In ancient Greece, it was common for those seeking prophetic and spiritual wisdom to seek counsel from an Oracle, while in Zen Buddhism, a Zen master is one who offers spiritual guidance and teaching to others.  Well, the Xen project can now offer both forms of wisdom – for virtualization at least: today announced that Oracle has joined the Xen Project Advisory Board.  Big deal? Yes.  First, the Oracle appointee to is Wim Coekaerts, Oracle’s “Mr Linux” (the Oracle of Linux, perhaps?) and the person behind the Oracle Unbreakable Linux effort.   Wim is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and a great leader of the open source cause.  It’s a pleasure to welcome him to the Xen AB.  With him as an Oracle observer comes Dan Magenheimer, formerly of HP and the leader of the Itanium Xen port, and Kurt Hackel, who leads the Oracle VM dev team.  These guys have done some heavy lifting for Xen, and the project will benefit from their leadership.

Oracle has become a major mover in the open source world. It’s initial partnership with Red Hat has morphed into open competition, based on Oracle’s own Enterprise Linux distribution that is both compatible with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and (according to Oracle) more rigorously tested and for mission critical (Oracle, of course) database workloads.    Like it or not, Oracle Enterprise Linux (OEL) plays an important role in delivering value to end users. First, it is available free, with optional support – unlike RHEL, for which source code is made available, as required by the GPL (so you can build it yourself), but not the binary product.  This keeps an affordable enterprise Linux distribution within reach of the masses, and you can always buy support if you want it. Second, OEL is heavily tested (not that RHEL isn’t) and validated for a demanding application workload. Oracle’s Xen effort is quite different to OEL.  Whereas Oracle Linux is a derivative of what Oracle euphemistically terms “Enterprise Linux” (in other words, RHEL) the Xen in Oracle VM comes directly from the upstream code base, and not via an intermediate distro.  This means that Oracle VM tracks the upstream code base more closely than OEL can track  Oracle has already offered a valuable set of set of patches and contributions to the project, and will host the next Xen Developer Summit.

Perhaps more importantly, at a time when Red Hat’s enthusiasm for bare metal virtualization is waning – and its focus on KVM accelerating – Oracle appears to be betting that the market will continue to adopt (a) a type 1 hypervisor and (b) in the form factor of a virtualization platform, as opposed to virtualization delivered in an OS.  Contrast this with Xen in Linux or Hyper-V in Windows Server (which is type 1 delivered in an OS) and KVM on Linux or MSVS on Windows (which is type 2 – hosted virtualization). 

Arguably Red Hat is being smart by  offering both Xen in RHEL 5 and KVM (likely for RHEL 6) – leaving customers free to choose.  But I think that they’ve missed the point:  whether the technology is KVM or Xen in RHEL 5 the product will still offer OS based virtualization (competing with Hyper-V in Windows and Xen in SLES) whereas all of the other players in the market have opted for a platform based model independent of any OS.    Finally, it is well known that Oracle only supports Oracle apps virtualized on Oracle VM, which is, as I said earlier, all but identical to mainline Xen.  Is this a reasonable position? No, it’s ridiculous.   Hourly and daily regression tests on mainline Xen ensure that every guest ever built for Xen, and every application ever tested on Xen, is  known to run perfectly.  So Oracle’s support position is nothing more than the Oracle brandwagon wielding its market muscle.  It’s a position that we in the Xen project hope to persuade Oracle to change over time – another good reason to welcome Oracle to the Xen AB.  By contrast, SAP has an open virtualization partnering program and  a rigorous validation and support program for SAP apps on 3rd party virtualization platforms.  SAP is building a strong ecosystem of virtualization partners around its products to ensure that they run optimally and can be supported on any virtualization platform.  Oracle would do well to learn about the business of partnering from the community and the ISV ecosystem.  Which is the final reason why it is great to welcome Oracle to the Xen Advisory Board.