Avoiding common Oracle licensing pitfalls

Oracle enterprise licenses are undoubtedly complicated and perhaps the most difficult of all enterprise application vendors to get right. Users are required to factor into license entitlement calculations hardware processing power, details of...


Oracle enterprise licenses are undoubtedly complicated and perhaps the most difficult of all enterprise application vendors to get right.

Users are required to factor into license entitlement calculations hardware processing power, details of whether expensive management packs and options have been enabled and the numbers of users requiring direct and indirect access. Ongoing license management and accurate data is essential to achieve this effectively.

There are a number of common pitfalls Oracle users encounter as a result of not proactively managing their Oracle licensing entitlements and in almost every instance the outcome is additional costs.

Even small oversights can quite conservatively result in seven figure penalties. This can be from a need to purchase additional licenses or because insufficient data exists to accurately negotiate a cost effective enterprise licensing agreement.

1. Poor visibility of management packs and options
Organizations commonly encounter difficulties with Oracle license management because they do not have the right options granted or management packs installed for their needs. It is important to know what you are using and whether you need it because when the Oracle enterprise database edition server is installed, by default all the enterprise options are installed too.

In the first instance this means being aware of what databases are installed and whether they are the standard or enterprise editions. Secondly, it is important to know whether management packs have been ‘accepted’ or options ‘granted’. This is Oracle specific terminology and an incorrect interpretation could alter licensing costs by anything from £10K and £50K per processor. Options and management packs require additional licensing and should not be activated unnecessarily as this rapidly adds to the total cost.

2. Confusion over virtualization rules
There are very specific licensing rules to follow when Oracle is run on virtualized servers and non-compliance could generate a penalty in the region of £3million for a large enterprise. Many organisations have viewed virtualization as a quick and easy way to deploy more Oracle databases without understanding the licensing rules. This has left them exposed to compliance costs, especially where organizations have virtualized Oracle databases using non-Oracle platforms. Oracle doesn’t support soft partitioning on VMware clusters, so it is important to have full visibility of exactly where Oracle is deployed in the estate and what the underlying virtual server architecture relates to.

One common scenario whereby organizations incur unexpected penalties for incorrectly interpreting the virtualization rules arises because an IT administrator has installed Oracle database products on a virtual server, but failed to recognise the licensing impact. They may have assumed that only the virtual server needed to be licensed, when in fact, they should have taken into account the underlying architecture of the physical servers. Or, in the case of a VMWare cluster, the whole cluster needs to be licensed for every physical server where the virtual server could potentially be running.

3. Project slippage creates unforeseen costs
Not proactively monitoring Oracle usage can create problems, which go beyond the issue of compliance and penalties. This typically arises because the organization lacks the usage data needed to accurately calculate future enterprise licensing requirements and instead purchases an unlimited license agreement (ULA) for a fixed time period to protect themselves from an audit. Perhaps the user is implementing Oracle over an estimated time period, but subsequently finds that project timescales have slipped?

When a ULA is entered into, the organization pays a fixed fee for licensing and support, on the basis of deploying a pre-specified number of users in a certain timeframe, regardless of whether those users are live or not. For example, a company may be implementing Oracle and purchases a ULA for 12 months based on deploying a 150 processor license but actually only deploys 75 before the contract expires due to project slippage. They still need those additional licenses, and effectively end up paying for them twice. In monetary terms, this problem can mean spending an additional two thirds of the original ULA cost again, because the license was inefficiently managed.

4. Not having a single window on Oracle assets
This issue is also relevant for other enterprise applications and occurs because an organization lacks a single source of licensing information for its different IT environments. Most organizations now have a combination of Linux, Mac, Windows, virtualisation and software as a service (SaaS) applications. With Oracle database applications being so complex, using a variety of monitoring tools leaves too wide a margin for errors to occur. It becomes impossible to account for the interrelationships between these different environments and groups of users and unclear where the responsibility for license compliance lies. What is needed is continuous monitoring of the entire Oracle estate across all platforms, with data aggregated to a single view on an ongoing basis.

5. Underestimating the difficulty of creating an Oracle Server Worksheet Report
Related to the issue of inaccurate data, another pitfall is underestimating the time required to manually gather licensing information for an Oracle audit - potentially taking up to 4 hours per server. The so-called Oracle Server Worksheet Report (OSW) provides an overview of the entire IT estate, showing what is installed and used, how many users are accessing the Oracle database servers, how they are partitioned, and what the hardware processing power is. It is an essential source of data to support all Oracle audit negotiations and software renewals and without the OSW, an organization is in an unfavourable position.

Good data lies at the heart of what’s required to avoid these common Oracle licensing pitfalls. Even small ‘oversights’ can prove very expensive mistakes to make - to the tune of millions of pounds in penalties. It is only really now that CIOs are uncovering the true cost of non compliance as they fall prey to an audit request or renew existing license agreements.

Posted by Jelle Wijndelts, SAM Consultant at Snow Software

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