Debunking Oracle certification myths

Another frequently asked question I get asked a lot:
not_insane

Is Oracle certified on Vmware?

There are plenty articles discussing this very topic, here’s a few examples:

oracle blog – is Oracle certified on VMware
vmware understanding oracle certification support licensing environments
virtualization.info – oracle linux fully supported vmware esxi and hyper-v
longwhiteclouds – fight the fud oracle licensing and support on vmware vsphere/
oraclestorageguy – what the oracle vmware support statement really means and why
everything oracle @ emc – vmwares official support statement regarding oracle certification and licensing

…and yet it still seems to bother many people I talk to when showing the clear and present benefits of going all-virtual.

It seems there is a lot of confusion between the meaning of “certified”, “supported”, and even the term “validated” comes up every now and then. To make things worse, the context in which those words are used makes a big difference.

Of course I am very aware of who would benefit from this confusion and who likely caused it (I think we all do). So let’s take a deeper look in what it means for a platform to be certified or not, and where the confusion originates.

I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.
– Elvis Presley

The first thing I did to get a better understanding is to look up the meaning of the word “certify”. The second hit on Google showed The Free Dictionary which defines “certify” as:

cer·ti·fy:

1 a. To confirm formally as true, accurate, or genuine; b. To guarantee as meeting a standard: butter that was certified Grade A. See Synonyms at approve.
2. To acknowledge in writing on the face of (a check) that the signature of the maker is genuine and that there are sufficient funds on deposit for its payment.
3. To issue a license or certificate to.
4. To declare to be in need of psychiatric treatment or confinement.
5. Archaic To inform positively; assure.

I sure laughed out loud because of meaning #4 considering the context of my quest: “To declare to be in need of psychiatric treatment or confinement” – I wouldn’t go as far as saying that people who abuse certification claims in their own advantage should be declared as such but for sure I’m tempted ;-)

But I think definition 1b is really what we’re looking for here: “Guarantee as meeting a standard”. The $64,000 question is of course:

Do we need our platform to be certified to be sure of reliable operations and support?

In other words, is the platform guaranteed to meet a certain (quality) standard? If so, who is the party that guarantees (certifies) this? Do I trust the certificate authority (a common conceptual problem in PKI security)? Can I get somebody else to certify (guarantee) my platform?

Before attempting to answer those questions, first I want to inform my non-Dutch audience of a very, very-well known concept in the Netherlands.

Say your company sells a certain product and you want to see if you can position your product as being better than the competition. One way of doing that is by asking an external (supposedly independent, although this is hardly ever really the case) to “certify” your product. You kill two birds with one stone: You prove your audience your product meets certain quality standards, AND you disqualify the competition as they have no such certification.Certification can be regarded as a recommendation on steroids (“certified” sounds much better – and more restrictive – than “recommended”).

Of course if the third party providing the certification is independent and well-respected (pick your favourite leading University or governmental scientific research lab), this would work best. If not, you can make it seem so by paying them to do an “independent” certification audit. There is also a third option: if you are yourself regarded by many as a trustworthy source, you can be your own certification authority – effectively recommending your own product (but attempting to hide that fact through a nice sounding “certification” gift-wrap). You also just eliminated the possibility of a competitor getting a similar certification for their product (you would simply not accept the certification request, or disqualify the competitive product from meeting your quality standards).

In 1989, the toilet cleaner from a company called “Toilet Duck” (or “WC-Eend” in the Netherlands) ran a TV marketing campaign in which “independent researchers” (clearly from the Toilet Duck company itself) recommended “WC-eend” over other products with a very famous slogan that goes something like (translated from Dutch) “We from WC-Eend advise WC-Eend.”. Watch the commercial here (in Dutch but I guess even English speakers can have a laugh).

We Dutch use the slogan any time people or companies are clearly recommending their own stuff, kind of saying “yeah, right, I’m not impressed”.

Now back to Oracle. You might claim (and rightfully so), Oracle certifies more than their own platforms: they certify Red Hat, IBM AIX, HP-UX and Microsoft Windows, to name a few. Part of the reason is that Oracle certified these platforms long before they actually became a platform vendor themselves (since the SUN Microsystems acquisition) – so some legacy would apply here. Second, with some vendors they have strong partnerships (ever considered running Oracle on Windows Azure?). And on at least one platform they are legally enforced to do so because of a lawsuit (HP-UX Itanium).

Would Toilet Duck recommend Lysol – a competitive product – as being just as good as their own? Don’t think so. Do you think there is a quality difference between the two? Maybe, but for sure the fact that Toilet Duck (with a grain of self-sarcasm) recommends their own product has nothing to do with it. Back to platforms for Oracle software (mainly database). Like mentioned, Oracle certifies certain operating systems, but not hardware (they used to have a certification program for storage hardware but they stopped that). Now would a virtualization platform (i.e. VMware, Xen, Hyper-V, OracleVM) qualify as hardware or as operating system? My take is that hypervisors are both. They provide virtual (not physical) hardware and have some (but not complete) OS-like features – but you can only run one type of application on a hypervisor (a virtual machine) – not much else.

So if Oracle does not certify hardware then why do they make such a big issue on VMware not being certified? I think it all comes back to marketing tactics: Create a certification program (even better, it already existed), certify your own products, then say customers should not use alternatives because they are not certified. Repeat it as often as you can to influence customers’ unconscious minds. Classic example of FUD.

And so, many people that I talk to are still scared of running Oracle on a non-certified platform. So what about “Oracle validated configurations”? These can be very valuable, and are basically reference architectures that improve time-to-market and reliability of Oracle deployments on certain hardware/software combinations. You use the validated architecture instead of figuring out all the best practices, configuration settings and support requirements on your own, leading you to a very good infrastructure starting point.  Actually, EMC is part of the validated configurations program and offers a similar but independent program on its own (VSPEX and EMC reference architectures).

Validated configuration are merely guidelines and best practices and are in no way required to achieve good manageability or support. That said, the same goes for “certified” platforms – really all you need is good support from all vendors in the stack – and cooperative support between them to avoid fingerpointing.

Finally, an example of how Oracle is influencing your mind:

Check out http://www.orafaq.com/wiki/VMWare:

Certification means that Oracle will solve any issues promptly and assures that it will do so. The concern becomes relevant when you run 24/7, enterprise or mission critical applications or you have a cluster running RAC. Spending hours to bring the software on physical every time you encounter an issue is not something ideal.

I was reading this and thought, this can’t be right, Oracle support is obliged (due to customers paying for the support contract) to support customers running Oracle, regardless whether the platform is certified. So I did a little digging. Check out http://www.orafaq.com/wiki/index.php?title=VMWare&diff=next&oldid=10664 or go to the history tab of the orafaq wiki and click the November 22, 2012 update, then “older revision [diff]”.
Before 22 November, 2012

* Oracle Corporation does not certify nor support their products on VMware. The counter argument is that it should work, and if you encounter problems, you just migrate virtual to physical. However, how do you do that with a cluster running RAC? And, how do you simulate timing problems without a full workload?

Remember this entry was written in 2008 when there was indeed no official support statement from Oracle (yet). The questions on how to migrate back to physical are very real and I blogged on them before.

After 22 November, 2012:

* Oracle Corporation does support their products on VMware, but does not certify them. The difference is that in the case of support, Oracle will try to fix the bug/problem and will do so if the bug is known. If it’s not, as Oracle does not know Vmware technology, you need to migrate your Oracle software on bare metal. Certification means that Oracle will solve any issues promptly and assures that it will do so. The concern becomes relevant when you run 24/7, enterprise or mission critical applications or you have a cluster running RAC. Spending hours to bring the software on physical every time you encounter an issue is not something ideal.

Now that smells like real FUD to me. But the key here is that you should not have to do that if Oracle would stick to their support contract with their customers. Besides, running RAC or single instance is irrelevant, Oracle specifically supports RAC as of version 11.2.0.2.0.
The only case where Oracle would rightfully ask customers to reproduce the issue on physical is if there is a strong suspicion that the issue is caused by the hypervisor. To our knowledge, it has happened on a few occasions that Oracle support asked customers to do this – but on every single occurrance the problem turned out to be caused by something else – not the fact that it was running on VMware. Plus, we might argue, does Oracle know other OS or hardware technology? If the problem is caused by a firmware bug in a physical server, does Oracle ask you to reproduce the issue on another hardware platform? Or work with their peers to get the issue resolved ASAP?

The user contributing this update is an anonymous user (no further profile info) but searching Linkedin for a similar User ID shows a profile of an Oracle employee representing Oracle Linux and Oracle OVM. Now this could be sheer coincidence but I think that is highly unlikely.

One Response to Debunking Oracle certification myths

  1. JW says:

    Interesting to see that the list of Certified Oracle Linux on VMware is growing fast.
    http://linux.oracle.com/pls/apex/f?p=117:1:8312979254244088::NO:RP::

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