Oracle brings Solaris, Sparc into virtualization portfolio

Sun's Containers and Logical Domains are given new life under Oracle VM Manager

Oracle plans to broaden its range of virtualization offerings, thanks to a number of applications obtained in the Sun Microsystems acquisition, said Oracle chief architect Edward Screven.

Screven was one of a number of speakers in a webcast who explained how Sun's technology development and customer support would be folded into Oracle's operations.

"We will have by far the most comprehensive solution set for virtualization, from desktop to server," Screven said. "We'll have integrated management of the entire stack. ... When things go wrong we will be able to fix the problem."

The unified offering could make virtualization administration easier, at least for those shops that run or want to run Oracle's newly acquired Solaris operating system or Sparc processor-based servers.

"On a Sparc, you will be able to run Solaris guests. On an x86 [processor-based server], you will be able to run Solaris, Linux or Windows," Screven said. All of these virtual instances could be managed from a single interface.

The plans also signal Oracle's intent to continue supporting development of Sun's Solaris and the Sparc line of multithreaded processors.

Before the acquisition, Oracle already had a few virtualization platforms. One is Oracle VM, a reworking of the open-source Xen Linux-based hypervisor for x86 servers. The company also offers virtualization management through its Oracle Enterprise Manager suite.

With the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Oracle gains a number of new virtualization technologies, which Sun designed for its own software and hardware.

One is Logical Domains, or LDoms, a hypervisor for Sparc-based systems. "We'll use LDoms exactly the same way we use Xen," Screven said. LDoms will allow multiple instances of Solaris to be run on the same server.

Another technology in the Sun portfolio is Solaris Containers, which allows Solaris to run multiple instances of Solaris on a single x86 or Sparc server.

"Containers is good technology, but it's a shared-kernel approach," said Rachel Chalmers, research director of infrastructure management for the analyst firm The 451 Group.

Chalmers likened Containers to Parallels' Virtuozzo and the open-source OpenVZ. The shared-kernel approach means a single server can run multiple virtual machines, all using the same OS kernel.

Though limited to using only one kind of OS, Solaris in this case, the shared-kernel approach has its advantages. "It's a great choice for mass-market hosting. ... You can achieve high consolidation ratios," she said.

Both of these virtualization techniques were touted by Sun for the relatively little overhead they incurred, a point that Screven emphasized again. "It's important that we have very low virtualization overhead, less than 5 percent in most cases. We care about these things because we're a database company, for goodness sakes," Screven said.

Oracle plans to add Sparc- and Solaris-based virtual machine templates to its collection of pre-configured virtual machines.

For desktop virtualization, Oracle will continue to market Sun's offerings, the Secure Global Desktop and Sun Virtual Desktop Infrastructure software, Screven said. A complete Windows or Linux desktop environment could be delivered through SunRay thin client devices.

Oracle's plan to manage containerization and bare-metal hypervisor virtualization under a single central management console is an ambitious one, though it could prove valuable should it be accomplished, Chalmers said.

"There are some technical difficulties in implementation, which is why no one offers such a unified console today. But no one's ever had the commercial imperative and the programmer bandwidth to do it before," Chalmers said.

"This is a good step for providing customers with simpler administration," agreed James Staten, a principal analyst covering virtualization for Forrester Research.

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