Oracle license on VMWare – How implement to meet license requirements

I have been working as an Oracle dba for years with Enterprise customers who insisted on running VMWare for Oracle to have the same platform for all their IT systems, and security issues and regulations prevents them from moving their data into the cloud. A few years back we ran into the problem that Oracle changed the licensing rules for new versions of VMWare because of new functionality implemented in VMWare. This created problems for our dba team as the Operations department wanted to move to newer versions of VMWare, vCenter and ESXi hosts to take advantage of all the new functionality in VMWare for all systems not running Oracle, which is the main focus of their business. We presented the issue of the new Oracle licensing rules and what it would take to remain compliant, but as the number of systems benefiting from the new versions of VMWare and vCenter were far greater than those getting issues because they were running Oracle, we had to argue and fight the decisions being made all the way. Eventually this ended up with a decision to move away from Oracle to open source databases and to MS Sql Server for several systems. To make the necessary split for the Oracle clusters were just not beneficial for some customers, and they were not ready to move into the cloud just yet. All our attempts to find a way for Oracle to maintain their position as the preferred database provider were futile since it meant abandoning their IT optimization decisions.

The background for this issue is that when you moved from version 5.0 to version 5.x of vCenter administration software for VMWare you needed to license all your VMWare servers in the same vCenter with Oracle licenses. And when moving to vCenter 6.0 you had to license all VMWare servers inn all vCenter clusters as long as they were connected to each other in some way. As our customers were using Oracle Enterprise Edition instances, this would put them in an entirely hopeless situation when considering prices.

Versions of vCenter and ESXi hosts and Oracle licensing

Back in the day when VMWare were implemented on version 5.0, you were fine and you could just separate the Oracle cluster from the others in the same vCenter and then licensing the cores of the ESXi hosts located in the clusters specified for Oracle. It is actually presented in a diffuse manner for which version the license requirements actually changed. The Oracle white papers on this say that you on version 5.0 only license the cluster separated in vCenter, but at the same time they say that the license on version 5.x, which can be interpreted as also including 5.0, require you to create a separate vCenter for Oracle. But from 6.0 and above, they clearly state that all vCenters were there is the slightest possibility to migrate an Oracle server to, will need to be licensed. Which means that clusters sharing storage will also have to be licensed as Oracle servers.

How to get around the VMWare vCenter version issue

What do you do? What should existing customers do to continue to use a product they already bought from Oracle on a platform that has developed to a more flexible platform? The argument is that you cannot split servers resources in a proper manner, but it was good enough on earlier versions. Many customers struggle with this concept, and there are also many that are not aware that they are actually breaking these licensing rules, which will be discovered with an Oracle audit.

There are ways to get around it. You can try and split the solutions using firewalls and other implementations on software or hardware level to split the clusters to be able to still use the functionality across platforms. But for this to be an acceptable solution, Oracle need to approve your solution.

The other solution, which is not practical for a business who would like to optimize their solution’s resources for storage and all other hardware, is to implement a cluster with its own hardware, from storage to ESXi hosts, which has its own vCenter for administration. A better solution may be to move to ExaData or to move to the Oracle cloud, but this is not a possibility for all customers. Oracle is not a standalone solution that can dictate the choice of IT implementations for enterprise businesses. There are a large amount of other applications and systems that needs to be considered, and Oracle is just a small part of their total consideration.

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Oracle licenses on VMWare skyrocketing

Even when you have been a dba and a computer consultant for 17 years, Oracle can still surprise you. Why are this software and database giant choosing such a hostile strategy towards certain technologies? A few years ago Oracle went head on in a disagreement with HP and the Alpha processor just after they acquired Compaq and with it the Tru64 Unix where they changed the licensing on the Alpha processor so you paid a higher price for each core in this processor than you did for other processors. This made it hard for HP to front their Alpha processor for Oracle products as they actually struggled internally to explain to customers what the price difference actually was and why it was different.

The latest battle is against VMWare which is the product of choice for many customers when they want to use virtual platforms. For each new version of the vCenter software and vSphere ESXi software that VMWare offers, Oracle chooses to make licensing for their software on this platform even tougher. The problem is that many customers aren’t aware of the licensing, and they end up in a legal dispute with Oracle because they don’t understand the license agreement that Oracle introduced regarding newer versions of VMWare.

It is understandable that Oracle wishes to move all their customers into the cloud, but they choose to do this by forcing them with impossible licensing agreements. What is the actual cause of this battle against VMWare? Because it is too expensive for customers to migrate to platforms where Oracle offers a normal licensing agreement, they choose to move to other suppliers instead of trying to find a solution to replace their VMWare. Microsoft SQL Server receives a great deal of the customers that do not wish to migrate away from VMWare.

Embarrassing strategy

What is the actual problem for customers of VMWare who wish to continue to run Oracle on this virtual solution? Before version 5.1 of vSphere ESXi, customers had adjusted to the fact that Oracle required them to separate the ESXi hosts they wished to use for Oracle, and then they could license the cores on those hosts for Oracle. It was an expensive solution, but it worked. Customers found peace in this solution, but it was not good enough for Oracle. Oracle wanted customers to replace VMWare with their own virtualization solution.

Impossible for customers

The problem for the customers started with the introduction of vSphere 5.1. From this version until 6.0, there was a possibility to move virtual machines within the same vCenter. Because of this, Oracle now wanted you to license all the cores available in the entire vCenter, even if you separated Oracle on its own ESXi hosts. Most businesses wished to use one vCenter installation to administer all their servers, Oracle or not. That was no longer possible. The solution was that they needed to move Oracle to its own vCenter. Impractical, but license saving.

But with vSphere ESXi 6.0 and higher, you are screwed if you are still using Oracle on VMWare. And of course you also have to upgrade to this to be able to use all other kinds of software. The new version permits you to move virtual hosts between different vCenters. This means that Oracle wants you to license all cores on all ESXi hosts, even if you never intend to use the other hosts. In large server environments, this puts customers in an impossible situation.

What they’re saying with this is; “Buy our hardware or we’ll sue the hell out of you!”. Is this a good strategy? Force your customers by fear of legal persecution to buy your new product line? Do you think they will choose Oracle, or use competitors which slowly but surely are becoming real competitors?