Oracle ends development on Sun Ray and VDI technology

About two weeks ago, Oracle announced that they had ended new feature development for Oracle Sun Ray and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure along with the Sun Ray thin clients and virtual desktop clients for PCs and mobile devices. They say they’ll keep developing Secure Global Desktop and VirtualBox.
This has started quite a reaction on the Sun Ray Users mailinglist aswell as a number of international (zdnet, the register, Brian Madden) and german media. These products never gained a huge amount of marketshare but there are a number of very enthusiastic and loyal users around it who are now after 15 years left to find an alternative.

The reason is most likely that engineering costs have been higher than the revenues. VDI never managed to gain a significant market share against vmware and citrix and remained a niche product even though the solution was great and very complete. No other single vendor can deliver clients, hypervisor and VDI management together. But that did not safe them. And while I understand the economic reasons behind the decision to kill development, I am also disappointed both because I really, really like those products and because I fear this could also have consequences in other product areas like Solaris, server hardware and also ZFS storage appliances that tied into VDI seamlessly.

Suffering hardest are propably customers who use Sun Ray to display native Solaris desktops or custom kiosk scripts running “locally” on the sun ray servers. There are a lot of people happily using Solaris and Sparc for mission critical applications whose only need is to display these apps somewhere. The last sparc workstations (Sun Ultra 45 and Ultra 25) went EOL in 2008. But running those apps on a sparc server in the datacenter was still a good alternative together with a sun ray thin client to push the display to an end user. This really hurts Oracle/SUN’s most loyal customers because it hurts the value of Solaris. This is especially mean since people have anticipated Sun Ray Support for Solaris 11 for a long time (available now since SRS 5.4) and are currently in the process of upgrading their systems which are now on a fast track to being obsolete.

Other customers who have been using sun ray and VDI to connect to Windows sessions through RDP or citrix connectors are more likely to find a substitute for their needs. There are enough other vendors selling thin clients with rich feature sets and management tools at low price points. Some features will be missed of course and it is still frustrating having to change your desktop virtualization technology.

And now? While those are certainly sad news, life goes on. Sun Rays are still going to work and for many users, new features are not even that important (Windows 8 multimedia support was just around the corner but did not make it into the final release) and some are already happily running old versions of the software. Oracle is still providing support on exisiting contracts. According to metalink note 1478170.1 they are supporting Sun Ray 5 until November 2017 and VDI until March of the same year. New licenses and clients can still be ordered and no EOL date has been set yet. Even without the supply of new clients, people can propably pick up used clients for cheap at a number of places or build their own clients with a generic thin client and OVDC.

I still have a little bit of hope for the future of Sun Ray. There are a few things that Oracle could do to at least keep it alive. It would make perfect sense to me if they integrated the current sun ray server software into Solaris. It is a huge benefit for Solaris and it could propably be maintained by that team with little effort. New features are not even needed as long as bugs get fixed and SRS keeps working. Oracle could also sell or open-source the product(s) and while I think there would be an interest, I don’t really see Oracle doing it.

One of my main pain points is that this destroys the trust in some of the other Oracle products that may or may not be performing really great. Oracle talked about the future of Sun Ray and also the strategic value of the product until very recently, not just at OpenWorld last year. If that position can turn into killing a product as quick as that, how can customers trust the same statements regarding other products. What about SGD, VirtualBox, Oracle VM, Hardware or even Solaris? I think they are all safe for now but I also thought the same thing about Sun Ray.

But let’s close on a brighter note. I already blogged about the latest (and now last) release of VDI and Sun Ray, since then SGD 5 has been released with iPad support using HTML5 and it was also just recently voted product of the month by DataCenter-Insider. A shipment a SR3plus clients arrived just last week for our own offices together with a brand new black keyboard (labelled by Oracle). And I am not planning to kick them out anytime soon.

One thought on “Oracle ends development on Sun Ray and VDI technology

  1. There’s an issue which hasn’t been mentioned here yet, so I figured I’d better weigh in with it: Trusted Extensions.

    It’s no secret that the Trusted Extensions / Sun Ray combination is popular in various Governments worldwide, particularly in the highly-compartmentalised arenas typically associated with high threat and multinational working. To this effect, Sun Ray has “curious security things” associated with it, such as Letters of Volatility to feed into assurance processes around a disconnected Sun Ray provably having no trace of user session information on it. Presumably other “zero clients” have similar Letters and assurances associated with them – if readers know which, it may be helpful to construct a list.

    Also, there’s the manner in which other “zero clients” obtain and render their displays. The nature of the Trusted Extensions X server means that clients using standard remote X11 probably wouldn’t work; Glenn Faden has helpfully blogged about how a VNC server can be persuaded to work in a Trusted Extensions environment (https://blogs.oracle.com/gfaden/entry/an_update_on_using_xvnc ) so VNC-using clients could potentially be used, but in all cases there would need to be software installed on Trusted Path, so that software (as well as the client hardware and any smart cards, which would also fall within the scope of Trusted Path) would have to be subject to considerable scrutiny by appropriate security assessors. Again, constructing a list looks like something which needs to be done, and I can potentially offer some help.

    (I’ve had Trusted Extensions sessions working just fine using VirtualBox’s vRDP server too, which removes the need to install software on Trusted Path, but you’re more likely to find a hen with teeth, than a security assessor happy to approve a multilevel or cross-domain Trusted Extensions environment installed on anything other than bare metal.)

    Of course, there’s the matter of what Oracle is going to do, as a consequence of discontinuing Sun Ray – and I’d guess that this is something that is currently being figured-out. I reckon there’s a large enough installed base of Sun Ray that the product could be spun out and picked up as a going concern, especially given its proven track record and ongoing assurance in high-security environments, and would strongly encourage Oracle to consider this option…

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