Oracle Readies Guide to Clear Up License Issues

Software Investment Guide unifies Oracle's pricing and licensing policies to help avoid confusion.

Oracle Corp. is tackling ongoing criticism over its pricing and licensing practices by publishing a comprehensive online guide to its policies.

The software maker next month will make available on its corporate Web site a Software Investment Guide that unifies its pricing and licensing policies to help avoid confusion over the way it sells its database, application server, development tools and enterprise application software.

Oracle in recent months has been embroiled in a widely publicized contract dispute in which California lawmakers said the state paid too much for Oracle databases. The company has also faced scrutiny over its pricing and licensing policies from technology research analysts.

The guide, among other things, will provide an overview on how to evaluate licensing options, explain how to manage licenses and detail what various licenses mean, company officials said. Oracle sells its database software, for instance, on per-processor and named-user models. The guide will also offer common scenarios facing users, such as dealing with software licenses after a merger or when moving from outdated licensing models to current ones, said Jacqueline Woods, Oracles vice president of global licensing and pricing strategy.

"The guide is for us to communicate what our policies are so that our policies are very clear in order to preclude misunderstandings," said Woods, in Redwood Shores, Calif.

Kimberly Floss, database administrator team leader at Quaker Oats Co., in Chicago, said she hopes the guide helps resolve Oracles issues. Floss, who manages Oracle databases, has not had licensing problems herself but believes the issues have distracted Oracle.

"Its a positive step on their part," said Floss, also executive vice president of the International Oracle Users Group. "I would like to see Oracle be able to focus their energies in other areas, so I would like to see this issue put to bed in terms of all the confusion and questions."

In March, both Meta Group Inc. and Gartner Inc. warned customers about attempts by Oracle salespeople to seek extra licensing revenue. As recently as the end of last month, Gartner, of Stamford, Conn., cautioned its clients about the way Oracle was interpreting the term "multiplexing" in its licensing contracts.

The process of multiplexing, common in Web server and transaction process monitoring software, pools multiple connections to a back-end database as a smaller number of physical connections. Gartner analysts wrote that Oracle, by more broadly interpreting multiplexing, forced customers using its named-user licenses or former concurrent-user licenses to switch to more-expensive per-processor licenses.

Woods maintained that Oracle has been consistent in how it defines users and said it already has a document, available for the past year, explaining the multiplexing issue. Nevertheless, the company is rolling out the pricing guide.

In addition to multiplexing, Oracle needs to clarify issues around licenses for failover capabilities, said Mark Shainman, a Meta analyst in Los Angeles. Currently, a customer with a SAN (storage area network) using Oracles shared-disk database architecture must pay for a license on each piece of hardware in the SAN even though the database would fail over only to one box, Shainman said.

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