Virtualization Missing Link No More: SAP Adds VMware Support

Virtualization market leader VMware today got a key bit of good news for its largest enterprise customers. ERP giant SAP announced support for its products running in 64-bit Windows- and Linux-based production-level virtual machines based on VMware's ESX Server.

Virtualization market leader VMware today got a key bit of good news for its largest enterprise customers: ERP giant SAP announced it will support its products running in 64-bit Windows- and Linux-based production-level virtual machines based on VMware's ESX Server software.

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Until now, CIOs who wanted to run SAP apps on such a VM, or virtual machine, could do so of course, but wouldn't get help from SAP if they ran into technical trouble.

ERP applications, often the most critical software in large enterprises, remain something of an emerging frontier for virtualization. While many CIOs are running a wide variety of applications on VMs now, the thought of putting the ERP applications on a VM still gives many CIOs pause. Since ERP apps are the most critical to business-side users, any slowdown in application performance would be a huge black eye for IT. And the art and science of balancing workloads on one physical server hosting multiple VMs, to avoid any such slowdowns, is young yet.

Also, because ERP and database applications are some of the most resource-hungry apps, it doesn't always make sense to run them on a VM, as they may just consume the I/O resources of the physical server to the point that another VM wouldnt be able to share that physical server effectively.

Still, ERP deployments are highly customized and vary from one enterprise to another, and some CIOs are already choosing to run ERP apps on a VM, notes James Staten, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. "You may want to put these apps on top of virtualization in order to take advantage of fast restart in a disaster recovery scenario, or for the non-disruptive upgrade [of the application itself], or in a test/development environment where you want fast set up and tear down," he says.

VMware also announced today that servers from Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, HP and IBM have been hardware-certified for SAP solutions running on Windows and Linux with VMware ESX Server. This is a statement that VMware's rival, Citrix/Xen, cannot make yet.

SAP's main rival, Oracle, has come under fire recently for its comments regarding customer support for Oracle products running on VMs. Oracle has declined to provide official support for its products running on VMware-based production environment VMs.

Oracle is trying to make its own move against VMware and Citrix/Xen in the virtualization software market, as the company announced at its recent Oracle OpenWorld tradeshow. Oracle's plans to create its own Xen-based hypervisor, dubbed Oracle VM, got a cool reception from industry analysts at that tradeshow.

By offering full support for Oracle products running on Oracle VM, and not VMware products, Oracle will try to chip away at VMware's enterprise market share, says Burton Group research analyst Chris Wolf. Oracle also will try to cook up pricing advantages for their customers, Wolf notes. (Oracle also supports x86 virtualization on Sun Solaris Containers.)

"Oracle has historically supported large enterprises using VMware on a case-by-case basis," Wolf notes. "Several Burton Group clients run Oracle inside VMware VMs, and have been doing so for nearly a year. Of course, public official support for VMware ESX VMs would be a step in the right direction," he says.

Pricing of enterprise software is becoming a confusing and sometimes contentious issue in an environment that's running on VMs. Should the software be licensed by number of CPUs, number of VMs, or number of end users?

Policies vary by vendor; customers negotiate individual licensing agreements. For instance, some CIOs have licensing agreements for software such as BEA's Web Logic application server that's based on a number of CPUs, not a number of VMs running on those CPUs; this means the CIO can run as many VMs as he likes on that set number of CPUs. A CIO with this arrangement is loathe to see it change if he's making good utilization of his virtualized environment.

SAP has stepped ahead of some other ISVs in sorting out the pricing and licensing issues that are popping up in virtualized environments, notes the Burton Group's Wolf. "SAP is actually a model vendor for enterprise ISVs to follow," says Wolf. "Their licensing is purely based on the number of end users. SAP understands that binding licensing to physical resources is counterproductive, since a major aspect of server virtualization is abstraction of underlying hardware resources," he says.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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