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Virtualization's impact on Oracle licensing and support

Virtualization introduces many support and licensing challenges, and working in virtualized Oracle environments is no exception. The database and business application giant’s virtualization-related support and licensing policies can seem confusing enough to make heads spin. But luckily, there are some tricks to keep in mind that can simplify the process of determining licensing and support costs.

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In the past, many software vendors determined how to license their applications and databases based on the physical number of processors available. It was a relatively simple way to determine license and support costs. With virtualization, a single processor can emulate multiple processors, which can have a dramatic effect on licensing and support agreements for business applications.

Oracle sticks to a “per processor” licensing model. However, Oracle has a nontraditional definition of the term “processor.” Oracle’s definition may greatly differ from what most IT managers and hardware vendors have come to expect, and it is that definition that makes licensing and support agreements difficult to pin down.  In particular, Oracle’s definition of what a processor is depends on the speed of the processor, how many cores it has, how new it is, and what company manufactures it.

For example, a single Intel CPU with hyperthreading technology can make a single core act as if it were two physical processors; however, Oracle still views that as a single processor for licensing purposes under their “partitioning” concept of counting CPUs. Nevertheless, the partitioning concept becomes more complex with other technologies. Such is the case with the Solaris operating system, in which Sun uses the concept of containers for partitioning purposes.  Even so, Oracle does not associate software partitioning with Solaris Containers prior to Solaris 10, making it quite complex to determine proper licensing.

Where Oracle licensing can get confusing

Things get more confusing when Hewlett-Packard Co., with its hard partitioning concept, and IBM, with its logical partitioning concept, are introduced into the Oracle licensing equation. Those licensing schemes set the stage for the complexity of Oracle licensing with virtualized technologies, such as those offered by Microsoft, VMware and Citrix.  What’s more, the edition of the Oracle platform adds another layer of complexity. For example, Oracle Standard Edition uses a per-socket licensing scheme, while Enterprise Edition uses a per-core licensing scheme.

A simplified view of licensing amounts to this: If you use Standard Edition or Standard Edition One on a two-processor system, you simply need two licenses. However, if you use Enterprise Edition you need to take the number of cores into account as well. 

With Enterprise Edition, multi-core processors are priced using a formula, which multiplies the number of cores by Oracle’s “processor core factor,” determining the number of licenses needed. The core factor is based upon an Oracle measurement, as outlined below (chart comes from Oracle documentation):

Using the above formulas, a Sun UltraSparc T1 (1.2GHz) system with four eight-core processors would require eight licenses  (4 X 8 X 0.5), while an IBM POWER5+ AIX system with four eight-core processors will require 24 licenses (4 X 8 X 0.75).

As you can see, the above licensing schemes offer an advantage on Sun-based hardware (now that Oracle owns Sun), which should be taken into account when selecting what platform on which to build virtualized offerings. Similar advantages are offered when using Oracle’s own VM technology instead of competing virtualization platforms, such as VMware or Microsoft Hyper-V.

One thing can be said with certainty here – figuring out Oracle licensing can be a complex process. But that may change in the near future, as Oracle starts to adopt licensing policies that are more agnostic toward hypervisors and their representative vendors. The best advice here is to stay tuned and keep an eye on policy changes to maximize the value of your support contracts and licensing requirements.

Frank Ohlhorst is an award winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with over 25 years of experience in the technology arena. He served as a network administrator and applications programmer at the U.S. Department of Energy before forming his own computer consulting firm, which can be found at ohlhorst.net.


This was first published in March 2011

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