Oracle has finally caved—a little—to industry outrage over its refusal to get in line with competitors IBM and Microsoft and update its licensing policy to accommodate multicore chips.
Licensing terms for the Oracle Store Web site now state that, for the purposes of counting how many processors need to be licensed, a multicore chip with “n” cores will be multiplied by 0.75. Oracle will then round up fractions to the next whole number.
For example, if you have a multicore chip with 11 cores, multiply 11 by 0.75, which equals 8.25. Round that up to nine processors, and thats what youll be paying for.
Notwithstanding the three-quarters rule, Oracle will count only one processor when licensing Oracle Standard Edition One or Standard Edition programs on servers with a maximum of one processor with one or two cores.
Oracle plans to host a conference call Friday to discuss what a spokesperson referred to as the companys multicore pricing policy “update,” although one software pricing expert contacted for this story was unsure whether this was a licensing change or merely a clarification of existing policy.
“Theyre not changing their stance that a core is a core, but what theyre saying is that We recognize it may not be a one-to-one relationship,” said Amy Konary, program director of software pricing, licensing and delivery for IDC.
“As far as I know, their policy has always been that way. With multicore on Unix, you dont pay 100 percent on the first core and 100 percent on subsequent cores. Their policy has always been to discount the successive cores.”
It could be that Oracle is merely clarifying its stance, or it could be that the company is extending this subsequent-core Unix discount policy.
At any rate, the industry agrees that its high time Oracle did something. In October, Microsoft Corp. announced that it wouldnt consider multiple cores as individual processors, but rather that such technology will be treated, from a licensing perspective, as one processor, no matter how many cores are carved into a chip.
IBM followed suit in April when it announced that it would charge the same price for single-core and dual-core AMD systems.
Oracle has faced stiff criticism because charging per core is considered unfair, given actual performance gains.
According to AMD, 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 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 are power-greedy.
Hot chips require a lot of cooling. AMDs solution to that problem was to switch to a dual-core chip that runs at slower clock speed.
The real point of the technology is to allow a performance increase without a heat increase.
In other words, it doesnt scale perfectly, and experts say its unrealistic to expect to get double the performance of a comparable single-core processor.
Channel partners whove dealt with customers unsure about the implications of multicore hardware—that would be most, if not all—consider Oracles move to be good news.
“Anything that helps us to get a pricing break with Oracle, which is historically the most expensive software we sell,” is welcome, said John Norman, a systems engineer at Advanced Systems Group.
As it is, Oracles stance on multicore has been a big deal for most of ASGs clients, Norman said. “Our biggest Oracle environment is for SAP [AG], which gives you a license for Oracle with runtime, so it doesnt matter,” he said. “But most of our customers it does discourage from buying hardware with dual core. They put it off.”
Norman said a three-quarters break will help to give partial relief, at least psychologically, since it shows that Oracle is recognizing that this is an issue with customers.
Hes said hes waiting to see how it pans out in sales situations, though, with regards to whether its a big enough discount off the top price and whether it gives big customers enough leverage to negotiate and get the hardware they want while still staying within their budgets.
“Its a break from Oracle being hard-line about their licensing cores,” he said. “Its definitely a step in the right direction.”
It may be a step in the right direction, but multicore licensing dilemmas amount to peanuts when compared with the looming complexities presented by virtualization.
IDC is now studying the impact of multicore and virtualization on licensing. Virtualization is a logical rather than a physical view of data, computing power, storage capacity or other resources. Virtualization involves the presentation of computing resources in ways that users and applications can easily get value out of them, rather than presenting them in a way dictated by their implementation, geographic location or physical packaging.
This ability to separate the physical layout of a network and its devices from how uses are organized is accomplished through software.
Many of IDCs customers are now experimenting with the technology, thinking of it as a way to save money on hardware and to be more efficient with infrastructure they purchase, Konary said, but they are finding that licensing terms arent friendly for such environments.
Whatever vendors have done to address multicore, they will have to do to address virtualization, she said—only it will be a bigger issue, since the technology is more complex, harder to measure, harder to track from a compliance standpoint, and more difficult for customers to track.
“Multicore, every tangible server, you pay by socket,” she said. “In virtualization, what makes sense is to pay for what youre using.”
That brings up issues of tracking mechanisms, Konary said—something thats well-defined in the world of mainframes, but not in a distributed environment.
“Whats the equivalent of a mip?” she said. “How do you track that?”
So while the critics will likely move away from Oracle now that its addressed the multicore licensing issue, Konary said, both Oracle and its competitors still have to face the music on virtualization.