At Last, Oracle Smartens Up on Multicore

Opinion: Who cares if it's competitive pressure from the SQL Server launch or peer pressure on pricing? What matters is that Oracle's finally drinking the multicore Kool-Aid.

Finally, Oracle is doing the right thing on multicore chip licensing.

The company announced on Monday that, while it will keep treating each core as a separate processor, its way of counting the cores on the chip has been amended.

To wit: for the UltraSparc T1, you multiply the total amount of cores (eight) times .25 to arrive at 2, and thats how many processor licenses youll need. At $40,000 per Oracle processor license, thats $80,000 for the UltraSparc T1.

The factor is .50 for AMD/Intel chips, .75 for other multicore servers, and 1 for single-core servers (which represents no change).

This isnt a big surprise; its a big "about time." Pressure has been building in the wake of the October 2004 announcement that Microsoft would charge per-socket for multiple cores, treating them as individual processors, no matter how many cores are carved into a chip.

Oracles other major database rival, IBM, followed suit when it announced in April 2005 that it would charge the same price for single-core and dual-core AMD systems.

The industry has been mighty ticked off at the laggard, Oracle, given that charging per core is simply unfair. Actual performance gains arent one-to-one. AMD has estimated that actual performance gain is between 30 percent and 55 percent in a dual-core processor.

Dual-core isnt seen as a way to get twice (or x times, given the number of cores) the bang for the buck; its the next path for chip vendors to take, given that chips running at these speeds run tremendously hot and suck up power like mad. Because those hot, greedy little chips require so much cooling, AMD switched to a dual-core chip that runs at slower clock speed. Thus, the real point of the technology has been to allow a performance increase without a heat increase.

In other words, it doesnt scale perfectly, and experts have been saying for ages that its unrealistic to expect to get double the performance of a comparable single-core processor.

Microsoft got it. IBM got it. What took Oracle so long?

Oracle started to cave in July, when it changed its multicore licensing policy to read that, for the purposes of counting how many processors need to be licensed, a multicore chip with "n" cores would be multiplied by 0.75, with Oracle then rounding up fractions to the next whole number.

It was a start, but it wasnt far enough.

During a conference call with the press on Monday, Oracle Vice President of Pricing Jaclyn Woods said that the most recent change came about after prolonged mulling with customers and vendors.

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Oracles goal, Woods said, is to stay hardware vendor-neutral, so that there exists parity with regards to pricing. The goal is for customers to be able to choose any hardware platform they want, without paying a penalty in licensing Oracles database.

Oracle is, of course, presenting the latest pricing change as having nothing to do with competitive pressure from Microsoft, which just launched its attack on Oracles enterprise base with the long-awaited release of SQL Server 2005.

No, this change is just the result of a long mulling process, talking it all over with customers and industry analysts, Oracle claims.

"The change we made in July was very well-received, and customers were happy we were moving to a point where we made sure we acknowledged there was a difference in single-core and multicore technology, such that it was important that we make a change in our pricing to accommodate that," Woods said during the call. "By all indications, and our work with industry analysts and some of the customers weve been talking to, we think the change will be very well-received."

Paul DeGroot, a licensing expert with Directions on Microsoft, says that Oracles move is likely a reaction to some nasty sales numbers.

"…It would appear that the response to the Oracle multicore licensing has been presumably negative for Oracle, which I think was not terribly surprising," he told me in a recent conversation. "Theyve backed down quite a bit on the Intel platform and also on Sun.

DeGroot thinks its still an open question as to whether this is a permanent schedule for pricing on multicore processors. "The problem will be what happens when four-core and eight-core processors come out, which AMD and Intel, for example, have certainly suggested is in their medium-range plans, to gradually ramp up the number of cores on a single processor," he told me.

Indeed, Oracle may face the situation where the user only needs one SQL Server license for a given machine but four Oracle licenses for the same machine. And thats just one piece of hardware. "Im not going to get quadruple the performance out of an Oracle simply by buying four licenses," DeGroot said.

DeGroot thinks Oracle might be putting itself in a position where it will continue to have to modify its licensing schedule as chip design advances.

At any rate, Oracle is making progress, and thats a welcome change to the feet-dragging thats gone on too long with regards to its multicore processing policies.

Will Oracles pricing policy change affect your planned server purchases? Write to me at

Lisa Vaas is Ziff Davis Internets news editor in charge of operations. She is also the editor of eWEEK.coms Database and Business Intelligence topic center. She has been with eWEEK and since 1995, most recently covering enterprise applications and database technology.

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