Into the VirtualBox -- Oracle Buys Sun

Into the VirtualBox -- Oracle Buys Sun

January 27, 2010

After a seemingly quiet January, the last Wednesday of the month is more than making up for it. First, there's Apple's big news, which is looking more like the long-awaited Tablet with each hour. While this has many in the tech world salivating; CTOs are either clapping or wringing their hands over the other big news.

Oracle is getting ready to dine on Sun. It has received the final go-ahead and closed the deal yesterday. Today, Oracle reveals its plans for the long-beleaguered software company it now owns.

Oracle has a reputation for profitability at all costs. Sun had a reputation for being ahead of the curve on ideas, but dysfunctional at execution. It goes without saying that cuts will be made. How deep and where is still up the air, despite Oracle's hints or promises.

Oracle has been clear that it intends to continue to invest in Sun's multithreaded UltraSparc T processor technology, which is found in the Niagara and M series servers.

From a virtualization standpoint, this is good news. After all, Sun cut its virtual teeth on its SPARC offerings, and it has received many accolades along the way. The server virtualization and partitioning technology runs on Chip Multithreading (CMT) Servers, enabling multiple OSes to be run simultaneously on a single server. LDoms makes it possible to run multiple, software-isolated applications on a single system or logical domain.

Widespread technology adoption is not without its challenges, however. Chiefly, enterprises aren't buying proprietary architectures the way they used to, and to reap the benefits of LDoms, a data center must have a significant UltraSPARC footprint. Oracle claims it is committed to SPARC, and there is a loyal, albeit dwindling, customer base.

Thus, no matter how powerful the technology is, limiting it to a niche architecture does nothing for its cause.

Sun's x86 offing, VirtualBox, is more compelling. It has managed to pick up a fairly significant foothold, and while VirtualBox lacks the marketshare of either VMware or Hyper-V, it does have a loyal following. It is, however, but a minuscule component in the grand scheme of things Oracle must reconcile. For enterprises that have built their virtual infrastructure around it, however,concerns about its longevity loom large.

If Oracle's previous virtualization technology buy (Virtual Iron, anyone) is any indication, the technology behind VirtualBox is likely safe, but the product in its current form may not be. And the fact that it is open source technology may not make that much of a difference -- or help its cause.

As Archie Hendryx on the "SAN MAN" blog on ZDNet UK noted:

As for the excellent host based virtualization of VirtualBox, the opensource nature of the product simply doesn't fit in with Oracle's approach of utilizing its dominant position to leverage big bucks from its customer base. With Oracle also already having Xen-based virtualization technology, I doubt virtualization will remain in the development radar of the newly occupied Sun offices. Come to think of it, will any of the opensource products remain.

What do you think? Will Oracle roll Sun's virtualization technology into its own? Will it continue to support an open source offering? Moreover, will enterprises stick with VirtualBox or UltraSPARC-based virtualization, or will they move to VMware or other environment?

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch and Enterprise IT Planet. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, published by Pearson in October 2009.

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