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Don Burleson Blog 







Oracle licensing and vurtualization

Oracle Database Tips by Donald BurlesonJuly 24, 2016

Question: What are the options when licensing Oracle when running virtualization?  My company wants to run virtual machines under Oracle and need to understand the Oracle licensing changes.

Answer:  Virtualization is traditionally used when you have a single server with heterogeneous OS platforms (e.g. UNIX and Windows) and want to run both on the same server, but virtualization is also used to load-balance server resources.  One of the important downsides to virtualization is that it defeats one of the most compelling reasons for consolidation, the sharing of a large bank of CPU's.  By slicing a large server into many tiny VM's, you are losing this ability to share computing resources between VM's.

In any case let's look at the use of virtualization and see how it affects Oracle licensing costs.

Oracle virtualization and licensing falls into two specific categories:

  • "hard" hardware partitioning (virtualization): This is the only path to license reduction.
  • "soft" server hardware virtualization: Soft virtualization tools such as VMware will not aid in reducing license costs.

Let's take a closer look at each approach, and see how it impacts Oracle licensing costs.

Executive Summary

  • Only hard partitioning applies to Oracle licensing, so "soft" solutions (VMware) do not apply to license savings.
  • The "hard" partitioning methods (Solaris Zones, Sun Logical Domains), and split a larger server into many smaller servers, but each VM must be licensed independently.
  • License saving in hard partitioning virtualization is only helpful if you are running "mixed workloads", running Oracle on some VM's and applications on other VM's.

Hard Virtualization by hardware partitioning

This approach takes a single large server and partitions into smaller logical servers using tools such as Sun Logical Domains (LDOMs), Solaris Zones (also known as Solaris Containers).  Note: Oracle does not recognize hard partitioning with Solaris Containers prior to Solaris 10; and even then there are many stipulations. See Oracle Solaris Zones and hard partitioning for details.

Other non-Solaris hard partitioning methods such as Dynamic System Domains (DSD), plus many other lesser known hard partitioning techniques.  For Solaris shops, only the Solaris Containers approach is considered hard partitioning:

- Oracle Solaris Containers (zones) and hard partitioning

Here is the official Oracle document on hard virtualization partitioning:

- Oracle hard partitioning policy

 - Oracle pricing for hardware partitioning and virtualization

Using this approach, if you have an 32 core physical server and create a hard partitioned Virtual Machine (VM)  with 16 virtual CPUs running the Oracle database, you will still need to buy database licenses for 32 cores.

If you are consolidating database workloads on to a server this is not a problem, but if you were planning to run mixed workloads, like 16 cores for one database and 16 cores for application server, you will be required to buy double the license. 

For shops that run all of their VM's solely for Oracle, there is no license benefit to virtualization.

Soft VMware Consolidation and server licensing

Oracle does not recognize software virtualization with soft partitioning as a means of reducing licensing costs.  Hence, consolidating mixed workloads on VMware products, (which Oracle does not recognize as a "hard" partitioning of CPU resources), is not practical from an Oracle licensing savings perspective.

Remember, VMware is counted as soft partitioning method and therefore any dedication or restriction of the Oracle programs using it is considered as soft partitioning and hence you will still need to license the whole environment.

Unexplored territory in VM Oracle licensing

Not all migrations into Oracle virtualization go smoothly.  According to this February 2016 article in the Register titled Got Oracle?  Got VMware?  You could get stung with huge licensing fees. The article notes:

Oracle has been telling a number of organizations running its database software that they are breaking the company's licensing rules – and therefore owe it millions of dollars in unpaid license fees.

The issue hit the headlines in January after US confectionery giant Mars took Oracle to court in the US over claims Mars had broken the rules. Mars had been audited by Oracle and developed a response plan with compliance specialist Palisade Compliance. The case settled before going to trial. . . .

The reason Oracle is targeting the VMware base is Oracle does not accept VMware’s world view on licensing, and therefore its definition, of hardware partitioning. An Oracle partitioning document, here, shows Oracle only accepts Solaris Containers. . .

Since VMware’s release of vSphere 5.1 in August 2012, Oracle has insisted that you cannot simply license its database to a given number of virtual machines. Rather, you must license your entire server estate, on the basis that you have the potential to run Oracle on all those servers and cores, should you wish.

Important Note:  This document is a literature review from July 2016 and should not be used to rely on Oracle licensing.  Oracle licensing constantly changes, and you should consult your Oracle customer support representative for current licensing policies.

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Note: This Oracle documentation was created as a support and Oracle training reference for use by our DBA performance tuning consulting professionals.  Feel free to ask questions on our Oracle forum.

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