Last week Sun launched the newest version of xVM VirtualBox, its open source virtual machine software offering. Here's a quick review of the announcement.
Snippet of Sun's press release:
Here are a few lightly edited segments of the Sun release:
Sun Microsystems, Inc. announced a new version of Sun xVM VirtualBox, its high performance, free and open source desktop virtualization software, as well as Sun xVM VirtualBox Software Enterprise Subscription, a new offering for 24/7 premium support for enterprise users. For the first time enterprises will be able to fully reap the benefits of the xVM VirtualBox platform and deploy it across their organizations with guaranteed technical support from Sun. xVM VirtualBox software is the first major open source hypervisor to support the most popular host operating systems (OS), including Mac OS X, Linux, Windows, Solaris and OpenSolaris. To download the software and sign up for an enterprise support subscription, visit http://www.sun.com/software/products/virtualbox/get.jsp
Users of xVM VirtualBox 2.0 software will now benefit from new support for 64-bit versions of operating systems like Windows Vista and RedHat Enterprise Linux, in addition to all other major host operating systems. The software also offers a new user interface for the Mac platform, improved networking for the Mac OS X and Solaris OS, as well as improved performance, especially on AMD chips. Additionally, customers who purchase an enterprise subscription will also receive a Right-to-Use License, allowing them to deploy the xVM VirtualBox platform using their own software deployment tools. Subscriptions start at $30 (USD) per user per year, which includes 24/7 support, and discounts are available based on volume.
xVM VirtualBox software is a key component of Sun's broader xVM virtualization and management software portfolio, which includes Sun xVM Ops Center, the upcoming Sun xVM Server, and the Sun Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) software. Targeted at end users, developers, SMBs, and enterprises, xVM VirtualBox software is the entry-level offering into the Sun xVM platform and is designed for a broad range of customers of all sizes.
Sun is trying to get its share of the rapidly growing market for virtual machine software. At this point, we have the Xen camp (Citrix, Novell/SUSE, Oracle, NeoCleus, Red Hat, Sun, and a number of others), the KVM camp (Novell/SUSE, Red Hat/Qumranet, etc.), Microsoft, Parallels and VMware all vying for the market's attention. Sun is hoping to persuade organizations that its open source VirtualBox is a worthy competitor.
The marketing tactic Sun uses in such cases is presenting some unverifiable and sometimes useless statistic that indicates market momentum. Sun hopes that IT decision-makers will see this very large number and direct IT staff to download the software and put it into production. While the technology is impressive and appears to be enhanced with each release, I find Sun's tactics to show momentum somewhat disingenuous.
Sun's tactic to demonstrate a large and enthusiastic market response typically centers on presenting a large and ever growing number of downloads of the software from Sun's servers. This metric, of course, can not be verified externally. A more important consideration is that downloads do not directly or equal product usage. An organization could download software to evaluate it and delete it after using it only once. At one point, when I was evaluating different operating systems for a project, I downloaded ten different distributions of Linux. Each was used about a week and then was promptly escorted from my test system to a CDrom. While I certainly downloaded ten operating images, none of them ended up in any sort of production environment.
It's sad that Sun chooses this approach rather than deploying some other, more verifiable metric of success. This tactic clouds the fact that the technology itself appears quite appealing.