Is Oracle committed to VDI? Let's look at their current strategy.

A few weeks ago, Jack and I drove down to Oracle to visit their desktop virtualization team.

A few weeks ago, Jack and I drove down to Oracle to visit their desktop virtualization team. This meeting was a long time coming, as I'd been criticized in the past for not having a good understanding of Sun's offerings for years, and just as we were getting a meeting put together Oracle bought Sun and everything sort of fell through the cracks.

Probably a year went by without me thinking too much of Oracle, though they did exhibit at BriForum 2011 London (check out videos of their booth demo and breakout session, and Jack wrote about their desktop virtualization offerings from this year's OpenWorld.

Needless to say, the question on everyone's mind seems to be "Is Oracle committed to desktop virtualization?" After visiting them, I can say the answer is "yes."

Oracle VDI: A bigger fish in an even bigger pond

Let's look at the basics. All of the same people who did VDI for Sun are still at Oracle (including Bob Gianni, the guy who launched the Sun Ray something like ten years ago). And in fact their team has grown. They have more engineers and product managers working on desktop virtualization now than they did at Sun. (And they're hiring, if you're so inclined.) They feel that inside Oracle it's sometimes hard to see this since overall they're a smaller percentage of the company.

One of the areas Oracle knows they're strong in is the high security market. All of the Sun Ray thin clients have smart card readers built in, and some models support optical networks (important for secure environments) and are certified to access multiple networks of different security classifications from the same device. (No more data diodes!)

But more importantly, Oracle is focusing their VDI product on existing Oracle Enterprise Apps customers. (I mean is Oracle VDI ever going to win a smackdown against Citrix or VMware? I don't think so.) The folks we talked to claimed that's the real reason Oracle likes the newly-acquired desktop virtualization.

To understand why, you have to remember that the Enterprise App market is a weird space. It's not the "shoot from the hip" anything goes IT that you and I know. The people who buy enterprise apps are bitter, old, and conservative. They spend millions upon millions of dollars on huge complex systems that take years to roll out. Billion-dollar businesses run on them, and CIOs (and even CEOs) lose their jobs if things don't go right. So these people can't be fucking around with the latest beta Citrix or VMware flavor of the week.

Ironically it was Oracle's own hodge-podge balkanized approach to app delivery over the past decade that now necessitates a solution like VDI. Different Oracle product groups have spent the past decade trying to convert all their various application clients into web clients. Unfortunately as we learned in our conversation with Browsium's Matt Heller, that's easier said than done. Oracle has so many huge projects and they've acquired so many companies, it's actually an exception for the web version of an Oracle product to work with "just" a browser. We're talking about different versions of Java, plugins, security settings--it's huge mess. So for Oracle, VDI is the only way they can make a more universal Oracle Enterprise Appsclient.

In fact they shared an anecdote that at the HIMSS conference, Oracle is moving to an environment where all their demos are on Sun Rays or iPads with the Oracle VDI client. And ironically, Oracle isn't even going to HIMSS to sell Sun Rays, it's just that this the only way they can have so many demos in a single booth without driving themselves crazy over the client requirements.

Oracle also likes the fact that if using VDI for enterprise app delivery means that users get the same app regardless of what device they're connecting from. And the Oracle product groups can deliver that app to many different platforms without having to build all these different versions. (I mean as soon as Oracle started to get versions of their Siebel High Interactivity Framework working across new versions of IE, the iPad showed up. !

So in the ~18 months since the acquisition, the former Sun virtual desktop team has been running like crazy, now joined by old school Oracle folks, to get the VDI stuff integrated with the rest of Oracle. Next they plan to focus on specific industries like healthcare, CRM centers, retail, and big pharma and continue the technical integration and innovation of their products.

Speaking of Oracle's VDI products...

Oracle's VDI offering is consists of four products:

  • Sun Ray thin clients
  • Sun Ray Server
  • Oracle Virtual Desktop Client
  • Secure Global Desktop

Sun Ray

The Sun Ray has been around for ten years. They have three models, a base one (Sun Ray 3), a more advanced one (optical networking, more displays), called the 3-plus, and one with an integrated display (Sun Ray 3i). Interesting the Sun Ray 3 is the first hardware that Oracle ever delivered.

Sunray3 3i

The Sun Rays still use the ALP protocol, although they can also make direct RDP connections. I've never actually used a Sun Ray and I don't have any idea what the performance is like, so we'll be testing them out in our lab in the next few months.

Oracle Virtual Desktop Client (OVDC)

This is their software. (Think of it as Oracle's version of the Citrix receiver.) The OVDC client also uses ALP. Oracle has OVDC software for Mac, Windows, Linux, and iPad. Users can also connect into their environment via RDP, so really anything that can display RDP could connect.

VirtualBox

VirtualBox is a free Type 2 hypervisor which is Oracle's preferred hypervisor for running VDI sessions. Oracle officially supports it running on Solaris or Linux although technically you could run it on Windows too.

Using a Type 2 hypervisor for your VDI host is different than what everyone else does with vSphere, XenServer, or Hyper-V, but Oracle believes this is a fine solution. First, they point out that Type 2 hypervisors have "real" OSes underneath them. Second, VIrtualBox was designed from the ground up to virtualize desktops. Third, VirtualBox is getting tons of updates now--they've moved to a rapid cycle doing 6 week iterations.

I've written in the past that I didn't think it really mattered which hypervisor you use for desktops. They all have pros and cons. So using VirtualBox, meh… whatever. I'm sure it's fine.

Secure Global Desktop

Secure Global Desktop (SGD) was the subject of the very first blog post I ever wrote for BrianMadden.com over 8 years ago. SGD is the main connection broker, session manager, protocol interface that connects the back end VMs on VirtualBox to Virtual Desktop Clients. SGD can deliver individual apps or entire desktops.

Secure Global Desktop can also act as the middle component in a "double hop" scenario, so you could load Citrix Receiver or VMware View clients on it to connect your Sun Rays or Oracle Virtual Desktop Clients using ALP to existing back end VDI and Terminal Server environments.

It doesn't seem like there's really anything special about SGD per se--it's just a needed component of the whole stack.

The Bottom Line

The twitter version of this story would be "Is Oracle serious about desktop virtualization? Yes." The team is bigger now then they were at Sun. They've released multiple versions of all four VDI components since being acquired. And they have a decent story about why they exist.

Ironically I still haven't really spent any time with the products, though Gabe, Jack, and I are planning an evaluation in our office the third week of January, so we'll see how they feel.

What do you think? Can Oracle pull it off? Is selling to their enterprise apps customers a big enough market? And what about your own experience? Has anyone worked with Oracle VDI since they bought Sun?

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Ok.. I'll buy that they are serious. I also agree (within certain limitations) that the hypervisor is less significant in VDI than server virt.  But what about the ecosystem ?  Sure a broker is a no-brainer, but what about Profile Management ?  I guess they can work with Appsense or Profile Unity etc. but do any SIs have the expertise to cobble these together into a viable solution ?  And yes, VirtualBox is a WAY cool free product, but nl;ess you have some Solaris (or Unbreakable Linux) expertise in house, who is going to do the care and feeding ?


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BTW, I don't mean to imply that Oracle does not have a fine solution.  I just question the appeal to the general marketplace outside the existing Oracle customer base.


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I think the strong business case for Sunrays were zero client ability (low maintenance + great security). But as time moves on we have panocube, xenith, TI/Ncomputing (SOC)...etc.


Also i find it a little bit of mixed message, virtual box dynamic 6 week release strategy and the play for an ultra stable risk adverse enterprise market segment. Do you just lock in a particular certified version of virt box that interops with other components then wait for the next, certification round. How stable is the virt box code under this scheme does it have time to stabilize?


(Consumer product playing in the enterprise space)


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Virtual Box is pretty feature -rich for a "consumer product."  I suspect it is branded as such because it is free and Type-1. I don't suspect that deployed on a very stable Linux/Unix is would be less reliable or lack any features of the Tier-1 Type-1s for supporting a VDI (not necessarily a SERVER) environment.  A 6 week release strategy IS a little disruptive however. I'm not sure the Change/Release Management folks OR the admins will care for that much bit-fiddling.


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@jklincewicz I would like to add a couple clarifications and address a couple comments you make.  


Oracle SGD is a application and desktop access solution that compliments Oracle's VDI to enable browser based access to Virtual Desktops and Server hosted applications on Windows Server 2008 RDS, 2003 TS, Linux, Unix, and Mainframe.   It also includes a secure SSL gateway bundled in for remote browser clients, this feature alone is worth the license cost since you do not need a SSL appliance or other gateway product.


RT:   Profile Management - Oracle VDI provides a basic profile capability with a personal disk attached to every desktop VM for profiles, application settings, and user documents.  This allows a template to be applied to a VM and not impact the user's personal data.  Oracle recognizes that Profile Management is a ecosystem of it's own bringing pros and cons from many vendors.   Choosing are corporate profile mgmt. solution separate from a virtual desktop hosting & access solution makes sense.    


Keep in mind that Enterprises also need Identity Management, Single Sign-on,  Storage Management, Systems Management and Monitoring.  


Oracle brings all that plus the hardware for VDI and a very strong Identity Mgmt solution and Single Sign-on product to virtual desktops (VMware partners for this capability)


You can get all that from Oracle for your VDI solution. The Big TWO guys also let customers choose their own, and bring in their third party solutions for many VDI required stack elements.  So lets not beat up Oracle for not having all the pieces for VDI when if you consider the entire stack Oracle brings more to the table and lets you choose as well.


RT: VirtualBox - As Brian stated VirtualBox brings desktop oriented features vs Server Virtualization products:


1) Advanced Graphics Capabilities built into the hypervisor for remote display,  multi-monitor support, and multiple desktops on multiple monitors (Ubuntu on screen 1, Windows 7 on screen 2, Windows XP on screen 3, OEL on screen 4)  


2) Video acceleration and USB built in - Accelerate the desktop media content within the hypervisor gives a content agnostic (and codec agnostic for the client) media acceleration capability for Windows, Linux, Unix guests.  


3) A server class version for VDI that brings support for large amount of memory,  multiprocessor VMs,  Memory Ballooning,  Page Sharing with Page Fusion,  Resource Controls for CPU and I/O to prioritize desktop VM workload usage and protections, iSCSI and Asynchonous I/O.


4) Why re-invent the wheel within the hypervisor when you have a proven rock solid foundation with Solaris and Oracle Linux.  These supporting OS's bring a plethora of capabilities to manage and scale a Type-2 Hypervisor.   Things like Memory scrubbing, Advanced hardware controls, Fault Management, Diagnostics such as DTrace, Network Multi-Pathing, and Trusted Computing Capabilities for security environments such as the Federal Govt.


5) A common tool for workstation use as well as server use (Handy for building templates and easily deploying the in to a VDI server environment)


I hope that brings a better perspective.


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Some more answers and comments...


1.) The shortcut of Secure Global Desktop is NOT SDG, but SGD... That typo is repeated throughout the complete article.


2.) Yes, only "certified" versions of VBox are "supported", but you can, if you so like, also use un-supported versions (note: They might not work)


3.) The OVDC client can be seen as a Sun Ray without Hardware. Note: On the iPad there currently is no support for SmartCard readers, whereas in the Windows, Linux, Mac and Solaris Version, there is (lack of connection possibilites on the iPad).


4.) All pieces that make VDI can be gotten individually (close to all, the broker for example only makes sense in the overall setup)


5.) And, they can all be downloaded from https://edelivery.oracle.com/ (search for Oracle Desktop Virtualization)


Most other things are already addressed by Jeff, he's been a bit quicker than me...


Matthias


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Brian, Gabe, Jack,


you wrote:


> Ironically I still haven't really spent any time with the products, though Gabe, Jack, and I are planning an evaluation in our office the third week of January, so we'll see how they feel.


Any news?


Curious,


Matthias


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