Oracle's new in-memory database option could spark unanticipated costs, expert warns

The new option is reportedly enabled by default in the update to Database 12c

Oracle database shops that have or are planning to download the latest version of 12c take warning: The vendor's newly launched, much-hyped in-memory processing database option is turned on by default, according to one expert.

The in-memory option costs US$23,000 per processor, according to an Oracle price list updated this week. Customers who don't realize the option has been switched on may find their next license audit "um, more entertaining," wrote Kevin Closson, a senior director in EMC's performance engineering group and a former Oracle architect who worked on its Exadata database machine, in a post on his personal blog this week.

"Please let me point out that I'm trying as hard as I can to not make a mountain out of a molehill," Closson wrote. The new version of database 12c containing the in-memory option is "hugely important," he added.

However, given the "crushing cost of this option/feature I expect that its use will be very selective," he wrote. "It's for this reason I wanted to draw to people's attention the fact that -- in my assessment -- this option/feature is very easy to use 'accidentally.' It really should have a default initialization setting that renders the option/feature nascent -- but the reality is quite the opposite."

An Oracle spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Friday on Closson's blog post, which was first highlighted by The Register.

Opinions on whether the option's cost is truly "crushing" may vary. Other Oracle database options, such as Real Application Clusters, are priced similarly. Oracle customers can typically negotiate significant discounts off list prices as well, although such a discussion may not be possible if any misuse of the in-memory option, accidental or not, is discovered during an audit.

Closson's blog post sparked a press release from Mark Flynn, CEO of the nonprofit organization Campaign for Clear Licensing. The group is lobbying software vendors in hopes of making licensing terms clearer.

"Oracle quite rightly deserves to make a lot of money from this innovation, but we fear that a large proportion of the additional income that it will generate (particularly in the short-term) will be through end-users being stung at their next audit because they were not aware of the change," Flynn said in the release.

Ultimately, database administrators are responsible for making sure their systems are license-compliant, Flynn noted. However, "we do not live in a perfect world," he said. "Admins have a million and one other priorities in their day -- keeping up-to-date with the latest licensing changes is rarely top of their list."

The onus is on vendors such as Oracle to better educate customers when changes like this are made, he added.

There's no question Oracle wants a large number of its database customers to use the in-memory option, which it's using as a hedge against customer defections to rival in-memory platforms from SAP, Microsoft and IBM.

Oracle's approach creates an in-memory column store, which dramatically speeds up analytic queries, while preserving the database's existing relational row store for OLTP (online-transaction-processing) workloads. The column store mitigates the overhead required to maintain row-based analytic indexes, improving OLTP performance.

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