If you're not dedicating the cluster, and Oracle challenges you on pricing issues, Blake says, "My recommendation would be to . . . ask them to show you where in the contract you executed with them it asks them to pay a license fee for every server in the cluster."
The confusion over licensing isn't entirely of Oracle's making, says Guarente. In a virtual environment it's fast and easy to spin up a new Oracle server, and it's difficult for Oracle to confirm how many instances are running at any given time. The current environment needs to be compared to the bad old days of customers being forced to use activation codes and hardware-based dongles.
"Customers wanted flexible licensing and Oracle provided it. With that comes complexity," Guarente adds.
But that complexity is easily handled, says Welch. VMware's DRS Host Affinity Rules can restrict a virtual machine hosting Oracle to an Oracle-license vSphere sub-cluster, and there are other auditable ways to restrict a virtual machine to an Oracle-licensed sub-cluster.
Enterprises want to consolidate Oracle in virtual environments to reap the benefits of consolidation. On traditional server hardware, where utilization rates hover around 15%, IT typically over-sizes and over-licenses servers for peak loads. But with virtualization and related technologies such as Live Migration and vMotion, average daily server efficiency has climbed into the 50% to 60% range.
"You can license many fewer physical servers on native hardware," Welch says. A typical consolidation can reduce the number of physical servers that need to be licensed from say, nine servers to four, or even three. "That should be a massive savings," he says. But not only do some customers end up paying for new Oracle licenses on processors that aren't running Oracle in a vSphere cluster, they also end up paying up to a 22% annual maintenance fee even on licenses that have been retired.
Paying maintenance on dead licenses
Even if customers avoid paying for additional processor licenses after transitioning to a virtual environment, they may not be able to reduce ongoing software maintenance costs for licenses that are no longer in use after a server consolidation has taken place. That leaves many organizations paying anywhere from 15% to 22% of the original software license fee every year for products that just sit on the shelf.
So even if virtualization efforts reduce the number of licenses needed in a large organization by 30%, it can still add up to millions of dollars in potential annual support savings that go unrealized. "Oracle has set up virtualization in a way where users do not benefit from the consolidation," says Constellation Research's Wang. Some of his clients, he says, have moved to Microsoft SQL Server on VMware to save on licensing costs.
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