5 steps to avoid Oracle’s licensing traps

As great a product as Oracle’s Enterprise Edition is, the sticker price will leave many CIOs and IT managers looking for less expensive options. The tech giant offers a much more affordable Standard Edition of its database suite with plenty of attractive features for companies on a tighter budget. However, as some have found out the hard way, Oracle’s complex licensing guidelines and aggressive audit tactics often leave unwitting customers with a huge bill. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to avoid Oracle “audit shock”.

The trap

The primary issue with the Oracle licensing model is the fact that both the Standard and Enterprise editions are identical software packages. Even if a company has only purchased the Standard package, many Enterprise features are added by default upon installation. If subsequent audits reveal that Enterprise features were used, a license upgrade is triggered. These upgrades are not trivial, either… they can amount to millions of dollars in unexpected fees. To make matters worse, Oracle software makes no effort to warn users that a feature they have activated is not part of their current licensing plan. 


These examples of Oracle licensing horror stories all share a common theme – the customer unintentionally or unknowingly activated an Enterprise feature while under Standard licensing, resulting in an unexpected bill: 

When a mid-sized bank’s audit server crashed, Oracle had to be reinstalled from scratch. During hectic reinstallation and recovery, the compressed backup feature was triggered by accident.When this was discovered by the audit team, a fee claim of USD 250,000 was levied against the bank. 

Similarly, a large government organization was presented with a $1 million surprise by Oracle auditors when it was found that Enterprise diagnostic and tuning packs were activated. Fortunately, full license feature logging was enabled, making an investigation into the chain of events leading to the undesired feature activation easier. In an ironic twist, time logs indicated that it was an Oracle consultant who had activated the license upgrade while tuning the system. When Oracle was presented with these facts, they dropped the claim. 

Topping these stories is a frightful USD 11 million claim by Oracle against one particular large enterprise. In a meeting about the claim, confident Oracle auditing partners asserted that the customer had been using VmWare, triggering the Enterprise fee for the VmWare environment. However, thorough logging by dbWatch revealed that the company was using VmWare 5.5 which does not trigger that particular licensing upgrade. With precise, detailed documentation to present to the auditors, a specious claim was once again dropped. 

The solution

Based on these cases, and countless other stories, there are steps you can take to avoid most of these licensing pitfalls:  

  • Log all events, especially with external consultants
  • Run license feature checks on a regular basis using 3rd party tools.
  • Scan your environment for all instances of Oracle, including test and backup systems.
  • Come to audit meetings prepared, with thorough documentation.
  • Bring your own Oracle license expert

The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to take any aggressive action by Oracle lying down. No company should have to pay for software features that they didn’t need or want. Some due diligence and preparation will go a long way toward helping your organization fight any unfounded licensing claims. As seen from the horror stories above, the small cost associated with avoiding audit claims pales in comparison to what can be billed after a bad audit. 

At dbWatch we have worked on this for a long time, you can read more about dbWatch solution here.  

Improving database operations

Today, ITIL and ITSM are core concepts in IT operations. They define processes that provide predictable functionality, cost and quality in IT services. One of the central concepts in IT is “continuous improvement”, meaning the constant drive to improve every aspect of IT service delivery.

At the core of enterprise IT, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Servers and others is handling essential functions such as ERP, CRM, E-Commerce and logistics. So how does ITIL continuous improvement processes apply to database operations?

What to improve?

We need to define areas where improvements can be made in relation to database operations. The main areas are service quality, service cost and resource requirements. Service quality in database operations relate to service availability, response time or performance, reliability and number and degree of seriousness of incidents. Service cost relates to the cost of server hardware, licenses for database engines and related software tools, maintenance, manpower in the form of database administrators and training costs for personnel.

We can reduce resource requirements through several means:

Consolidate physical or virtual servers to reduce hardware requirements.
Reduce licensing cost by using standard editions instead of enterprise editions where possible, or consolidate multiple servers.
Automate, standardize and simplify operations, in order to reduce the number of dba hours required to operate database servers.
Reduce and/or simplify the software tools needed to operate databases. Every tool carries an associated cost of licenses, maintenance and training.
Simplifying operations should also reduce the demands on management.

Improvement in a dynamic world

Database servers are at the core of IT operations, but also used for everything else – from central ERP and CRM systems to departmental applications in almost every department in the enterprise.  New applications and uses appear all the time.  The usage patterns will change and new versions of applications are introduced, changing use patterns, load and performance.  Some IT department experience heavy growth in number of database servers and struggle to keep up with growth and demand.

How do you measure improvement in a structured way in such a dynamic and demanding environment?

Measuring improvement

Before you start improving you need to establish a means of accurately measuring changes in performances, quality and cost.This requires:

Define the set of metrics or statistics to be measured
Collect and store the information
Compare to previous measurement points
Collate and visualize change in the form of reports, graphs or tables
Measure single database servers, as well as the totals of all servers in the enterprise

When do you need to measure? The simple answer is as often as you can. Continuous improvement means just that – always be improving. You cannot be sure you actually improve when you change something, so you need to constantly measure to see if you are making real improvements or not.  You may have a very dynamic environment and need to run your measurements again at any time, to establish a new baseline for measuring improvement.

In real-life your frequency of measurements will depend on the tools you have available.  If there are multiple manual tasks required to collect statistics and compare data to measure change, then you will be limited to how often you can measure, change and or detect need for improvement.

Efficient measuring

Efficient measuring requires good tool support to collect and compare performance metrics and report. The best tools will also automate the processes of continuous improvement for you and allow you to constantly monitor change.  If your information is always up to date you can continuously measure progress.  The faster you can detect any change or improvement the faster you know you are moving in the right direction.


Continuous improvement needs to be just that – continuous.  For this you be performed frequently you need tools that will help you every step of the way – from instrumenting your database servers, collecting and storing statistics, analyzing information and reporting in the form of graphs or tables, that are easy to understand and work with. When this process is automated, you can make continuous improvement an integral part of the way you work in database operations.

Today there such a tool available and that tool is dbWatch