Oracle broadens its desktop virtualization reach with VDI 3.2

Oracle is off to a good start as it takes over Sun's VDI product, expanding scalability and providing multimedia and administration enhancements

Oracle, after its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems, looks to be creating its own desktop virtualization journey by continuing to leverage the work first started by Sun.

In June, Oracle announced an update to the Sun Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software. With this version 3.1.1 release, Oracle advanced the VDI ball forward with a host of VirtualBox bug fixes and additional support for Microsoft Windows 7 and Microsoft Hyper-V.

[ For a complete discussion of desktop virtualization and VDI, see the InfoWorld article: "What desktop virtualization really means." | Also on InfoWorld: Dell, HP to certify and resell Oracle VM virtualization | Make sure to keep up with all the latest virtualization news with InfoWorld's virtualization newsletter. ]

This week, Oracle announced the release of Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure 3.2, and is saying it now offers the most comprehensive desktop-to-data-center virtualization solutions in the industry. The company boasts its portfolio can manage the full hardware and software stack from applications to disk, including Sun Ray Clients, a virtual desktop broker and virtualization platform, operating systems, servers, storage, and applications.

"This release of Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is further evidence of Oracle's commitment to providing a complete portfolio of virtualization solutions that helps reduce costs and leverages existing IT resources," said Wim Coekaerts, senior vice president of Linux and virtualization engineering at Oracle. "The latest improvements in scalability, multimedia, and administration can help remove the barrier to entry for organizations considering virtual desktop architectures, and allow them to increase IT efficiency and flexibility."

The new capabilities in Oracle VDI 3.2 include scalability enhancements such as global "hot desking," which allows administrators to link multiple, global data centers and helps provide for a good user experience, regardless of location; multicompany capabilities, which enable a deployment to share resources and serve multiple domains and directories, helping service providers and large enterprises with complex directory services architectures; and the ability to redirect requests to other data centers if one becomes unavailable, which provides greater disaster recovery benefits.

Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure also provides multimedia improvements, including support for upstream audio and playback for Adobe Flash content and Windows Media Player on Oracle's Sun Ray Clients and most PCs. Improved video support allows users to view multimedia content as they would on a local PC desktop. Sun Ray Clients provide additional support for many USB devices within a Windows XP virtual desktop. Printers, scanners, and external hard drives can be mounted for use, while still providing the security advantages of a virtual desktop architecture.

In addition, version 3.2 offers enhanced management and administration, including policy-based memory sharing between desktops; tools to back up and restore the VDI systems; fast system provisioning that dramatically reduces the creation time of new Windows desktop clones; and re-provisioning, which allows the underlying Windows virtual desktop images to be updated while preserving user settings and data.

Oddly enough, Oracle is still not ready to offer support for Oracle VM, the company's own Type-1 Xen-based hypervisor platform. Instead the company is continuing where Sun left off and using VirtualBox, its hosted virtualization platform or Type-2 hypervisor, as the Oracle VDI platform of choice. While VirtualBox has proven to be an excellent stand-alone hypervisor and a favorite among developers and open source community members, there are still many questions as to its scalability for a VDI environment and whether it can or should be the base virtualization platform to make Oracle a leading contender in this expanding VDI market.

But Oracle isn't betting the entire farm on VirtualBox. Oracle VDI 3.2 remains open to third-party hypervisor offerings, which means Oracle is including support for Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware VI3, and VMware vSphere 4. However, support only extends to these third-party hypervisor platforms as a virtualization layer in the VDI solution. Support seems to be limited when it comes to the guest operating systems running within the virtual desktops themselves, and therein lies the rub.

According to Oracle documentation, only Microsoft Windows 7, Vista Enterprise, and Windows XP SP2 and higher are supported across each of these virtualization platform choices. Beyond those guest operating systems, Oracle will only provide support for Microsoft Windows 2000 SP4, Oracle Enterprise Linux 5.5, Ubuntu 9.04/10.04, and Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 on Oracle VM VirtualBox instances. Translation: if you want to run a mixed environment of Windows and Linux VMs or just run Linux VMs on this Oracle VDI solution, you better be prepared to do so on VirtualBox -- that is, if you want full support from Oracle.

This may not prove to be that big of a distraction for Oracle as most virtual machines in the industry appear to be running Windows operating systems anyway. However, if Oracle wants to compete with its VDI, providing broader support for Linux guest operating systems might be in order.

In another notable first, version 3.2 finally says good-bye to the Sun name and hello to Oracle, as it becomes Oracle Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. The new name also comes with an Oracle-branded look and feel.

It seems as though Oracle is finally ready to commit to becoming a key player in the virtualization market. But honestly, they still have a ways to go. They need to execute, validate, and prove out their solution with metrics and customer success stories before they go around town claiming to have the industry's most complete virtualization portfolio. Walk before you run. This looks to be a good start, but it certainly isn't the end of the race.

This story, "Oracle broadens its desktop virtualization reach with VDI 3.2," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in virtualization and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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