The rapidly emerging world of hyper converged infrastructure (HCI) promises many technical and financial benefits. The marketplace has been quick to recognize and validate the advantages of hyper-converged infrastructure. Leading vendors, particularly VMware and Nutanix, are locked in a fierce fight to dominate the HCI space. The benefits of HCI are certainly not lost on users of Oracle software. Optimizing an Oracle license investment is, after all, a noble cause. In the right situation, and with correct technical reasoning, performance can be improved and licensing requirement reduced.
There are two key components when discussing Oracle software and HCI:
- Optimization – getting the best value out of your IT and Oracle investment.
- Maintaining Oracle license compliance.
While a detailed and in-depth discussion of HCI is beyond the scope of this post, a brief description will help. The basic idea of HCI is to combine the main features of a 3-tier architecture into a single solution. In short, combining compute, storage, and networking into a single node. Excellent vendor-supplied software to facilitate easy and efficient management of resources is key. In addition to managing the essentials of compute, storage and networking layers, HCI solutions typically also provide features to handle DR and the ability to scale up with the addition of additional nodes as needed.
For an Oracle customer, the benefits of HCI from a technical optimization perspective are clear. You reduce unused hardware capacity through better resource management, eliminate network devices (in theory), and scale up your Oracle deployments easily and rapidly in response to rising demand. Adding nodes and moving workloads becomes seamless.
However, what is not easy is maintaining license compliance for Oracle. If fact the very attribute that makes HCI so appealing – the ability to rapidly add and/or re-allocate resources, also makes it very difficult to track Oracle license usage and maintain license compliance. When you factor in support for different hypervisors from different vendors, each with its own “fencing” ability (or lack thereof), keeping track of your Oracle licenses becomes a real challenge. Oracle’s licensing definitions have not been updated for the era of convergence. Oracle licensing is still largely processor-based (typically, even user-based licensing is eventually tied to processors). The only evolution we have seen from Oracle regarding its licensing is for public cloud via its policy document titled “Licensing Oracle Software in the Cloud Computing Environment“. Not very helpful if you are talking about anything outside AWS, Azure, etc.
Beyond the basic Oracle licensing challenge mentioned above, we have other factors to think about, including:
- Oracle licensing and data/disaster recovery. Traditionally, Oracle requires full licensing for most DR schemes. Customers usually have DR-dedicated resources that are specifically licensed as such for Oracle software. However, most HCI solutions provide seamless DR capabilities by maintaining copies of data across several nodes. Tracking, and discretely licensing each qualifying node for Oracle licensing is practically impossible. Does this support Oracle’s default position that all non-Oracle partitioning/virtualization technologies require full, farm-level licensing? With diligent planning and expert Oracle licensing advice, customers can navigate this landmine to HCI nirvana.
- Storage segregation. With traditional 3-tier architecture, admins could easily manage their VMs running Oracle and segregate the Oracle-related storage. However, converging resources, and seamless storage management, make it difficult to maintain and demonstrate storage segregation. We believe this too is a risky situation that can be handled with expert licensing assistance.
In the absence of any licensing evolution from Oracle, we must always fall back to the contractual definition of licensing all physical processors where Oracle software is installed and/or running. When you couple this with Oracle’s position on virtualization/partitioning (Oracle Partitioning Policy), the Oracle license compliance risks with HCI become very clear. The key part of the policy that anyone using VMware or Nutanix or similar technologies must keep in mind is the following:
“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.”
At Redwood Compliance, we clearly see the benefits our clients can reap from deploying Oracle in modern HCI solutions. Such an endeavor would benefit from careful planning, diligence, and expert Oracle licensing advice from an independent third party.