I knew trouble was afoot a while back, first when Oracle acquired Virtual Iron, and later when they announced their intent to acquire Sun.
I told people at the time "Larry Ellison and Oracle are going to do everything in their power to lock out VMware". People didn't really believe me. Now it's pretty clear to all what the picture looks like.
Which brings up the inevitable questions of "why?" and "what happens next?"
So let me attempt a few answers ...
In Case You Haven't Caught Up With The Story So Far ...
Oracle right now is dancing around the fact that they've decided to attempt to strong-arm customers into not using VMware (or any other virtualization layer that Oracle doesn't sell). They haven't come right out and made a public statement (big downside in that), but haven't really offered up any firm support statements either.
For example, check out Jeff Browning's post where Charles Phillips (President of Oracle) is reported to have claimed that he hadn't heard of any customers wanting to run Oracle on VMware.
And Chad Sakac's most recent post dissecting the form letter response from Mr. Phillips attempting to make a case as to why Oracle intends to support their own hypervisor and no other.
So, it's all out in the open now, isn't it?
Why Is This?
Let's start with Larry's ambitions to build the "next IBM". To do so, you need an end-to-end stack that doesn't let any pesky competitors get in.
Witness the Exadata 1 (now history) and the newer Exadata 2. For those of us who have been in the IT industry for a while, it's vaguely reminiscent of other "appliance" models: the AS/400, Netezza and others.
The problem with hypervisors (and VMware in particular) is that they crack open that nice, tight stack and let other players in. All of the sudden, you can run on just about anyone's hardware. You've got access to powerful features that don't require an expensive RAC license.
And, most importantly, virtualization lets you move to different cloud models, and not necessarily the one that Oracle has in mind, i.e. an Oracle-owned data center.
Customers love this. Oracle hates this. So they're apparently doing everything they can to slow down the inevitable.
If you think about it, Oracle is wielding two important weapons: support and licensing. The Oracle field organization has done a good job scaring the living crap out of customers who have asked the support question. Indeed, at the bargaining table, this is a Big Issue for Oracle. I don't need to hear any more stories on this one; I've heard more than enough already.
Of course, none of this ends up in writing :-)
The other weapon they've got is licensing -- make it More Expensive to run in a non-Oracle virtualized environment than any other. I have had dozens of customers tell me stories on how Oracle dances around the fact that they charge a premium to run under VMware as opposed to Oracle's own hypervisor.
Sure, customers lose important choices, things end up costing more, and many will have difficulty getting to a fully-virtualized environment as a result.
Oracle was never famous for caring much about their customers' overall IT strategy, other than selling more licenses. I don't think anyone at Oracle is losing too much sleep over the pain this is causing their customers.
Yep, it feels like IBM all over again. Except this time it's different.
BTW, we at EMC do have a vested interest in all of this, given our relationship with VMware. But even if circumstances were different, we'd be outraged by this sort of customer-unfriendly hardball. If you think back, way back when EMC had to fight its way into the IBM walled garden to sell our storage products, so it's a rather sensitive issue for us.
Anti-competitive behavior doesn't help anyone. It doesn't help customers. It doesn't help the industry. And, in the long run, it doesn't help the vendors who play this sort of game with their customers.
HP, IBM, Microsoft and others have learned to open up, and make money in that world. In time, Oracle/Sun will have to learn the same lessons already learned by others.
What Happens Next?
Several things, really.
First, there are a decent number of larger IT shops who have basically called "BS" and are pressing on regardless of Oracle's preferences here. They've either turned to other support providers, or are willing to do the V2P thing if needed, or in some cases learning to simply lie to Oracle.
EMC, for example, uses Oracle products extensively internally, and we're in the process of going 100% virtualized and building our own private cloud. You can bet that Oracle's little dance won't slow us down very much. Same with other larger IT shops.
But what about everyone else? Many shops depend directly on vendor support; Oracle's stance is a major issue for them. Never mind that Oracle's original proposition was "runs on anything". Maybe it should be changed to "runs on anything that Oracle sells". These people have some hard choices to make.
I hope they stand up and be counted at license renewal time. The only way to get a stubborn vendor's attention is to threaten their income stream. Works very well with all of us vendors :-)
Others are getting more extreme. I know of at least two dozen "Oracle Alternative" projects that have sprung up with customers I've spoken to, mostly over this specific issue.
Oracle will undoubtedly press their case that their approach is "better" from a technological perspective, and attempt to position their stance as "better for customers". And I think we all will have to patiently counter their FUD until even they get tired of the corporate line.
I'm hoping that the industry types (press, analysts) will call Oracle out on their less-than-customer-friendly behavior, although I'm sure that more than a few people are intimidated by the Oracle Machine.
Finally, I'm hoping that customers big and small will recognize this for what it is, adopt the appropriate mindset, and do what's in their best interests regardless of Oracle's views on the subject.
A Quick History Lesson?
You may have heard the story of King Canute (also spelled Cnut).
According to Henry, Cnut leapt backwards
and said "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of
kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth,
and sea obey by eternal laws."
He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again.
Perhaps this is a rather extreme characterization, but the lessons are clear -- there are certain forces that individuals can control, and others that are beyond their control.
Especially in our mature and competitive world of IT.
Larry Ellison and the crew at Oracle need to learn that no king's pronouncement will stem the rising tide of virtualization.
No matter how successful they've been in the past.