back to article Got Oracle? Got VMware? Going cloud? You could be stung for huge licensing fees

Oracle has been telling a number of organisations running its database software that they are breaking the company's licensing rules – and therefore owe it millions of dollars in unpaid licence fees. The issue hit the headlines in January after US confectionery giant Mars took Oracle to court in the US over claims Mars had …

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  1. Warm Braw Silver badge

    It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

    It might be the price this week, next week the screws may be turned tighter still.

    I do sometimes wonder if Oracle have any long term plans for their company or whether they simply want to cash out while the going is good.

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

      They have to pay for those yachts somehow

    2. 2460 Something

      cash out

      I just thought the same thing. Very much seems that they are price gouging whilst they can as they are the biggest. The biggest problem with this approach is the very bad taste in their customers mouths who will immediately start looking to the viabilities of alternative relational database products.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: cash out

        Maybe they're just trying to make Microsoft licencing look fair?

        Oracle have been like this for years. No wonder they have to depend upon compliance for revenue -nobody in their right mind would buy given the option.

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: cash out

        In 2011 I took quick a look at the Oracle databases in my organization (nearly all of them; the rest were DB2 on big iron) and concluded that nearly all of them were by size, complexity, and performance requirements entirely suitable for PostgreSQL, some even for MySQL, although the latter seemed uninviting due to its recent change of ownership. A second look showed that many of the using applications depended on stored procedures. That, the ugliness of converting PL*SQL to the PosgreSQL analog, and the general resistance in my US DoD agency to anything but provider supported commercial products hastened my retirement a bit.

        Several years earlier, they had cancelled purchase of an HP Superdome because they couln't afford to put Oracle on it. My understanding is that in addition to continuing the existing practice of stuffing as many databases as possible on the same piece of hardware they have used SQL Server, previously almost nonexistent in the organization, for a lot of new work and redevelopment. It is likely that other organizations, both public and private sector, are moving the same way.

      3. CoolKoon

        Re: cash out

        Somehow such things have never bothered any psychopath in a leadership role with any big corporation....

    3. Lusty Silver badge

      Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

      Oracle have been very consistent and clear here, the issue is with idiot customers. Read their document, it actually explains all this in great detail in the same way that Microsoft do for SQL, and their customers also don't bother reading the document.

      Nobody who read the document will be in trouble here, and their Oracle licensing will be relatively cheap if they spent more than 3 minutes planning their licence strategy. The easiest of which is to have a separate VMware cluster for your Oracle databases. Alternatively use physical Oracle servers. Another trick is to buy the lower core count CPUs (which run faster btw) to reduce licence cost while maintaining performance in all but the most widely threaded scenarios.

      Or ask someone who already knows this stuff :)

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

        The problem is not with the idiot customers and the legal small print, the problem is with the actual value that an Oracle database product can give, and whether it is worth paying your company's profit away to a legal snag for what that software can actually return on that investment.

        If there is no value in it, then it's not worth having, any remaining goodwill that Oracle has with these customers is gone by their uncompromising approach.

        If I pay a contractor £1K per day and he adds £200 per day to my bottom line through the value of his input then he goes out the door and won't be welcome back.

        Mars will probably have to flog a couple of billions Snickers bars before they've finished paying Oracle and in 2016 there are not really any good reason to use Oracle over another product in a new project.

        1. Lusty Silver badge

          Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

          " legal small print"

          It isn't legal small print. It's quite a large font in quite a short document actually. It also has very little to do with legal and everything to do with setting out how the software is purchased. The document very clearly states that every core on every host in the cluster needs a licence to run a virtual DB server on that cluster. These customers didn't pay for all of those licences, they decided to make up their own rules and presumably bought licences for just the virtual cores on the DB Server. The issue here has nothing to do with the value of the software, the issue is idiot customers setting up systems in such a way as to make licensing all of their hardware necessary even if they only have one database. Had they used a physical server or a one/two node VMware solution they wouldn't be facing this huge bill. Argue all you like, but everyone who understands database licensing (Oracle and MS SQL) knows this is firmly in the category of idiot users and not with legal small print.

          1. CoolKoon

            Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

            "Had they used a physical server or a one/two node VMware solution they wouldn't be facing this huge bill." - Except that companies that pretty much need to have Oracle databases usually aren't running their VMs on only 1-2 nodes of course....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

        "Oracle have been very consistent and clear"

        Yes, very consistent and clear that they will hose you, if and when they feel like. I kind of agree with you though. It was peoples' choice to do business with Oracle and they knew that the first sentence in this paragraph applied.

      3. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

        Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

        Or better yet, get rid of Oracle on your Infra`s...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

      This isn't at all an obscure rule. Everyone knows it exists. The problem is that everyones' Oracle rep tells them that VMware is supported... don't worry about it... a "gray area", as they say. VMware is, technically but not in practice, not even supported by Oracle.

      1. Lusty Silver badge

        Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

        But VMware is fully supported just not as a hardware partition. This is because it doesn't offer that feature at all. It's supported and there is a legal and straightforward way to licence on VMware. If you don't follow that then it is neither Oracle's fault not their problem, you'll be asked to make up the difference in licence fee when you're audited. Every software company works like this. MS has identical rules on SQL server with the exception that they don't support any hardware partitioning because it's Windows only. You may not understand what I've just said but that doesn't make you right.

        1. CoolKoon

          Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

          "MS has identical rules on SQL server with the exception that they don't support any hardware partitioning because it's Windows only." Actually that means both companies are giant scumbags, not that neither of them is......

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It might just be the price of doing business with Oracle

      Went through this ridiculous model several years ago. Our response was to standardize on SQL Server and to tell our Oracle account manager to get in touch when he moved to a new job where he could sell us something...

      "Maybe they're just trying to make Microsoft licencing look fair?"

      They succeeded. Many times over.

  2. Velv Silver badge
    Go

    "Except for going legal, what are your options?"

    Stop using Oracle. There are other database technologies out there, and if Oracle insists on shooting itself in the foot those technologies will very quickly become the de-facto standard Oracle currently appears to be. Net easy for everyone to make the leap, but a critical mass soon will.

    1. DainB Bronze badge

      Other database technologies ? Wanna share some names with us ?

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        on the subject of names...

        I don't expect that Amazon chose the name Redshift by accident...

      2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        @DainB - A very short list of possible alternatives. Some will require more upfront work to port the data and applications. I have also chosen open source options.

        Relational - PostgreSQL, MariaDB

        Document - MongoDB, RethinkDB

        Big Table - Cassandra

        DFS - Hadoop

        Graph - Neo4J

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not certified on VMware

    Oracle never certified single product to run on VMware, which in Enterprise world means you simply can't do it and if you do you're on your own.

    VMware however being very well aware of Oracle position is actively encouraging their customers to run Oracle products on vSphere claiming performance improvements and license savings.

    So who's fault is it ?

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Not certified on VMware

      Not sure it's a question of fault. Licencing has to be seen as fair and reasonable.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not certified on VMware

      Not entirely the case on the "being on your own" part, they wont help if they think that the problem is below the OS but they'll normally help when they think it's DB. Your on your own once they start thinking the hypervisor may be the issue.

      Unless they've changed their tune since I last had to care.

    3. Cris E

      Re: Not certified on VMware

      It any customer's fault that doesn't know the licensing terms of any software they install, and doubly so for anything as expensive as Oracle. Whenever I plan *any* buildout of the expensive stuff I always run it past our vendor mgmt (purchasing) team and the acct rep to make sure it doesn't come back to haunt us later. It's saved us money several times (rhymes with crAP) and cost us money when our hosting team failed to install mandated monitoring tools (rhymes with DB3).

      Be a pro - know your licensing terms.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yep - had to redesign due to this

    Totally understand how people get p____ed off with this - We had to redesign one of our systems on the fly after buying h/w (brought before i got on the project), we consolidated our everything into a single blade chassis.

    Then discovered the cost of licensing the DB would of been millions due to the number of cores in the cluster.... so rather than having a large cluster with many hosts for maintenance we had to create a second cluster just for the DB with two hosts, reducing the pool of resources... but saving a truck load of dosh!

    it was only because of time, we didn't redevelop the application to dump the weblogic stack and move to something else... But i am sure in future our dev team won't be using Oracle in future so their short term chase for numbers will cost them in the long term!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yep - had to redesign due to this

      so you consolidated to a single point of failure with many slow cores rather than fewer fast cores while ignoring the licensing model of your vendors.

      Nice. Have a gold star AC.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yep - had to redesign due to this

      We had to redesign one of our systems on the fly after buying h/w ... we consolidated our everything into a single blade chassis.

      Then discovered the cost of licensing

      Well, there is a solution to that. It's called "advance planning". Way too many people assume that hardware is the only thing that costs money, and software is free. It's not at all limited to Oracle software.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yep - had to redesign due to this

        Which is odd, as hardware is cheap as chips, enterprise software is the pain. Looking at a lovely hardware solution £160,000 one off, however to license it with a not so lovely enterprise DB £550,000 every 3 years.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Yep - had to redesign due to this

          There's definitely a "mindset" problem. 20 years ago you might have spent $250K on a minicomputer, and $50K on the database package, and considered it a good investment.

          Today you'll get more powerful hardware for only $10K, but inflation and extra functionality could have pushed the software licence to $100K. You're still paying less than half the cost in total (much less if you consider inflation-adjusted dollars) yet people get upset because the software costs more than the hardware, and it "used not to be like that".

          There's no logical reason that the prices should track. Hardware development is largely automated and manufacture is cheap. Software development is very labour-intensive, and the price of labour has skyrocketed compared to the cost of electronics. We just have to get used to the idea the the hardware is now the irrelevant part of the system's purchase price, and accept that good software costs a lot of money to write and support.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing suprising here

    You've always had to license the tin the documentation is clear on this. Fair? Depending on what your doing it can work in your favour (Test/Dev when you're not an ISV partner)

    I would argue that if you've licensed a machine in a farm and you ensure all instances do not leave that machine except in the case of DR for that server (Oracle allow enterprise fail over for a number of days)

    I worked for an SME ISV and had to read the licensing documents to make sure we were legal. Don't see why companies with more than two IT bods couldn't do the same. I suspect they were just trying to get away with it.

    SQL Server is pretty horrible to license now days as well.

    I think the licensing models are hell and the core licensing model used now by lots of folk is printing money for old rope. But Oracles has been this unpleasant for as long as VMware has been an option on servers.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing suprising here

      I think the recent renewal of anger over this issue is because Oracle totally contradicted themselves. They used to say that a software based VM, like VMware, would have to be licensed across the server and cluster because the VM could pull resources. Only hardware based partitions, meaning firmware... like IBM pSeries, were hard partitions where you could license by the core on a server. Fair enough.... Oracle now wants to push Oracle VM, which is a software partition like VMware, but they granted it a hard partition.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OVM

    Similar issues exist on physical tin due to the 'per core' licensing model, but you can get round that by running on OVM. Unfortunately OVM isn't very robust. If Oracle stick at it, it may become a good product, but it isn't there yet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OVM

      Not very robust

      It's shit, genuinely jaw-droppingly shit. Every time something fails (which happens if you do so much as look at it) there's no error messages, no documentation, and support has never been able to help me with a single issue I've never had with the damned thing.

      Avoid, avoid, avoid.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: OVM

        It's shit, genuinely jaw-droppingly shit.

        Which OVM, SPARC or x86? Despite the name they are totally different technologies. One works, one is, well, not so good...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: OVM

          x86 is "not so good"....

        2. GrumpyOF

          Re: OVM

          Must be x86 unless VMware now runs on SPARC.

          OVM is the only hyperviser that Oracle will support for CPU affinity being set on.

          Oracle is not so perverse on hardware partitioning but still be very careful.

    2. Lusty Silver badge

      Re: OVM

      Just buy a physical server with fewer cores then. Xeon 4 core and 6 core can be deployed as uni processor and each core is way faster than the bigger chips. If you plan your hardware it's not an issue.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: OVM

        RAC configuration?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: OVM

      As I mentioned above, I think that is why people are so upset about this issue. VMware and Oracle VM both use a soft(ware) partition, as opposed to a hard(ware) partition in the firmware like IBM pSeries. The hard partition vs soft partition used to be a technical distinction and made some sense. Now they are calling Oracle VM a hard partition, even though it isn't, and giving it the licensing benefit. If they can do it for Oracle VM, there is no reason they cannot do it for VMware and Hyper-V.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: OVM

        Their software, their license, so they can do what they want, as can their customers as they develop new and replacement applications. Other, lower cost DBMS products are entirely fit for many applications, probably the overwhelming majority in many organizations.

        1. CoolKoon

          Re: OVM

          "Their software, their license, so they can do what they want" - Not quite. If any company would take them to court and prove that Oracle's doing this (mislabeling its own virtualization solution) only to keep the competition out (i.e. as an anti-competitive measure), they could sue Oracle for quite a lot of money (and other lawsuits would follow too).

  7. Lysenko

    ...typically these are the people that have not used the right people database, processes and tools...

    FTFY

    PosgreSQL/EnterpriseDB

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing new for Oracle

    It's the way they do business, if you really want to use their products then you better make damn sure you and your legal team have read the licensing manual cover to cover. Then once you've installed your chosen software, make damn sure you have scripts in place to monitor every licensable option they offer to make sure you've only switched on what you've paid for. I've worked with Oracle tech for close on 20 years and they've always been severe when they audit you. It's like you're running a small pizza place and you get a visit from Tony Soprano, when they send the dreaded "request for audit" notification!

    It's no wonder they're getting replaced left, right and centre by SQL Server when you get everything in the box for one price, not 17 separate bills 'cos you accidentally enabled an option on a prod DB while you were upgrading.

    1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

      Re: Nothing new for Oracle

      Microsoft seems to be studying and aping Oracle at a fast clip when you compare the licensing, version on version.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing new for Oracle

      Oracle replaced by SQL Server? I guess many businesses are suckers for punishment.

    3. CoolKoon

      Re: Nothing new for Oracle

      ....except MSSQL is almost as bad as Oracle (especially licensing-wise), but to make things worse it even ties you to everyone's (least) favorite server platform (which brings along an additional licensing hell depending on the amount of clients that connect to it).

  9. Otto is a bear.

    Not really new news.

    I've been dealing with these cloud/virtualisation issues for some years now, along side those that you can get caught out with in development. That copy of EE on your laptop is still covered by the licence agreements. Also beware Oracle's Java, don't be surprised if you suddenly find yourself paying support licences because you haven't kept up with the version changes. It may be free, but it's still licenced and has T&Cs you might not like.

    Oracle's position on cloud VM licences hasn't changed for at least 5 years while, unless you are using AWS or Azure, or Oracle's own cloud. But here's a few other gotcha's. If you migrate away from Oracle, you have to do it by your licence chunks, so if you have an overarching all in one agreement and try to reduce it, Oracle will recalculate at the undiscounted price, and you could land up paying more.

    It is possible to move away from Oracle, the vast majority of Oracle installations I've been involved in do not use anything like all the features in EE let alone the options. You can quite safely consider Postgres and others as a replacement. As far as Weblogic goes JBOSS is a reasonable replacement. Pretty much all our new development is moving to a heterogeneous open source solution space. No one supplier is irreplaceable, or has a stranglehold on our designs.

    I wouldn't go to Microsoft either, as where Oracle goes today they will go tomorrow. Oracle is technology in decline, even Microsoft isn't that innovative, and it can't belong before they go into licence gouging to maintain revenue and margin. Beware Azure and its exit fees for a start.

  10. wilsonbigg

    How did we get here.

    I sympathise with predicament that TMAX find themselves in, but my view is that the situation could have been avoided despite, Oracle and VMWare licensing complexity.

    I agree with Martin Thompson that licensing rules need to be clear, consistent & fair, but you only have to type "Licensing Oracle on VMware" into Google to get a feel for complexity and can soon arrive at the underlying principle that Oracle require all physical processors in the VMWare cluster to be licensed as if it was one physical environment.

    Oracle will generally recognise hardware partitioning if it cannot be reconfigured on the fly or using software "switches", because cheeky customers would raise the processor count for production and lower it if audited.

    The licensing rules for Oracle Database and virtualisation have been static for over ten years, so they can hardly be described as volatile. Agreed, there are complexities, but no more than most other protagonists in enterprise level IT.

    The other thing to bear in mind is that the VMware Cluster complete with hardware, Oracle and any other ancillaries did not fall out of the sky into TMAXs datacentre. Many actors would have been involved in the various decisions and processes in the procurement cycle, such as technical architects, resellers, DBAs, managers and procurement officers, any of whom could and should have checked the eventual licensing position.

    I also don't buy into the argument that they somehow lure you into over-deploying licences. Oracle allows it's customers to deploy their software without technical encumbrance, such as licence keys, so that IT service providers, including internal IT departments, can be agile, responsive and flexible as long as you declare what you are using and pay for it.

    I have worked closely with Oracle since 1994 and I have seen some inconsistencies in their interpretation of their own licensing rules, especially by Account Managers. e.g. "You can licence a non-production database at Standard Edition" (even if you have enterprise options installed), which immediately books you in for a licence breach when or if you are next audited.

    However, for existing and prospective Oracle users, I would always recommend contacting other Oracle users via the UKOUG for licensing advice. Feel free to comment or contact me via Linked In if you feel I am being unfair or you need advice yourself.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just VSphere?

    Excuse the daft question, but why is this only a risk for VSphere 5.1 users? Are companies who use Hyper-V or Xen as their hypervisor vulnerable as well?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Just VSphere?

      come on, don't sit on the fence. What do you think? Do you think Pigs can fly? (Floyd one excepted...)

      If they were not affected then Oracle would be on the wrong end of a very big lawsuit. IANAL but IMHO.

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