Licensing Oracle in a virtual future – Part 1

by Senior Licence Consultant Paul Bullen


Virtualisation is no longer just a buzzword; it’s an industry-wide reality. The majority of our customers are using virtualisation of some sort. Enterprise organisations in particular are adopting virtualisation technologies that serve to provide a ‘best-fit’ between business services, servers and available physical resource, optimising assets for best use. This is in addition to the myriad of other benefits, such as reductions in total cost of ownership and space saving, that these technologies present to organisations.

Industry giants like IBM and Oracle also know that virtualisation is a key strategic growth area for the IT market. This is reflected in the virtualisation technology development, which has moved beyond mainframes and servers into applications, networks and storage, amongst others. In Oracle’s case, this means server, database and application administrators can leverage their storage, network and computing resources to control costs and respond to changing business needs, faster than ever before.

But virtualisation is not always the panacea it appears to be.

The flexibility of virtualisation versus the complexity Oracle licensing

Many enterprise organisations are failing to realise the impact that virtualisation could have on their software license compliance position. This is often because Oracle administrators are now even further removed from the underlying hardware upon which their databases are running. This can be exacerbated by the flexibility virtualisation provides, such as live server migration (where a virtual server moves from one physical server to another).

With virtual servers being allocated ‘virtual CPUs’, a manifestation of physical resource, the ability to accurately understand the actual physical processors upon which Oracle licensing is based becomes much harder. That’s because Oracle administrators cannot track Oracle software deployments as they would on physical machines (their server may move without them even knowing!) as there is often a disconnect between usage and licensing.

Keeping track of usage is critical in Oracle compliance, and the failure to do this effectively could lead to operational, financial and reputational risk.

The next biggest concern in managing Oracle virtualisation is understanding the appropriate rules for licensing in a virtualised environment. The software behemoth’s policies are notoriously hard to interpret and this is compounded by virtualisation. Generally speaking, if your virtualisation strategy allows and enables flexibility of services and resources, you will most likely have to pay a premium in Oracle licensing for this.

VMware clustering is an excellent example of this. By clustering servers, you gain a huge amount of virtual server flexibility, high availability and optimal provisioning of your hardware. While this presents clear benefits to your system architecture it can have enormous cost implication, which arise quite unexpectedly.

Even more ‘simple’ virtualisation such as Solaris containers or IBM LPARs have limitations to their recognition by Oracle as ‘hard’ partitions. Often, even though a virtualisation technology may provide a way of limiting physical resource allocation, these are often not considered as a limit to the amount of licenses required by Oracle. Add to that the issues of clustering, disaster recovery and an ever-increasing list of extra cost options to consider, the level of complexity (and inevitably, cost) only increases.

In part two of this blog we’ll take a look at the physical nature of Oracle’s virtual licensing policies and find out if there are any real benefits to this licensing model.


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