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Oracle lags other vendors in VM-friendly licensing, expert says

Bridget Botelho
Microsoft, IBM, and CA are among major vendors that have made their software licensing policies more virtualization friendly in the past year. Other software vendors --namely Oracle -- hold to licensing policies designed for the physical world, according to Burton Group virtualization expert Chris Wolf.

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At VMworld Europe in Cannes, France, this week, Wolf will host an encore session on software policies on licensing and support. It may clarify some of the more convoluted licensing policies and challenges and offer recommendations for licensing in virtual environments. Wolf has hosted similar sessions at previous VMworld shows because licensing policies -- which continue to change -- are of great interest to users.

"Most vendors are moving away from physical-based licensing, [but] Oracle [Corp.] is the biggest example of a company that is a pain point for virtualization users; they don't officially support VMware, and their licensing is still bound to physical hardware," Wolf said.

The problem with the old school of licensing – which is based on physical CPU, CPU socket, or core – is that virtual machines (VMs) require flexibility. Tying licenses to physical resources complicates compliance auditing and data centers often end up licensing to the greatest common denominator, according to Wolf.

Because of this, companies like CA and IBM Corp. have made significant changes to their licensing policies. CA moved to instance-based pricing, and IBM went from licensing based on physical resources – called Processor Value Units – to licensing based on virtual CPUs, so there is no longer binding of physical licenses to VMs in either case, Wolf said.

Microsoft also made positive changes to its licensing policies recently, Wolf said.

In September, Microsoft waived its 90-day reassignment rule, so now customers with volume licenses can reassign licenses between servers in a server farm as often as needed. Prior to the change, all Microsoft licenses were assigned to physical servers, limiting VM mobility.

But there is still room for improvement in Microsoft's policies, Wolf said. The biggest problem with the new policy is that the 90-day restriction still applies to nonvolume license holders, including OEMs and system builders, severely constraining VM mobility for those users, Wolf said. Another limitation is that Microsoft deems a server farm two data centers within the same country. So, under the new rule, a VM can be moved from New York to San Francisco, for example, but not to London.

Oracle continues to be the bane of VMware, Hyper-V, and XenServer users, because the company does not support running its software on any virtualization platform except its own Oracle VM, and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud environments that are supported and licensed by virtual CPU. This is "an odd exception," because Amazon's cloud environment is based on the open source Xen hypervisor, which Oracle does not support in any other instance, Wolf said.

Companies like Oracle that have not adapted their licensing and support policies for virtualization will likely have to change them when their bottom lines are affected. Wolf said. "Licensing policies are an important part of a company's revenue, and when they start seeing that revenue affected, they will have to change," Wolf said.

In an ideal world …
Ideally, software licensing should be simple and allow for VM flexibility. Licensing based on physical servers is acceptable because it simplifies licensing compliance for IT, Wolf said.

"It's all about simplicity," he said. "Our clients are OK with [per server licensing] for the OS, but still want the option to license an OS to a single VM without any mobility restrictions," Wolf said. "They like the idea of the all-you-can-eat buffet style [license-unlimited OS instances against the physical nodes in a cluster] or à la-carte [pay as you grow]..

Licensing per virtual instance is good because it has no direct ties to physical hardware, and the same goes for a virtual CPU-based model; these approaches allow for VM mobility, Wolf said.

By this standard, most operating system licensing policies are virtualization friendly. For instance, Microsoft Windows Server 2003/2008, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Sun Microsystems' Solaris 10 are all licensed per physical server or per VM running instance, and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 is licensed per physical server.

When it comes to applications and databases, licensing models are more diverse. Oracle 11g database licensing is based on physical server CPUs; IBM Lotus Domino 8 is licensed per user; Novell GroupWise 7 is licensed per running environment, whether it is for physical or virtual environments, plus client seats; and Citrix XenApp is licensed based on concurrent client connections, according to Wolf's data.

The bottom line: Users should check with their vendor about software licensing policies to avoid problems.

Virtualization support : Another gray area
Users also need to be wary of vendors' support for their applications running in virtual machines. To ensure that an application problem is not related to the underlying virtualization layer, some vendors will offer support only if the application runs on physical hardware, Wolf said. When it comes to virtualization software, each software vendor has its own policies and some offer support on a case-by-case basis, he said.

VMware is the most widely supported virtualization vendor, and Microsoft has gotten a lot of support for Hyper-V as well. But "in terms of support, there is a lot more work to be done. Vendors blindly say they support virtualization, and they let people interpret that how they may," Wolf said.

When purchasing software for a virtual environment, Wolf makes the following recommendations to companies:

  • require vendors to offer licensing with no mobility restrictions and licenses that can be fully assigned to a VM;
  • factor the complexity of managing licenses and the associated total cost of ownership in all software purchasing decisions; and
  • use requests for proposal to compel vendors to support your preferred virtualization platform.

In the meantime, users should keep the pitchforks raised and the fires burning, because "pressure from customers has led to the positive licensing changes" seen so far, Wolf said.

Check out the rest of our VMworld Europe news coverage.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.


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