Oracle licensing, support on VMware still a hindrance

Database pros say Oracle’s licensing and support policies for Oracle on VMware are still a pain point, mainly because Oracle considers VMware to be “soft partitioning.”

LAS VEGAS -- Oracle database pros continue to test the waters of running apps and databases on VMware, but Oracle’s licensing policy could hold some of them back, especially considering the proliferation of processor cores in newer x86 server chips.

One of the now years-long hindrances to adoption is Oracle’s licensing policy on x86 VMware, according to end users. In particular, Oracle considers VMware technology to be soft partitioning; and, as such, end users must license an entire server even if they’re only using a portion of it for Oracle databases and applications. With newly released Intel and AMD chips that have eight and 12 cores, per-core licensing can get expensive quickly. On RISC and Itanium boxes, Oracle allows hard partitioning so that end users can just license a portion of the box for Oracle products.

One end user is in the testing stage of migrating Oracle to VMware on x86 HP Intel boxes, and that licensing issue concerns him.

“It’s something we would consider,” said the director of financial services for a Texas-based manufacturing company, who declined to use his name in compliance with corporate policy. “We’re piloting it right now. We’ve done some application testing, but not any database performance stress-testing.”

Currently the manufacturing company is running Oracle in Solaris on top of Sparc-based Sun servers. But management has decided to standardize the IT environment on Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Linux, and as part of that, they’re moving everything to x86. Like many others, his primary concern for putting Oracle database on VMware is performance. But he is also unsure how the licensing cost structure will pan out with VMware and Oracle on virtualized machines, so that’s another of his concerns.

There is no doubt that Oracle users have virtualization on the mind. The Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) just released results from a virtualization survey it took from 381 of its members. It found that 62% are currently using some kind of software virtualization for Oracle on x86. But only about 10% have more than half of their production databases in a virtualized environment.

Support is also important for Andy Birch, the worldwide business systems manager for Starkey Laboratories, a hearing instrument manufacturing company in Eden Prairie, Minn. The company is currently running Oracle databases on HP servers on top of Intel’s Itanium chip and looking to move to x86, mainly for cost savings. If Starkey were to virtualize Oracle products, it would first be at the application tier; then, if that worked out well, the database tier.

“We’ve looked at it, and supportability is the big issue,” Birch said.

The Collaborate Oracle user group conference this week trotted out its share of Oracle-on-VMware success stories, with Indiana University being one of the biggest ones. The university migrated 35 Oracle application databases and more than 100 Oracle database instances from IBM System p series servers running AIX to AMD Opteron-based HP x86 servers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux on top of VMware vSphere and ESX.

The university made an organizational decision to move off AIX, and Oracle was part of that overall plan, according to Nathan Biggs, CEO of Omaha-based House of Brick Technologies, which consulted Indiana University on the project. The project finished last fall, with estimated savings of about $1 million – the difference between having to upgrade Unix hardware and moving to commodity x86 servers.


Mark Fontecchio can be reached at [email protected].

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