Oracle partitioning policy – How to fight back

The Oracle partitioning policy document is a non-contractual document Oracle uses to enforce its licensing policies on how to license its technology software, including database and middleware when using virtualization technologies, such as IBM LPAR, Oracle Solaris, Oracle OVM, Microsoft Hyper-V and most famously VMware.

 

What is Oracle partitioning policy document?

 

The Oracle partitioning Policy document is defining which virtualization technologies that allows sub-capacity licensing according to Oracle. This is where you only license a part of the server, not the full server or pool of servers. As such, you only license the processors you allocate to the instance that runs Oracle software.

  • Oracle differentiates between 2 different types of partitioning, hard and soft partitioning technologies.

What is hard partitioning in Oracle?

  • Oracle approved Hard partitioning technologies are permitted as a means to limit the number of software licenses for any given server or cluster of servers. This includes Oracle OVM, IBM LPAR, and a few other technologies. However, be careful to configure the hard partitioning according to Oracle’s instructions, otherwise you might end up licensing the full server or cluster of servers and not just the instance that runs Oracle.

Oracle-approved hard partitioning technologies as listed in this section of the policy document
are permitted as a means to limit the number of software licenses required for any given server
or a cluster of servers. Oracle has deemed certain technologies, possibly modified by
configuration constraints, as hard partitioning, and no other technology or configuration
qualify. Approved hard partitioning technologies include: Physical Domains (also known as
PDomains, Dynamic Domains, or Dynamic System Domains), Solaris Zones (also known as
Solaris Containers, capped Zones/Containers only), IBM’s LPAR (adds DLPAR with AIX 5.2), IBM’s
Micro-Partitions (capped partitions only), vPar (capped partitions only), nPar, Integrity Virtual
Machine (capped partitions only), Secure Resource Partitions (capped partitions only), Fujitsu’s
PPAR. All approved hard partitioning technologies must have a capped or a maximum number
of cores/processors for the given partition

What is Oracle soft partitioning?

  • Soft partitioning is every other virtualization technology that is not listed as a hard partitioning technology. Oracle claims you need to license all physical hosts in those scenarios.

“Unless explicitly stated elsewhere in this document, soft partitioning (including features/functionality of any technologies listed as examples above) is not permitted as a means to determine or limit the number of software licenses required for any given server or cluster of servers.”

  • It is non-contractual, note at the bottom of the document

 

“This document is for educational purposes only and provides guidelines regarding Oracle’s policies in effect as of February 14, 2022. It may not be incorporated into any contract and does not constitute a contract or a commitment to any specific terms. Policies and this document are subject to change without notice. This document may not be reproduced in any manner without the express written permission of Oracle Corporation”

 

Oracle is clear about the fact that the policy document does not constitute a contract or commitment about your licensing. It is for educational purposes only. In other words, to understand how to license Oracle, you need to back to your contact.

 

How to challenge Oracle position

 

The partitioning policy document is non-contractual. It is not part of any contract that you signed with Oracle, neither is there any hyperlink from any document to this licensing policy document. Just because Oracle decides to publish a policy document on the website, can they overrule what is in the contracts with their customers? Well, we will leave the question unanswered, but if you read on, you will see how exactly the partitioning policy and Oracle’s license definition in your contract with Oracle can be interpreted differently and lead to drastic different results when counting Oracle licenses.

 

Oracle’s contractual license definition

 

In an audit, Oracle LMS – Oracle’s audit organization – will refer to the Oracle OMA for licensing definitions. You will find the Oracle OMA and Schedule P, which deals with Oracle Programs, under Rights Granted:

 

“Upon Oracle’s acceptance of Your order, You have the non-exclusive, non-assignable, royalty free, perpetual (unless otherwise specified in the order), limited right to use the Programs and receive any Program-related Service Offerings You ordered solely for Your internal business operations and subject to the terms of the Master Agreement, including the definitions and rules set forth in the order and the Program Documentation.”

 

If we then move on and look at the Oracle’s processor definition and how it should be licensed, it says:

 

“Processor: shall be defined as all processors where the Oracle programs are installed and/or running.“

 

This is fairly clear, but it is not referencing the partitioning policy document for guidance on how to count licenses in virtual environments. Reading Oracle’s own licensing definitions as they are outlined in your contract, you won’t have to license any processors which are not running Oracle software. However, you will see Oracle sales and Oracle LMS refer to the Partitioning Policy Document as the way to license Oracle software.

To counter this approach, we recommend Oracle customers to document that you have not used unlicensed Oracle hosts to utilize Oracle environments. You do this to build an “audit defense” strategy against Oracle claims on how to license in VMware or other virtual environments that fall under Oracle’s soft partitioning guidelines.

VMware recommendation

VMware recommend the following approach:

  • Dedicate a vSphere cluster for Oracle software.
  • Common vSphere cluster with VM-host must affinity rule to bind Oracle hosts to a set of ESXI servers dedicated for Oracle workloads within the vSphere cluster.
  • VM vCPU affinity to bind the Oracle VMs to a set number of physical cores within a physical socket of an ESXI server.

Now, Oracle will not accept any of these options. We list them as options to mitigate the risk in case you want to run Oracle on VMware without a contractual agreement with Oracle.

 

Soft Partitioning Policy – How to fight back

 

Document Oracle licenses in VMware via vMotion events. VMware has an example of how this is done in their blog post Oracle VMware vSphere SAN preparing Oracle audit. Now, being outside of the audit and giving advice and going through an Oracle audit receiving advice is two completely different scenarios. The VMware team goes in further details in the blog post, but the final step where you defend yourself against Oracle is limited to throwing the documentation at Oracle in the case of an emergency like an audit.

In other words, you are basically tyring to make Oracle prove that you have used processor licenses outside of your license grant. We like the approach, but it does not capture the full challenge when you are face to face with Oracle LMS.

It is worth noting that Oracle has not taken any legal action ever for the deployment on VMware. Oracle does not want litigation on Oracle licenses on VMware. There are numerous of cases where customers have been found by Oracle to be running on VMware and they have refused to pay. But for every customer that successfully has refused to pay, there are 10 who did pay much, much more than they ever imagined or anticipated. Every company should carefully evaluate the different licensing options and build a strategy with management support. This document applies for Oracle Java Licensing too.

 

Oracle’s suggestion to license Oracle on VMware

 

Oracle has in recent years softened its stance on customers found to be non-compliant in software audits where VMware is used. In the past they required all hosts in all vCenters to be licensed. They still do, but they let the customers off the hook by insisting they do not need to purchase licenses for hosts in vCenters where there is no Oracle software running. As long as the customer agrees to a network and storage segregation agreement. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It is a step in the right direction, but our experience is that very few customers find the solution acceptable.

 

What if you run other virtualization technologies, such as IBM LPAR and you have not configured the LPARs correctly? – Oracle will require you to purchase licenses for the whole server.

What if you run Nutanix AHV virtualization? – Oracle views Nutanix as soft partitioning and you need to license accordingly.

 

Oracle proposing Unlimited License Agreements (ULA) to solve VMware/virtualization challenge

The Oracle ULA used to be the go-to solution for running Oracle on VMware. Many Oracle ULAs has been proposed and signed whenever there has been use of VMware. Although Oracle sales likes to propose the ULA agreements as the solution to any licensing issue you might have, it is in reality a dual edged sword – it’s great, if you know to handle it and the use case is right. It is double trouble if you don’t what you are getting yourself into.

 

Oracle ULA – the answer to Oracle on VMware or other virtualization technology? 

We are not going to address all the different use cases for Oracle ULAs here, only when the ULA is proposed as the solution to running Oracle on VMware. If you signed up for an ULA to solve the challenge with virtualization, you will be fine as long as you are within an active ULA. The problem is when you are stepping out of the ULA, where a couple of things happens:

 

  • ULA Certification – You will be going through a certification process where you are basically counting the number of Oracle licenses you are running. The problem is, you will only be counting licenses that are “installed and running”. Subsequently, you run the risk of ending up in a situation where you are compliant while you are in an active ULA, but the second you certify, you will be leaving the ULA with far less licenses than needed to be compliant on your VMware environments because the certification process is not aligned with Oracle’s licensing policies, the Oracle partitioning policy.

 

  • VMware growth / Growth in use of virtualization technology – Another problem is that the use of virtualization technologies often is a vital part of organization’s IT strategies. As such, it has a tendency to continue to grow also after you ended your ULA. Again, Oracle ULAs might have a very limited period where you are covered given the term of the ULA’s unlimited deployment period. Even with a certification process where you can account all servers in the virtualized environments and claim license for them, your use of VMware might very quickly push the need for Oracle licenses beyond your current Oracle estate, especially in these Hyper-Coverged times.

 

The Oracle ULA is in many cases not the right solution to Oracle’s position on licensing in virtual environments unless you know what to ask for. We recommend to review your situation and device a Oracle strategy together with Oracle license experts.

 

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Contact us – If you need help with interpreting the Soft partitioning policy document in your favor and find the solution where you can safely and riskfree deploy Oracle software.