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Oracle licensing, support pose VMware virtualization hurdle

VMware users are frustrated by Oracle's prohibitive licensing policies and finicky support for its applications running on virtual machines.

An increasing number of VMware shops have expressed interest in migrating their Oracle

For more on Oracle and  virtualization:
Virtualization means changing roles for DBAs
applications off dedicated physical machines and onto virtual machines (VMs), but Oracle's virtualization-unfriendly licensing and support policies don't make the move easy.

Just like any complex application, a lot of apps from the Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle consist of database, management software and middleware elements that work together but are scattered among several machines, said Matt Portnoy, senior systems engineer at VMware, during his "Virtualizing Oracle" session at the VMworld conference in San Francisco.

And putting these applications on virtual machines can translate into hardware cost reduction, power savings, greater flexibility, and high availability. Further, managing the application is simplified, since patching or upgrading can all be done virtually, Portnoy said.

Licensing thwarts virtualization with Oracle
But when it comes to running its applications on virtual machines, Oracle is finicky about its support and licensing.

We will probably go back to physical for our entire Oracle environment.
Martijn Lohmeijer,
infrastructure coordinator at an IT services provider

On the licensing front, Oracle requires users to pay fees for each CPU installed on a server, even if the virtualization software has assigned Oracle a fraction of the total number of physical processor cores. This adds expense for users running Oracle applications on large eight-CPU or 16-CPU Sun Microsystems servers, Portnoy said.

Martijn Lohmeijer, an infrastructure coordinator for a large Dutch IT services provider who is implementing Oracle on VMware Virtual Infrastructure, said he "received word from Oracle headquarters [on] Oct. 16. They still will not budge on the licensing issue and state that we have to license the entire cluster of 24 CPUs instead of just the four-CPU box that is running the Oracle VMs."

"Oracle proposed making a dedicated, separate cluster from the production cluster with two hosts to keep our failover capacity. But that would still mean doubling our Oracle licensing instead of maintaining our existing fee," he said.

Lohmeijer said he suggested putting Oracle VMs in a separate VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler pool with only manual failover to prove the VMs all reside on the same box and will not leave the box unless they fail over to another server in case of disaster, but that idea was rejected.

"Oracle has restated that they do not acknowledge VMware as a valid means of partitioning a server/cluster with regard to licensing," Lohmeijer said. "Although Oracle database and Application Server runs great in a VM, we will probably go back to physical for our entire Oracle environment."

"If it was only a support issue, we would remain on VMs and probably only use a physical box to prove an issue to get support for it, but with this kind of inflexibility it is hard to justify putting Oracle in a VM unless you already have enough current Oracle CPU licenses to be able to license a dedicated Oracle cluster of VM hosts."

About 80% of Oracle instances are running on x86 boxes with one to four processors -- prime virtualization candidates -- VMware's Portnoy said. But licensing is the central hurdle to virtualization right now, said Parag Patel, vice president of alliances at VMware.

Companies like BEA Systems Inc. have virtualization-friendly licensing policies that charge on a per-instance basis, and Patel hopes companies like Oracle will follow BEA's lead.

"Now it is just a question of when. Virtualization has occurred so rapidly it has caught a lot of independent software vendors off guard, and official support statements and licensing statements for VMs are just now becoming common," Patel said. "Licensing changes are moving slowly because it directly affects revenue, but we are working with industry leaders who can be good examples."

Numerous inquiries to Oracle about its licensing and support for VMware went unanswered.

As far as pricing and licensing, information is available on the company's Web site.

Support -- sometimes
Users who have overcome the licensing obstacle should note that Oracle products are not certified to run in virtual environments, and support varies depending on the situation.

Oracle has different support statements for different applications, and they certify different operating systems but not hardware. "Oracle doesn't feel they have to certify VMware because it is considered part of the hardware stack," said Patel.

The company does support virtualization of certain applications in certain cases. If an Oracle application fails on a virtual machine, Oracle will offer support as long as that same failure can be reproduced on a physical machine, Portnoy said.

Patel said VMware is trying to make the case to Oracle that having users demonstrate an error on physical and virtual machines is unnecessary.

For users, Oracle's lack of support for virtualization technology is a serious point of frustration. In a blog about Oracle licensing, blogger Jeff G. wrote, "Oracle has been our biggest sticking point. . . . One group at Oracle tells me they support Oracle VMs and then when our DBA contacts support the support tech says straightaway that he will not troubleshoot the VM."

Oracle is quite clear about not supporting virtualization of its clustered Real Application Clusters (RAC) database. Oracle states that RAC is not supported on VMware because "there is a technical issue with VMware periodically resynchronizing its system clock with the underlying OS, which can disrupt the underlying clusterware services."

Portnoy said this issue was true for ESX 2.5 for Linux, but never for Microsoft Windows and that it's not an issue with ESX version 3.0.

Interestingly, Oracle's Linux Support team provides support for Oracle's Enterprise Linux 4 Update 4 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Update 4 and higher on VMware ESX Server.

"[Virtualization] is good enough for their operating system, but not for their products. Why that is, I won't even attempt to speculate," Portnoy said.

There is a way around this. "If you virtualize RAC, you just ask the system for a new server in the virtual infrastructure," Portnoy said. "If you have a RAC environment with four physical machines and do some virtualizing but keep at least one physical machine, Oracle supports you very happily because you have a physical server."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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