Oracle Sparc T4 policy has licensees scratching their heads

Oracle has added the upcoming Sparc T4 chip to its processor core factor table, and what it says has some wondering whether Oracle is playing games to get people to adopt Sun hardware.

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Oracle’s licensing policy for its upcoming Sparc T4 processor has some users confused, with others saying it won’t stop defection away from Sparc.

Oracle is expected to announce the Sparc T4 this year, quite possibly at its OpenWorld conference next month. The 40-nanometer, eight-core CPU is expected to run at 3 GHz and higher and be built for end users running large operations such as Oracle Database. Last week, Oracle updated its processor core factor table, which essentially explains how many software licenses are required by different processor cores.

The update is for the Sparc T4, the core factor of which Oracle is setting at 0.5. This is in contrast to competing chips such as Intel Itanium and IBM Power, which have core factors of 1.0.

They’re still doing the ‘We’re Oracle; you’ll pay what we want you to pay if you want to use our software’ game and haven’t yet realized it can’t apply to hardware as well.

Bill Bradford, senior systems administrator for an energy services firm in Houston

What does it mean? With a core factor of 0.5, an end user only has to pay for a license for every two processor cores. With a core factor of 1.0, the user has to pay for a license for every single processor core. So if you compare Sparc T4 to the IBM Power7 -- both of which are eight-core chips -- an end user would essentially have to pay for twice the number of licenses on Power7 that they would on Sparc T4.

“The whole history of [the processor core factor table] is supposed to be based on the scalability of the chip to make it a level-playing ground,” said Wayne Federico, chief information officer of Miro Consulting, an Oracle licensing consultancy. “So, generally, if Sparc T4 is really competing against Power7 and Itanium, you would have expected it to be a 1.”

As a point of comparison, IBM has a similar processor licensing policy called processor value units (PVUs). The more PVUs a chip’s processor has, the more expensive it would be to license per core. Under the current table, the most powerful Power7 has more PVUs than either the latest Itanium or Sparc chip currently on the market. IBM hasn’t published the PVU value of the Sparc T4 chip yet.

Bill Bradford, senior systems administrator for an energy services firm in Houston, said his company is moving away from Sparc “due to Oracle’s draconian changes in terms of licensing and support.”

“They’re still doing the ‘We’re Oracle; you’ll pay what we want you to pay if you want to use our software’ game and haven’t yet realized it can’t apply to hardware as well,” Bradford added. “That giant sucking sound? It’s people leaving Sun Sparc in droves.”

This is not the first time that Oracle’s processor core factor table has generated controversy. Last December, it changed the core factor for newer systems with Itanium 9300 series chips from 0.5 to 1.0. This had an effect on Hewlett-Packard Co., which sells the most Itanium-based systems of any vendor. In a demand letter that predated a lawsuit against Oracle, HP demanded that Oracle revert its core factor for Itanium back to 0.5. Oracle refused. That along with Oracle dropping support of Itanium in future software releases led HP to sue.

Federico said Oracle is in a unique situation, considering that it is now in the hardware business.

“Before they were never a hardware dealer,” he said. “Now they are. So it’s a bit strange that they’re giving out cost comparisons and setting the cost in a way. It is an interesting situation.”

Oracle did not return a request for comment for this story.

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