Oracle to charge extra for 12c database's 'fundamental' feature

Intrigue builds over an Oracle and Microsoft press conference set for Monday

For the better part of a year, Oracle has touted the "pluggable database" feature in its upcoming 12c database release as a significant architectural shift that will usher in major performance and efficiency improvements and also make cloud-based applications more secure.

But customers who want to take advantage of the pluggable database concept when 12c is released won't get it in return for their regular maintenance fees. Instead, Oracle plans to offer it as a "separately priced option," CEO Larry Ellison revealed Thursday on the company's fourth-quarter and year-end earnings call.

The feature allows multiple databases to run inside of a single 12c database instance and constitutes Oracle's take on multitenancy, which is a key ingredient of cloud-based applications.

In the past, multitenancy has referred to a practice followed by SaaS (software as a service) vendors such as Salesforce.com, where many customers share the same application instance, but with their data kept separate. Oracle believes that application-level multitenancy is inferior and less secure than 12c's approach, which pushes multitenancy to the database tier, Ellison said on the conference call.

Pluggable databases in fact represent "a fundamental re-architecture of the [Oracle] database," Oracle senior vice president Andy Mendelsohn said at last year's OpenWorld conference when 12c was introduced. "Now if I'm an administrator, I have one database overall to administer."

But in order to get that experience, customers who upgrade to 12c will need to fork over extra money above and beyond the core license fee for Oracle Database Enterprise Edition, which as of Friday remained listed at $47,500 per processor, as it has been for some time.

Mendelsohn's characterization of pluggable databases as a "fundamental" change to the platform notwithstanding, Ellison's announcement is not altogether surprising.

Many other previously released features for Enterprise Edition also carry additional fees, such as Real Application Clusters, which cost $23,000 per processor.

While Oracle tends to give customers heavy discounts off list price for software licenses, by breaking out pluggable databases and other options from the main product, it generates additional streams of lucrative annual maintenance revenue.

Therefore, Oracle database customers who have been anticipating 12c and paying for maintenance on the core product will likely be disappointed to discover that they won't receive pluggable databases as part of a regular upgrade.

That said, it's possible the cost of using the pluggable database option can be significantly offset by benefits such as easier system maintenance and lower demand for computing resources.

Still, one database industry watcher offered a less-than-glowing assessment of Ellison's announcement.

"Oracle's business model depends upon extracting maximum revenue from those enterprises that have chosen to be captive to it," said analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research.

Oracle has yet to announce an actual launch date for 12c, but it is expected to occur soon.

Meanwhile, Oracle is set next week to announce a number of partnerships with software vendors around 12c that will "reshape the cloud and reshape the perception of Oracle technology in the cloud," Ellison said.

While Ellison promised the announcements would be "startling," and are to involve companies such as NetSuite, Salesforce.com and Microsoft, only the last seems especially intriguing.

That's because both NetSuite and Salesforce.com are longtime users of Oracle's database technology, although Salesforce.com has made a few moves away from the platform.

But Microsoft has its own widely used SQL Server database, which competes with Oracle's product and is available on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform. And Oracle has its own Azure-like service, through which it also offers its database.

Still, Microsoft and Oracle's joint press conference Monday is apparently important enough to merit the attendance of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Oracle president Mark Hurd, although Ellison wasn't expected to appear.

The rumor mill has churned up quite a bit of speculation over the event, with one of the more prominent themes being that Oracle and Microsoft will announce additional support for running Java applications on Windows Azure, said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research.

Another scenario being floated would see Microsoft and Oracle team up on an OpenStack-like hybrid cloud project, Wang said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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