MS to unveil new licensing policies for virtual machines

Microsoft expected to tie licenses to virtual machines rather than to physical ones

Customers often devise workarounds to avoid punitive licensing terms. Robert Wicks, senior AIX/Linux systems administrator at Rollins, a US-based pest-control company, says a couple small software vendors charge Rollins for all the cores in a server even if the application is only using some of them. The solution: run the software on older hardware with fewer processors.

"It's very inconvenient. We'll probably have to address the issue at some point," Wicks says.

Such problems occur when vendors don't update their policies to reflect the realities of server virtualization, Wolf says.

"There are still vendors who have no clearly defined licensing policy for virtual environments," he says. "The biggest offender is Oracle."

Say you're running Oracle's database on a four-socket server with four cores each, 16 cores in all. Even if you're only running the database on a few cores, Oracle will charge you for all 16.

"You have to pay for all available CPUs on a physical server," Wolf says. "That discourages organizations from virtualizing Oracle applications."

Oracle declined requests for comment.

Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle Users Group, doubts this licensing issue would harm customers. Most people virtualizing an Oracle database will use all the CPUs available, anyway, he says.

"It seems more like a theoretical case," Kaplan says.

Oracle user Mitch Dysart, the IT director of operations and chief technology architect at Ohio State University, says he's avoided any pricing penalties with a single license covering his whole deployment.

"We have an enterprise site license for Oracle, so it's not really an issue," says Dysart, who makes extensive use of VMware's hypervisor.

Things can quickly get confusing if your vendor charges for each instance of an application, says Marty Kacin, CTO and co-founder of Kace, which offers management tools that keep track of software running on physical and virtual machines.

"As you start to deploy virtual machines ... you are deploying more operating systems that need to be licensed and metered," Kacin says. "Every time you tell your systems management tool that you want to spin up a new virtual machine, all of a sudden you're deploying operating system and application licenses to people whether you like it or not."

VMware user Jack Story, the CTO of Infocrossing, is hoping application vendors come up with simpler licensing models.

"It would be really nice if we could just have a very simple licensing model. That's not the case today," he says.

Microsoft's announcement next week could help in this regard. Wolf, for one, is optimistic that licensing problems will all be sorted out, though it may take a while.

"Vendors are honestly trying to do the right thing here," Wolf says. "The trick for them is to develop a model that is fair to them and protects their revenues, is fair to their clients and is something that's going to be able to last for a few years. They don't like to have to change licensing models on a whim."

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Jon Brodkin

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