering. Essentials is $995 for three servers (about $166 per socket), and Plus triples that, for a cost of $2,995.

The four core suites are Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus. Pricing:

  • Standard: $795/proc
  • Advanced: $2,245/proc
  • Enterprise: $2,875/proc
  • Enterprise Plus: $3,495/proc

Key features like VMotion and Fault Tolerance are avialable at the Advanced level. Time-saving features like distributed virtual switches and host profiles are only available at the Enterprise Plus tier.

Now, the issue here is not whether the pricing structure is fair, or worth the money. The issue, in terms of marketshare, is how this compares to what the competition offers.

During a briefing last week with VMware about vSphere, I asked Bogomil Balkansky, VMware senior director of product marketing, specifically about VMotion, VMware's version of Live Migration. I picked VMotion because many admins consider Live Migration an essential tool for virtualization. It's available for free in Citrix' XenServer, and Microsoft announced yesterday that it will be available for free in Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, meaning it should be available next year. So, I asked Balkansky, if you're an admin in a a small shop with a tight budget, do you go for VMware Essentials, and get a non-Live Migration version of vSphere on three hosts for a thousand bucks, or do you look at XenServer or Hyper-V, which set you back $0?

Balkansky skillfully danced around the question, saying that customers will want VMware's overall features and the maturity of its products more than they want XenServer or Hyper-V. He may be right -- VMware has the name and reputation, both well-deserved. But Citrix and Microsoft (along with Virtual Iron, Red Hat, Novell, IBM and so on) are building reputations in the business, too. And they're attacking VMware hard on price. Will the attacks take their toll? That's a great unknown now. In general, I like the fact that VMware is more seriously recognizing the lower end of the market, and targeting it with affordable options.

But even those who think vSphere is going to be a good product have serious concerns about price. Here's an e-mail I received this morning, from someone who knows this industry very well and likes VMware generally:

"There are new scalability enhancements, and a few "new" features that to me aren't all that new. But the cost just blows me out of the water. $3,500 per *processor*???? How do IT organizations legitimize that kind of cost to their business? Who's snowing whom here?"

If you're an enterprise VMware customer, or considering becoming one, are you prepared to pay $7,000 or more per server? Or is my friend being too hard on vSphere pricing? Will you be taking the plunge on vSphere when it's out? I want to hear your thoughts on this, either below or via e-mail.

Posted by Keith Ward on 04/21/2009 at 12:48 PM8 comments