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Oracle licensing for vSphere 4.1 irks VMware pros

Once again, Oracle’s licensing for VMware virtual environments has irked users. This time the roadblock concerns VMware’s latest features, DRS Host Affinity and CPU pinning.

Once again, virtualization pros are confused and dismayed by Oracle’s licensing policies, which continue to stymie their ability to virtualize Oracle applications.

This time the problem concerns two new features in VMware vSphere 4.1 -- Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS) Host Affinity Rules and CPU pinning -- and how they fit into Oracle licensing. Oracle deems most competitors’ virtualization -- VMware, Hyper-V and XenServer, for example -- as “soft” partitioning that requires each application instance to be licensed for all underlying CPU resources. Oracle’s Partitioning Guide is clear. “Soft partitioning,” it says in bold, “is not permitted as a means to determine or limit the number of software licenses required for any given server.”

Conversely, with “hard partitioning” -- or physically segmenting a server -- Oracle does not require its applications to be licensed for all underlying resources. And in fact, both DRS Host Affinity Rules and CPU pinning could be considered forms of hard partitioning. DRS Host Affinity limits automatic virtual machine (VM) movements to select hosts in an ESX cluster. CPU pinning ties a specific workload to a specific processor within a host. If considered a form of hard partitioning, virtualizing Oracle on VMware could be less costly.

Oracle rains on competitors’ parade
But that’s not the way things are working out, said Jay Weinshenker, an Oracle database administrator in an enterprise environment who also runs Austin, Texas-based Weinshenker Consulting LLC.

“I have been told by a client's Oracle Direct Account Manager that CPU pinning is not supported for VMware but is for Oracle VM [Oracle’s virtualization technology], and this is the price you pay for not going with Oracle VM,” he said.

Weinshenker would also like Oracle to change its soft partitioning policies to accept DRS Affinity Rules. That way, users could stop running entirely separate clusters for Oracle apps for fear of being forced to license the entire ESX farm. “VMware features such as HA and DRS are limited by clusters. If a customer could use DRS Affinity rules instead of separate clusters, the HA and DRS limitations would go away,” he said.

In some cases, the tangle of conflicting opinions and details has enterprises avoiding virtualizing Oracle applications and databases altogether.

“We have dropped virtualization of Oracle in this time frame, for multiple reasons. Number one is cost,” said Wayne Gateman, an area coordinator of virtualization at a Fortune 15 company in the medical distribution and software field. ”Oracle does not play nice in the VMware world, and that just makes it too difficult to deal with them at every level.”

In fact, even with physical servers, per-core licensing from Oracle has proven painful. “It has led us in hardware cases to scale back to a single CPU, because of Oracle’s pricing,” Gateman said. With at least 50 clusters in multiple locations running Oracle applications, all of them on physical servers, the cost savings with virtualization could potentially be huge. But "every time we turn around, Oracle pricing gets in the way," he said.

Consultant calls for users to challenge Oracle … again
Previously, users have forced Oracle to clarify its VMware licensing positions, whether concerning support for VMware virtualization in general, or for Real Application Clusters (RAC) on top of VMware.

The situation with DRS Affinity Rules and CPU pinning is no different, said David Welch, the CTO at House of Brick Technologies, a database consulting firm in Omaha, Neb. “There is another critical piece of confusion out there for which there is no excuse. Oracle field reps have knowingly been trying to represent this position [that soft-partitioned clusters require full licensing], and they have been doing so without showing one letter of chapter and verse out of any of three key documents.”

The documents to which Welch refers are the Oracle License and Service Agreement; the Software Investment Guide, also known as the Oracle Technology Global Price List; and an extract of the Investment Guide called Licensing Data Recovery Environments.  

“There has never been a case … where [Oracle field reps] have succeeded in pursuing this argument when the customer pushes back and says, ‘Show me in any of those three documents where it says that if I’m running Oracle anywhere within a cluster that I have to license the entire cluster,‘” Welch said. Instead, he emphasized, the documents say only -- but repeatedly -- that processors where Oracle programs “are installed and/or running” must be licensed.

At the very least, users should “not just foolishly say, ‘My field rep interprets licensing requirements for me,’” Welch said. “The only thing that’s binding is on paper. In my opinion, Oracle is just delighted that this confusion is spreading, when how the licensing works is right here in front of us.”

Oracle corporate communications reps did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for Write to her at

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