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 …


    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Just VSphere?

      Doesn't matter what virtualization software you use, the issue is the same. Not sure why they mentioned version 5.1, unless Oracle "clarified" their licensing when it was released. Perhaps Oracle would accept host affinity rules that limit what physical servers the Oracle VMs is eligible to run on to a subgroup of the full set. But I wouldn't count on it unless you get something in writing from Oracle.

      I think segregating Oracle VMs onto a group of servers small enough to handle its load and allow for the downing of one server is the only route to minimizing your hardware cost while guaranteeing they won't try to come after you for more money later. If you have a bursty load i.e. you need more resources for end of month processing then you need to size your N+1 resources based on that peak. Which kind of sucks if it means you have a lot of idle capacity the other 29 to 30 days of the month.

  1. dlehrner

    Good follow up article

    I find this stuff interesting and thought this blog post has another interesting perspective:

  2. nilfs2

    If you use Oracle databases... deserve bad things happening to you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If you use Oracle databases...

      An Oracle ripping people off story. Is it Wednesday already?b

  3. Nate Amsden

    Nothing new

    I was managing Oracle and VMware at a company when we deployed them as a solution 9 or 10 years ago, I built the systems SPECIFICALLY to stay in license compliance with both. At the time it was ESX 3.5, I purchased DL380G5 servers, and only populated them with one socket a piece(Intel's first gen quad core) for Oracle licensing(technically at the time VMware did not support less than two socket systems, or was it you couldn't buy less than two sockets I forget which or maybe it was both).

    I remember for production we were still bare metal so I went with the fastest dual core CPUs (for Oracle EE licensing). When we switched to Oracle SE, we went with quad core CPUs since SE was at the time anyway, licensed per socket vs EE was licensed per core. I remember significant pains on the DL380G5 servers our dual core systems had motherboards that were not compatible with quad core chips, it took HP a while to figure that out, they later updated the data sheet to reflect that.

    Oracle, especially enterprise the licensing costs are good enough that you should be devoting hardware to it(if you want to run it in a hypervisor run it on dedicated hypervisors).

    Oracle has had this stance for as long as I can remember, how folks these days would be caught off guard now is just sad.

    My only use of Oracle these days has been as a vCenter back end. I use named user licensing for that.

    I know Oracle better than I know MS SQL and I don't know DB2 at all which at the time were the 3 options for vCenter back end DB. It's been working fine for the past several years(and the cost is fine too) so no reason to change.

    I'd be happy to use more Oracle but the company isn't interested in paying for it, so we get by with MySQL which works but instrumentation in MySQL is just a joke, always has been.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not use technology to solve this problem?

    The argument coming from these legacy companies that made their billions in the world of proprietary software is that you have the capability to run on any host and to resize your DB to as many cores as you'd like and as such you must license every host. This is such a lame argument. Here is a simple solution that Oracle might offer its customers.

    1. Our software will report back to our corporation what your consumption is of our product. If your consumption changes based on the license you've purchased you will get a bill to pay for the difference. We will also credit you if you retire that DB or at a minimum remove it from your future bill.


    2. You pay us for every host in your datacenter whether you think its fair or not.

    Obviously Oracle, or any other vendor living in the dark ages, avoids this because they love capturing extra dollars knowing that anyone running a DB in production will at least have one extra physical host in the mix to license. This is generating growth for them as well as these ridiculous lawsuits. Hence the best LONG term strategy for every enterprise should be to move away from these legacy companies. Move to open source and use a subscription model if you need support for those products. If you don't need support for them then consume them for free. Invest in your people not the multi-billion dollar proprietary software companies. Software is eating the world. If you aren't investing in your people to lead you in the new world your company doesn't have much hope from becoming a dinosaur themselves.

    1. Nate Amsden

      Re: Why not use technology to solve this problem?

      I think there are many big oracle installations out there that have no internet access. Also another big set of installations that would not accept "phone home" solutions.

      But it would cover a subset of customers anyway. What might be easier is a simple check that runs inside the DB that knows what license you have and can compare with what is running.

      Though that may hurt Oracle as they make a good chunk of change off these audits. I recall 10 years ago when I went through two audits(first one I was a new employee and the management didn't trust me when I said move to Oracle SE, after the 2nd audit and more penalties they agreed and I moved them to Oracle SE saving gobs of $$).

      One of the things at the time anyway, wouldn't surprise me if it still was in place was if a feature is installed but not used you are not charged for it, but if you start using it for any reason(and I think even if you stop using it) it flags it and you are dinged.

      At the time a company we used for Oracle professional services had a monitoring package installed on all of our Oracle EE systems, this package happened to use partitioning for whatever reason so we got dinged badly on it even though our own apps were not using partitioning. Later when we moved to Oracle SE there was no partitioning option and the 3rd party company adjusted their monitoring software so it wouldn't use partitioning anymore. The 3rd party company was also responsible for installing Oracle (and they opt'd to install EE even though the company only ever licensed Oracle Standard edition ONE (not even regular SE if I recall right). They were surprised when Oracle audited them after many support tickets were filed clearly showing they were using Oracle EE.

      Mismanagement up and down left and right, the company imploded for other reasons back in 2009. The founder/CEO has since went and gone to launch a few other companies all which have crashed and burned(one of the more recent ones for several hundred million$), and for some reason people still give that guy money. I don't get it.

    2. Nate Amsden

      Re: Why not use technology to solve this problem?

      oh and pay for every host I believe Oracle has that already called site licensing. I don't think there are many customers of it, I believe Amazon is a site license customer which is one reason they use so much Oracle internally and gobble up every Oracle expert in the Seattle area (and many other areas too). It's "free" for them to deploy new instances so they just do it.

      I'd wager the cost for that probably starts in the millions at least. Wouldn't be an option for small shops.

  5. Mpeler

    Larry, Larry, quite contrary

    Some things never change. As I wrote years ago:


    Larry, Larry, quite contrary,

    How does your empire grow?

    With IP "rights" and patent fights,

    And lawyers, all in a row...


    Apparently it's not just Jupiter that has a big red spot...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's more of an idiot tax, there is no reason to use oracle

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    vSphere 6

    I recently attended a meeting with an Oracle representative, who claimed that running a separate cluster was not sufficient isolation when vSphere 6 is implemented, due to the vMotion enhancements which allow VM portability across clusters with no shared infrastructure.

    I highly doubt this is a defensible legal position and believe it is FUD, but it's interesting to see the latest tactics are.

    Let's pretend this rule is real for a second, using the example in the article, not only do you have to pay for all of the car parking spaces in one car park, you now have to pay for all car parking spaces, in all car parks, globally, since you could in theory park there... It's just madness.

    1. neozeed

      Re: vSphere 6

      Simple cba:

      Fight oracle or buy shitty small core servers?

      Shitty 1u servers that have 100% iscsi Luns are much cheaper.

  8. cerbera17

    So managing an Oracle estate without first understanding the implications seems reckless to me. And simply like ignoring your tax liabilities for a while and then moaning when you get a hige bill.

    Information on Oracle's hard partitioning is available from Oracle's website directly or by simply googling, so ignorance is no excuse.

  9. dhesselink

    Legal motivation: None?

    I find it hard to believe that an article about this subject is written without the input from any experienced lawyer. Who cares what 'industry experts' without any legal education believe what Oracle can or cannot get away with?

    Do the readers and journalism a favor: Also interview at least one experienced subject lawyer. Try to reach out to people like Robin Fry at DAC Beachcroft, Judica Krikke at Stibbe, or the firm Mars hired. Hear how the EU laws / Civil Law / Copyright and Contract laws work.

    I'm confident that the Register will rewrite the entire article.

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Legal motivation: None?

      And I'm confident that you're an internet blowhard trying to drum up PR for your clients, complete with an email address that ends in "". Have a nice day.

      Actually, no. Don't have a nice day.

      1. wilsonbigg

        Re: Legal motivation: None?

        I know Dan Hesselink, he is well respected at the BCS and within the Software Asset Management community in the UK and I think you're being unfair and a tad over-aggressive.

        If you are going troll informed contributors, just because you suspect a little own-trumpet blowing, then you will end up with empty discussion boards, as there are plenty of other places to read breathless hyperbole about companies being the victim of wicked software vendors.

        1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: Legal motivation: None?

          If he is an informed contributor then I've made a mistake and I'm happy to apologise, Dan.

          We get a lot of new registrations for the forums from people keen to say why we've got X, Y and Z wrong, in their view. They tend to be PRs with an obvious axe to grind on behalf of their clients. Occasionally they're people who genuinely do know what they're on about, and this seems to be one of those occasions.

    2. neozeed

      Re: Legal motivation: None?

      Have you ever been oracle audited? Did you fight? If so wish I worked with you.

      It was cheaper to buy low core servers than to deal with Oracle.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A fairly definitive (and legally backed) answer...

    Full disclosure: I have worked on this exact topic in the past and so have to be anon. :-/

    With a little understanding, running Oracle RDBMS upon vSphere need not be expensive and can be very advantageous.

    Firstly, you sign an OLSA. You have not signed the PDF referenced above that contains a footnote stating "This document is for educational purposes only and provides guidelines regarding Oracle's policies" and "It may not be incorporated into any contract and does not constitute a contract or a commitment to any specific terms." Thus, any partitioning guide is irrelevant.

    You processor where the software is licensed "shall be defined as all processors where the Oracle programs are installed and/or running".

    That, by law, is open to interpretation.

    You are entitled to at least two interpretations.

    How do you install software on a processor? What if there is a software tool to stop that ever happening? What if there is an audit trail?

    Using simple techniques such as DRS host affinity, LUN zoning/masking (not actually required) and having a robust audit process in place you are able to run Oracle where you want and pay for only that. Then you can, where appropriate, consolidate many DBs onto said hosts and save on licensing.

    Finally, go talk to the punters at the various OUGs around the world. It really isn't a problem and Oracle are in the process of shooting themselves in the foot and pushing customers away if they continue this stance.

    The irony is that I really like Oracle SW. It's actually quite good!


  11. Raoul Miller

    This is not news

    Oracle's policy on clustering, partitioning, and running on VM has been consistent for ten years or more. Whether you like it or not, if this comes as a surprise you are working with the wrong sales team or consultants.

    If you deploy on VMWare you have to license ALL the processors on that hardware. Alternatively use Oracle VM, Linux Containers, Solaris Containers etc. and enable hard partitioning. It's all very clearly laid out on Oracle's licensing web page.

    1. wilsonbigg

      Re: This is not news

      I couldn't;t have put it better.

  12. DennisFaucher

    All the supported Oracle positions

    Everyone in IT should know how Oracle on VMware is licensed - for every core in the cluster.

    Here is the full list of hardware partitions supported: Solaris Zones (also known as Solaris Containers, capped Zones/Containers only), IBM’s LPAR (adds DLPAR with AIX 5.2), IBM’s Micro-Partitions (capped partitions only), vPar, nPar, Integrity Virtual Machine (capped partitions only), Secure Resource Partitions (capped partitions only), Fujitsu’s PPAR.

  13. neozeed

    Not news. ..

    I consolidated a companies entire data centre footprint into 1/2 a rack. The only physical 1u servers were vcenter and Oracle. And this is circa 2008! Oracle has always been insane to the point of forcing me to find pentium d cpus instead of later and faster stuff with the inevitable higher core/thread count.

  14. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Silly but clear

    First off, I do find this a bit silly; it really does seem fair if a virtualization product limits use to x cores, you should need to pay for x cores. I mean, if someone's stuck a copy onto AWS are they then liable for like a 8,000,000 core license or whatever?

    That said, I thought it was common knowledge that Oracle has pretty strict licensing terms, and that they are pretty strictly enforced. They may just have to suck it up and migrate to PostgreSQL or something if they are wanting to be able to have their DB floating around in the clouds.

    I suppose a practical solution to mitigate this would be to segregate off an Oracle-only section (enough for redundancy) so the Oracle stuff stays there, and everything else runs in the rest, so you'd have to fork up for that section but not the whole data center (at least in the future, I guess you may be toast and just have to negotiate that huge bill down for past usage.)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Got skanked

    Well, we got skanked by Oracle.

    I'm a regular IT manager with an estate of stuff. We are what I consider to be 'tight' on our licensing. However, I am not an Oracle guru, and when we 'virtualized' a poxy little forms server for a legacy system it was just a case of lessening our tin footprint. I could have left it there, but that's wasteful and unnecessary so we slung it on a virtual node.

    Some time later Oracle came knocking for a license audit "No problem, come on in, we are good corporate citizens and I am happy you will be satisfied". How wrong was I ? The argument went on for a good while and whilst it was painfully obvious that this one tiny server was all that was on vmware they wanted the whole farm licensed. Anyway, back and forward, deal made, pockets fleeced.

    But what of the net result ? For me it wasn't a case of "Can they do this". They clearly can. It was more a case of 'should they do this' ? In this instance it was painfully obvious no-one was trying to cheat anything, use more of anything, get away with anything. Tiny legacy forms server just wasnt on tin any more. The only net result of this is that I will NEVER voluntarily use oracle again. Its become my lifes mission to never purchase any more and where possibly pro-actively move away from it. Should a customer really feel like that ?

    Thats all I wanted to add here. Yes they can do it. But they shouldnt. Its illogical and unfair. I hope it bites them hard.

  16. Alain

    What about HP-UX SRP containers ?

    Funny that the article doesn't mention HP-UX clusters on Itanium-based Integrity servers, be it simple ServiceGuard packages or SRP containers that are quite close to Sun (well, Oracle) Solaris containers.

    If they're excluded from Oracle's "exception" to 1 machine = 1 license rule, then I know at least one big, big Oracle shop that's going to be in trouble.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Register, please research before posting: Viewers please READ

    Here are some recommended links for all, please review and do not listen to the load of FUD provided in this article:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    The contract rules (play on words intended), your OLSA will already have the contractual language available to support virtualization of Oracle workloads in a manner that benefits customers and NOT Oracle's wallet!

    The OLSA states:

    Section L: Entire Agreement - You agree that this agreement and the information which is incorporated into this agreement by written reference (including reference to information contained in a URL or referenced policy), together with the applicable ordering document, are the complete agreement for the programs and/or services ordered by you, and that this agreement supersedes all prior or contemporaneous agreements or representations, written or oral, regarding such programs and/or services. (This is critical, everything outside of the OLSA is a non-contractual assertion)

    Section Q: Processor - shall be defined as all processors where the Oracle Programs are installed and/or running. (not where they could be installed and/or running!!!)

    There are no licensing changes or increases on VMware, it is simple:

    License Oracle where it is installed and/or running.

    If you have enough workloads to justify licensing an entire cluster then do so, otherwise leverage vSphere DRS technology to limit VM movement to licensed hosts only (with host/vm groups and should rules) and leverage the 10 day rule for failover events. Use tools to audit the vCenter logs to show Oracle LMS those VM's have not moved from the "licensed host" to mitigate that risk, VMware Log Insight can do this nicely.

    Many VMware customers have successfully defended this position, simply ask Oracle to point out these non-contractual assertions in your existing OLSA. They do not exist so the conversation ends quickly as in the case with MARS, which settled out of court.

    Beware of non-contractual documents like the soft-partitioning guide, highlighted by the following paragraph at the bottom of the document:

    This document is for educational purposes only and provides guidelines regarding Oracle's policies in effect as of November 6, 2013. It may not be incorporated into any contract and does not constitute a contract or a commitment to any specific terms. Policies and this document are subject to change without notice. This document may not be reproduced in any manner without the express written permission of Oracle Corporation.

    By the way, Oracle doesn't certify anything below the OS, so the key is to pick an OS that is certified and run that OS on VMware.

    Oracle fully supports VMware and VMware provides support for Oracle workloads on VMware as part of your existing support contract, ask your VMware team for help.

    Lastly, if your OLSA was executed pre-September 2012, you at any time can reduce cores in the server BIOS to better suit your license and compute requirements. Post Sept 2012, it has to be done before the server is shipped to your location.

    Don't get me started on hard partitioning on the dinosaurs of the server world...

  18. IGnatius T Foobar

    Oracle in a cloud?

    What happens if you run Oracle in a hyperscale cloud? Does Oracle charge you for every core Amazon or Microsoft or Google has in the entire world?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So with IBM LPARs, 'capping' a partition is just a check box. There is nothing stopping you running the partition capped at audit time then uncapping later. I don't see how this is any different to VMWare vCPUs. Both allow you to at the press of a button increases resources. Technically there is no difference between a hard partition you can change with a software command and a "soft" partition you can change with a software command.

    Just as there was nothing stopping you physically installing / removing CPUs to suit audit purposes. This is not a technical issue (hard vs. soft partitioning) but rather a anti-competition issue.

    This has always been a way of Oracle trying to suppress what it sees as a competitor to it's own virtualisation strategy. Originally it was to push people to Solaris, but since that didn't work out so well the only place left to compete is x86.

    Oracle licensing has never been about a standard price, it's always been about how much the sales people think they can squeeze out of the customer.

    Once upon a time there was a company that had a layer on top of MySQL that provided pretty good compatibility with Oracle standard edition. I wonder whatever happened to them?

  20. Sociopathicly

    How we unscrewed ourselves

    We were up for 9 million in backdated licencing fees and were desperate for a resolution. Our entire annual IT budget was only 3.2Million and the company simply could not afford to pay the backdated claims.

    We had a consultant come in and he arranged for us to buy 2 exedata boxes for about 2.5 million which not only solved the back fees but also removed the databases of buggy servers.

    We also of course had an increase in speed of about 20 or 30 times in transactions. All in all we were happy with the result.


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