oracle licensing and vmwareOver the last couple of months there have been a number of articles on the subject of the licensing requirements for Oracle software when running in a virtualized environment, specifically VMWare. The opinions expressed in those articles range from “you need to license everything” all the way to the opposite, “you don’t have to license anything.” Here are a couple of articles that you may have read. If nothing else, they do have catchy titles:

Questions about virtualization

After reading these articles, and a host of others, two questions pop out:

  1. Why are we seeing so much written about Oracle licensing and virtualization?
  2. What is the answer to the Oracle/virtualization licensing riddle?

Why is everyone writing about virtualization?

Let’s start with the first question: why is everyone writing about virtualization now?  Let’s be clear, Oracle has not changed its policies on VM licensing. They have a policy document on the website under their partitioning licensing (PDF) and that is the same as it’s always been. No change there. In addition, we haven’t seen any contractual changes around this issue. The Oracle contracts are the Oracle contracts. Nothing new there.

Surprise surprise, Oracle’s interpretation requires their customers to license more Oracle.

New functionality? License more Oracle

The real issue is that VMWare has come out with some new functionality in their software. This functionality allows a user to move Oracle software more freely than before. The confusion is there because Oracle is interpreting their existing policies against this new functionality from VMWare. Surprise surprise, Oracle’s interpretation requires their customers to license more Oracle. What is also adding to the confusion is that there are other software vendors (not Oracle) giving users really bad advice when it comes to licensing Oracle software.

What is the answer to the Oracle VMWare licensing riddle?

Now that we know why all the recent hubbub has arisen, the question becomes, what is the answer to the Oracle licensing riddle around VMWare? Do you need to license everything or just where Oracle is actually installed? I’m going to give you the answer now but before I do I want you to sit down, take a deep breath, and get ready. You’re probably not going to like the answer. Here goes … the answer is … it depends! Ugh, I hated writing that as much as you hating reading it. But that is the truth.

Your license requirements and how you present your compliance position to Oracle depends on what type of contracts you are in and whether Oracle is auditing you. Because Oracle does not make this issue clear in either their contracts or their policy docs, you as the customer have some flexibility. The beauty of the ambiguity is that it gives you this flexibility. Embrace the ambiguity. But be smart about it. Don’t paint yourself into a corner with Oracle and their audit team. That’s not a fight you want to have.

We know how to make ‘it depends’ work for our clients

Over the last three years, the Palisade Compliance team have been sitting on the other side of the table helping our clients through very sticky licensing and audit issues with Oracle. We’ve argued many sides of the VMWare licensing requirement issue depending on the facts of the situation and what was best for our clients. There is simply no right answer here. Sometimes we’ve said you have to license everything, and sometimes we say you just have to license where Oracle is actually installed. It really does depend on the specifics of your situation. That’s where our 30-plus years of collective Oracle licensing and contracting experience really helps our clients. We know how to make “it depends” work for our clients.