During a press conference Thursday, Sybase chief marketing officer Dr. Raj Nathan told reporters the pairing marks the first time an enterprise data management company has announced plans for a Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 database appliance.
A virtual appliance is a pre-configured operating system and application within a virtual machine that runs under technologies like VMware, Xen, Microsoft Virtual PC or Virtual Iron, to name a few. Like software appliances, virtual appliances alleviate installation, configuration and maintenance costs associated with running complex stacks of software.
Users apprehensive about virtual appliance 'lock-in'
User reaction at the summit to Red Hat's venture into virtual appliances was mixed. They are comfortable, in general, with the concept of virtual appliances for management tasks, but not with mission-critical apps running in appliances.
Jim Klein, the director of information services and technology at the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based Saugus Union School District, said he believed a quick-to-deploy security appliance, for example, could be a good fit for some people, especially those who run firewall appliances anyway.
"A virtual security appliance could replace that appliance box that's taking up space. In a virtualized environment you gain benefits of reliability and flexibility, and that would be a big plus. It would be nice to buy a firewall appliance in a virtual form, rather than having to buy another piece of hardware."
Klein views virtual appliances as task-oriented tools meant to eliminate excess hardware, but they aren't an IT manager's panacea just yet. "On the other hand, I see virtual appliances as an opportunity for vendor lock-in in a virtualization setting," he said.
Vinod Kutty, lead engineer in the open systems group at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, said the maturity of the primary application in an appliance is of critical importance. He also has doubts about the flexibility of a virtual appliance with a mature product -- like Sybase -- inside.
When users begin to move up the stack with appliances, then they must begin to rely on an appliance vendor for optimization and updates, Kutty said. "We are essentially mechanics, and we want to get under the hood. We want to know what's under the hood."
Cooperative virtual appliance support
To support their database appliances, Sybase will become a member of the Red Hat Cooperative Resolution Center, which was announced at the launch of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 in March. The center allows mutual customers of Red Hat and Sybase to call either company and be assured that the two will work closely together to resolve concerns, said Tim Yeaton, senior vice president of Enterprise Solutions at Red Hat. "The center gives customers a single point of contact for support issues," he said.
This approach differs slightly from when the center was first announced in March alongside RHEL 5. At that time, Red Hat executives said their company will take sole ownership of inquiries for any partner's product that runs on RHEL 5, regardless of whether the problem lies with RHEL 5 or the partner's product. It's important to note that Red Hat says it isn't just covering vendors like Oracle, for example, but all of its partner applications as well.
Additionally, Sybase's membership in the Red Hat Cooperative Resolution Center will allow the parties to have joint labs, end-to-end testing, cross support training and defined escalation procedures, Nathan said. The partnership is also meant to eliminate the need for separate OS and database patches, with lower installation, configuration and maintenance costs, executives said Thursday.
The Sybase appliance running on RHEL 5 will be available in the second half of 2007, executives said. Pricing and availability for the appliance were not available from Red Hat or Sybase, and neither executive would provide additional information in these areas when prompted by reporters.