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.