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By | Timothy Prickett Morgan 7th December 2010 04:00

Oracle slashes software prices on own iron

Hikes 'em on HP Itanium

Well before Oracle was even close to buying Sun Microsystems, the company was kind enough to tweak its per-core pricing for its eponymous database software to make it competitive on processors with fewer threads and higher clock speeds. Now, the company is making its software pricing less attractive on servers using Itanium 9300 processors from Intel - which pretty much come from only Hewlett-Packard these days. The idea is to help Oracle's new Sparc T3 Unix boxes steal some business in HP-UX shops.

The world was a lot simpler for software providers when a processor socket meant only a single CPU was inside that socket. No matter what kind of CPU it was, there was only one. The July 2005, as multiple core processors were being called multiple processors by some vendors but not others, Oracle instituted a per-core pricing scheme for its software that used multiplication factors to adjust for the relative performance of cores somewhat to try to level the playing field. As each new generation of chips has come out since then, Oracle has had to assign a new scaling factor to a new chip so its buyers knew how to calculate software prices.

On December 2, Oracle's new processor core factor table, the latest iteration of which was announced in March 2009, was updated to give the new Sparc64-VII+ processors announced last week their scaling factor. Oracle's multiplier for per-core licensing on these new processors is 0.5, which means you count up the cores in a box, cut it in half, and that's how many licenses you need to buy of Oracle 11g or whatever wares this licensing scheme applies to.

The resulting per-core software prices on the new 3 GHz Sparc64-VII+ processors (which have four cores per chip) is 33 per cent lower than on the prior dual-core Sparc64-VI and quad-core Sparc64-VII processors, which had a scaling factor of 0.75. (Meaning that Oracle gave a 25 percent discount per core on its software licensing for these machines.)

On the Sparc T3-based machines that debuted in September, Oracle is using a 0.25 scaling factor on the 16-core T3 processors. Over the years, Oracle has used a number of different scaling factors on the Sparc T series of processors, including 0.25 or 0.5 on the Sparc T1s (depending on the chip and machine model), 0.5 on the Sparc T2+, and 0.75 on the Sparc T2.

Oracle has had a 1.0 scaling factor on IBM's dual-core Power6 and eight-core Power7 machines, meaning there is no per-core discount. But back when Big Blue was friendlier with Littler Larry in the dual-core Power5 and Power5+ generations of processors, the scaling factor was 0.75--the same as on the big Sparc64 iron from Sun and Fujitsu that was concurrent. But back then, IBM was using Oracle databases in its benchmark tests and not pushing its own DB2 so hard. IBM's mainframe have never got a price break on Oracle software--or from IBM, for that matter, if you look at the prices it charges for z/OS, CISC, DB2, and other programs on its mainframes.

On December 1, Oracle jacked up software prices on customers buying new machines based on Intel's quad-core Itanium 9300 processors, which were announced in March. HP launched its Integrity blade servers using the Itanium 9300s in April and started shipping its Superdome 2 quasi-blade servers three months ago. And, for all intents and purposes, HP is the only Itanium system vendor that is affected by the announcement that the scaling factor on Itanium 9300 machines starting December 1 is 1.0, not the 0.5 that was in effect prior to that time for all Itanium chips. The price hike from Oracle is only on the latest Itanium chips, not on earlier multicore generations.

The scaling factor on Intel's Xeon 5600, 6500, and 7500 processors as with all other x64 processors, including those from Advanced Micro Devices, are identical at 0.5 or half list price.

One more thing: You don't have to use per-core pricing for Oracle software, of course.

For instance, you can buy a perpetual license of Oracle 11g Enterprise Edition for $950 per named user; you have to buy 25 named users. The list price per core without the scaling factor for that database is $47,500. (Oracle calls a core a processor in its price list just to be confusing.) On the Standard Edition, which is aimed at midrange boxes and more modest database needs, the software costs $350 per named user and you need to buy a minimum of five user licenses.

Standard Edition costs $17,500 per socket (in Oracle lingo, "a processor is counted as equivalent to a socket" and on sockets with two or more chips in a single module, each chip is counted as a socket). In many cases where the workloads are modest, it makes far more sense to pay per-user fees than counting cores at all. ®

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