Annual IT operational costs continue to increase, with labor commanding a larger and larger share. For example, an IBM internal study of its own distributed infrastructure showed labor to be over 60% of the total operational cost per year, while industry analysts estimate labor costs can be as high as 80% of overall data center costs. As a result, many customers are turning to private clouds, implementing such technologies as virtualization and consolidation, standardized workloads, and automation by way of self-service provisioning in an effort to reduce these costs.
One of the private cloud tools offered by IBM is the IBM Workload Deployer (IWD for short). According to an IBM study, IWD can dramatically reduce labor hours compared to manual deployment. The task of deploying a software stack as a VM image onto a virtualized server has historically been a highly labor-intensive task. For instance, one has to first deploy and configure the OS along with all requisite patches. After that, the administrator has to install and configure the application server and all its constituent components (e.g. HTTP server, etc.) as well as patches and other fixes. For applications requiring a database, that becomes yet another piece of middleware that needs to be installed and configured. Then there is the application itself. Collectively, deploying and testing a complete application manually can require days or weeks to accomplish depending upon its overall complexity. In a private cloud environment, this kind of turnaround is untenable. The IBM Workload Deployer is specifically designed to address this problem. Available as a hardware appliance, it leverages 10+ years of best practices in WebSphere Application Server deployments and encapsulates them into pre-defined, customizable images that can be dispensed to a variety of hypervisors used in virtualized datacenters. Its use of scripting and automation techniques greatly reduces the labor required to perform deployment tasks. IBM Workload Deployer works very well with WebSphere Virtual Enterprise. This is supported with the “Intelligent Management” pack for IBM Workload Deployer. Picture below shows what IWD looks like. All the software is pre-installed and pre-configured – it is a true appliance.
Following the IBM lead, Oracle is now starting to move in a similar direction. In June 2010 Oracle announced the Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder. This product provides provisioning of the virtual appliances into the Oracle VM environment. Other than overall lack of product maturity, there are number of significant limitations with this new Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder product:
- Consider the appliance form factor (open the box, plug in power and network, few tweaks on the config and you are ready to go) and the ease of use with the IBM Workload Deployer vs. the labor intensive process of installing, configuring and securing Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder (being a classic software based tool). The differences in time to production between appliance and software based solutions are usually orders of magnitude. Quoting the installation requirements for the IWD, all you really need is: “You will need the following tools, hardware, and cables to install the Workload Deployer rack-mounting kit: (1) A medium Phillips screwdriver, (2) Two standard rack screws”. How often do we talk about screws in software business? :-). Finally I can put my favorite Bosch impact driver to good use.
- IBM Workload Deployer has been available on the market since 2008 (formerly known as WebSphere Cloudburst Appliance) and has hundreds of successful production deployments with companies such as IBM, ABSA, Nationwide, Kaiser Permanente, BSKyB, Haddon Hill Group, Lowes, Kroger, South California Edison, and many others (I got all these names from the IBM Impact agenda since these companies presented their use of IWD or participated in roundtable discussions). In contrast, the Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder product was shipped in June 2010 and its track record is unknown at the time of this writing. Oracle plans to announce a new version of the product on December 1, 2011 (two days from now), but the general availability date is still unknown.
- IBM Workload Deployer supports major virtualization platforms, including VMware (x86 platform), PowerVM (Power 6 and Power 7 platform) and z/VM (System z platform). IBM is likely to add more hypervisors to the supported list as time goes on. The market share of these hypervisors is well over 80 percent. At the same time, Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder only supports Oracle VM on x86 platform only. I dont have exact data, but I suspect that the market share for Oracle VM is likely in the low single digit numbers. Oracle has not announced intent to support non-Oracle hypervisors. This is classic Oracle lock-in strategy at its best (Oracle must be taking a page from the Microsoft book).
- IBM Workload Deployer supports provisioning of various versions of SuSe Linux, RHEL, AIX, zVM and will support more Operating Systems in the future. Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder supports Oracle Enterprise Linux and Oracle JRockit Virtual Edition only. Oracle has not announced any plans for additional OS support for the future.
- IBM Workload Deployer allows one to design and deploy patterns (see demos) consisting of WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Virtual Enterprise (via the Intelligent Management Pack), IBM HTTP Server, WebSphere Extreme Scale, WebSphere Portal, WebSphere Process Server and ESB, WebSphere Message Broker, WebSphere MQ, WebSphere Business Monitor, WebSphere Content Manager, and DB2, with more products on the roadmap and the ability to add almost any 3rd party software/application via scripting packages. Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder support is limited to WebLogic Server, Oracle Coherence, Oracle DB (single instance), Oracle HTTP server.
- IBM Workload Deployer is built on the IBM DataPower platform with a high degree of security being a major design objective. It appears that the release of the Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder v11.1.1 is not production ready as it has security issues as identified in the Oracle documentation : “This release of Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder is a Developer-centric release (versus an Enterprise release) from a security perspective… In this release, users cannot replace the self-signed root certificate created by default by Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder with their own production-quality certificates… The communication between Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder and the Oracle VM Server when Oracle VM Server retrieves templates is not secure. If sensitive data has been introspected, then it might be visible to an attacker who has access to the network. The attacker might be able to access that sensitive data in the template.”
- IBM Workload Deployer provides a self-service portal with a Web 2.0 interface so that authorized users can create new patterns, deploy instances, generate reports on the usage of the software, remove instances, etc. Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder does not provide similar capabilities and forces users to contact system administrators the old-fashioned way. System administrators use special design tool to build images and then execute deployment commands on behalf of the end users. This is not cloud-like model. User is still not in control.
- IBM Workload Deployer has the ability to define automatic scaling policy for applications. With this policy new virtual images will be created and added (or removed) on-the-fly to the dynamic cluster if current application topology is not able to meet predefined level of SLA. All without administrator involvement. Oracle product does not offer similar capability. Perhaps Oracle will add it in future version?
- IBM Workload Deployer can also patch existing running systems. Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder can’t patch existing systems.
- There are many other advantages of IBM Workload Deployer over Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder, including, but not limited to virtual machine mobility, admin REST API support, user and roles management, import and export, usage tracking for billing, license tracking for compliance, SNMP, Tivoli integration, automated firmware updates, powerful and easy to use configuration editor, pre-built scripting packages, role based security, ease of use, performance, flexibility, ability to capture and convert existing application topologies into templates, etc. To experience some of these advantages, see the online demos of IBM Workload Deployer or just browse the IWD product documentation.
- Finally, the cost of the IBM Workload Deployer configuration is usually less than a third of the Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder topology when considering hardware and software license and support costs. If you are interested in exact numbers, please send me email and I can share the calculations with you or you can simply look at the public IBM and Oracle price lists.
Despite so many technical differences, perhaps the most important one in my view is the vendor lock-in. How many companies are using Oracle VM with Oracle Enterprise Linux? Not too many. This makes Oracle Virtual Assembly Builder useless for all those datacenters not using Oracle VM.
I should also mention that there is one other product that Oracle markets as “cloud” ready. Oracle is claiming that Exalogic machine is a cloud appliance. It is not. Like Mark Benioff said: “It’s just a box”. I will talk about Exalogic in more details in my future posts.