End Of The Line For Licensing - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
11:15 AM
Andy Dornan
Andy Dornan

End Of The Line For Licensing

Traditional software licensing models are being derailed by virtualization and multicore processors. So how much is this going to cost us?

IBM and Oracle have moved in the opposite direction from BEA, counting individual CPU cores. IBM's per-core licensing now applies to about half of its software offerings, including DB2, WebSphere, Tivoli, and Domino, while Oracle's applies to its flagship database. Both vendors also take into account the performance of each processor line so that costs approximate the actual computing power available to an application.

IBM's scheme is the most complex. It charges customers per PVU (processor value unit), which is equal to 1% of a standard dual-core Opteron or Xeon. IBM divided its per-socket prices by 100 to set per-PVU pricing, meaning most x86 customers initially will see no change. However, upgrade to quad-core x86 chips, and you'll pay twice as much per processor because each one now counts for 200 PVUs.

IBM says this model is fair because a chip with four cores can do twice as much as one with two. The problem for IT is that chip core counts are growing exponentially. That means IBM license fees will do the same if the number of PVUs per core and the price per PVU stay constant. Because this scenario is untenable long term, IBM says it will adjust the number of PVUs per core to account for actual performance and the expected diminishing returns of adding more cores to a chip. At present, all x86 cores count for 50 PVUs.

IBM's PVU system is also the first large-vendor licensing scheme to explicitly take virtualization into account, through what IBM calls "subcapacity licensing." If a server is divided into multiple virtual machines, the apps within each VM need only be licensed for the maximum number of cores available to the VM, not every core in the server.

Of course, keeping track of this scheme is what caused such a problem for the Tivoli License Compliance tool.

Subcapacity licensing can result in savings, but only if VMs are tightly constrained to a limited number of cores. Problem is, the greatest selling point of virtualization is its flexibility, enabling capacity to be moved around between VMs as loads demand. To take advantage of this attribute, every application needs to be licensed for every core that it might run on, something IBM admits will entail higher costs for most customers. It's also very hard to measure, prompting the recall of IBM's tool. The company is developing an updated version as part of a larger Tivoli product aimed at virtualization management, though the tool itself will remain free.

Oracle's licensing is simpler than IBM's, based on counting cores as fractions of a processor, but it's less virtualization-friendly. An Oracle database running on VMware must be licensed for every core on the underlying hardware--regardless of how many cores the VM actually runs on. At present, the only way to save on Oracle licensing through virtualization is to limit the processor cores available to a database through Solaris Containers, which Oracle sees as placing tighter limits than VMware when it comes to restricting the number of cores available to an application.

Impact Assessment: Virtualization-Aware Licensing

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