In 2010 Larry Ellison decided that “clouds are ok”. Since that time Oracle embraced both virtualization and private clouds at the “buzzword level”, yet Oracle license and support policy has not caught up yet and punishes Oracle customers who are using virtualized environments. How can there be such a disconnect between the marketing machine and the company legal and support policy? Let me explain.
What is virtualization?
There are several different kinds of virtualization. In this article we will consider the kind of virtualization also sometimes called “hypervisors” and “software and hardware server partitioning”. This kind of virtualization is required (but not sufficient) for private clouds. According to Oracle own definitions, there are two main types of server partitioning available:
- Soft Partitioning.
Quote: “Soft partitioning segments the operating system using OS resource managers. The operating system limits the number of CPUs where an [Oracle software] is running by creating areas where CPU resources are allocated to applications within the same operating system. The administrator can set the number of CPUs to the number of licensed CPUs. This is a flexible way of managing data processing resources since the CPU capacity can be changed fairly easily, as additional resource is needed. Examples of such partitioning type include: Solaris 9 Resource Containers, AIX Workload Manager, HP Process Resource Manager, Affinity Management, Oracle VM, VMware, etc.”
- Hard Partitioning
Quote: “Hard partitioning physically segments a server, by taking a single large server and separating it into distinct smaller systems. Each separated system acts as a physically independent, self-contained server, typically with its own CPUs, operating system, separate boot area, memory, input/output subsystem and network resources.”
In other words, software hypervisors, such as VMware, Xen, Microsoft Hyper-V, Red Hat KVM, Oracle VM (in certain configurations) and many other software products are considered to be software based partitioning. At the same time IBM PowerVM LPAR, Solaris 10 Containers and others are considered to be hard partitioning. As you may have noticed by now, most virtualization products targeting x86 platform are considered to be “soft” partitioning, at least according to Oracle definition.
Oracle license policy for virtualization
Oracle customers are severely restricted by both – the Oracle license policy as well as support for virtualized environments:
- Oracle license policy clearly states that “soft partitioning is not permitted as a means to determine or limit the number of software licenses required for any given server.” This applies to all of the Oracle software, including DBMS, WebLogic, GlassFish, Tuxedo, BPM Suite, SOA Suite, Portal, etc. What this means is that if you have a server with multiple cores and you are running Oracle software inside of the VMware guest on some of those cores, you must pay for all of the cores on the server, regardless of how many cores you are actually using for the Oracle software.
- Some (but not all) kinds of hardware partitioning are recognized by Oracle for the purpose of restricting licensing. Approved hard partitioning technologies include: Dynamic System Domains (DSD) — enabled by Dynamic Reconfiguration (DR), Solaris 10 Containers (capped Containers only), LPAR (adds DLPAR with AIX 5.2), Micro-Partitions (capped partitions only), vPar, nPar, Integrity Virtual Machine (capped partitions only), Secure Resource Partitions (capped partitions only), Static Hard Partitioning, Fujitsu’s PPAR, Oracle VM Server for SPARC (only as described here). Oracle VM Server for x86 may be used as hard partitioning technology only as described here. Using IBM processors in TurboCore mode is not permitted as a means to reduce the number of software licenses required; all cores must be licensed.
This article by Gartner’s Chris Wolf provides additional information on the Oracle restrictive license policy for software based server partitioning.
IBM license policy for virtualization
Simple – you only pay for the cores that are assigned to your OS guest running IBM software. Any other cores on the server that are not running WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli, Lotus, Rational or other IBM software do not need to be licensed. This is called sub-capacity licensing in IBM terms and applies to all IBM software license on the PVU terms (Processor Value Units – or cores). Here is the complete list of eligible processors and eligible virtualization technologies.
Cost comparison examples
Let me illustrate the impact of the difference in license policies by using examples. For the sake of comparison I assume that all of the compared software has similar performance on the same hardware. in practice this assumption is not always true and I recommend that you run performance tests using your own workloads if you need to estimate the hardware capacity and have correct estimate of the software license costs for your application. However in this example this is not the point. The point is “if” IBM and Oracle software had the same performance, what would be the license cost then? All examples below assume x86 processors with 70 PVU rating for IBM software and 0.5 core factor for Oracle. Please note that products compared (a) to NOT provide exactly the same functionality and (b) do NOT provide the same level of performance. In most cases IBM products run faster and provide more function, but that is a subject of a different post.
Oracle support policy for virtualization
Oracle support policy for virtualization environments is no less restrictive than their licensing. Oracle Document ID #249212.1 describes “Support Status for VMware Virtualized Environments”. Quote: “…Oracle has not certified any of its products on VMware virtualized environments. Oracle Support will assist customers running Oracle products on VMware in the following manner: Oracle will only provide support for issues that either are known to occur on the native OS, or can be demonstrated not to be as a result of running on VMware… When the customer can demonstrate that the Oracle solution does not work when running on the native OS, Oracle will resume support…” The bottom line is that Oracle does not certify VMware as a supported configuration and is not obligated by contract to support such environments (or any other hypervisors for that matter, except for Oracle VM). If customer has a problem with Oracle software on VMware or other hypervisor, they will need to reproduce that problem on the native OS to get full Oracle support.
What about Oracle support for IBM PowerVM, Red Hat KVM and other hypervisors? Oracle makes no explicit statements of support for those technologies.
IBM support policy for virtualization
As described in the Virtualization Policy for IBM Software, supported virtualization technologies for IBM software (not only WebSphere) include:
- IBM PR/SM hypervisor with IBM z/OS or Linux
- IBM z/VM hypervisor with z/OS or Linux
- IBM PowerVM hypervisor with IBM AIX or Linux or i/OS
- VMware ESX Server with Windows or Linux
- Red Hat KVM with RHEL
- SUSE KVM with SLES
The support for above virtualization technologies means that “…IBM Remote Technical Support can be obtained under the usual IBM support terms and conditions. If during problem investigation, IBM determines that the issue is the result of an IBM software defect that has not been reported before, we will accept defect requests. If a problem is identified with the virtualization technology, IBM will work with the technology vendor where possible to try to resolve virtualization problems…”
What about virtualization technologies that are not explicitly listed in the official IBM support documents? Here, again, IBM has advantage over Oracle as documented in the IBM Support for virtualization technologies: “If you submit a standard usage or defect-related service request and WebSphere Application Server is running in a Virtual Environment that is not officially supported, IBM WebSphere Application Server Support will make reasonable efforts to resolve the problem. We will assume the issue is common to both native and virtual operating environments. If we suspect that a problem is the result of the virtualization technology, it may be necessary to recreate the issue in a native environment before providing continued defect support.”
This is a mirror opposite of the Oracle license and support policies. For a complete list of supported platforms and hypervisors, you can use IBM compatibility query tool.
If your company is considering private clouds for which virtualization is a key part, then you should strongly consider the implications of the license and support policies of your vendors. As you have seen in this article, the terms can be drastically different and you should be fully aware of the terms before you sign the contract, not one year later during the vendor audit.