Oracle RAC on AWS – The Licensing Question

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Executive Update – June 22, 2021

This excellent blog post from House of Brick’s Nick Walter was originally published in September of 2020. Not even three months later, in a release dated December 12, 2020, Oracle released “An Overview and Clarification” for “Real Application Clusters (RAC) Support on Third-Party Clouds.” This statement (and the linked Oracle MOS note 2688277.1) is a more formal disclaimer of support for RAC in AWS and other non-OCI cloud environments.

In his since-deleted blog post (which can be found in the Way Back Machine), VMware’s Sudhir Balasubramanian posted an image of MOS note 2688277.1 which states that “Oracle does not support Oracle RAC or Oracle RAC One Node running on Non-Oracle Public Cloud Environments.” Sudhir also emphasized an important point in his post, referring to the VMware Cloud as his example of a non-Oracle public cloud environment: “This guidance does NOT relate to or affect the technical feasibility of running Oracle RAC or the licensing of Oracle RAC in a VMware Cloud environment.”

We agree with Sudhir. While Oracle may eschew support for RAC in AWS, including the VMware Cloud on AWS, that does not change the fact that customers still have valid license options for running RAC in non-Oracle clouds. For many customers, the threat of withheld support may be a showstopper for deploying RAC in AWS. For those customers, who understand that Oracle’s blustery posturing is not always backed up by actual deeds, the benefits of running RAC in AWS may outweigh the risk of support challenges.

While, as of the date of this updated post, House of Brick has no experience with RAC customers on AWS requesting and receiving support from Oracle, we do have some parallel experience with the early days of running Oracle on VMware. Before November 8, 2010, Oracle’s VMware support statement (MOS note 249212.1) was misleading and confusing for customers, and excluded support for RAC. Despite this confusion, certain stalwart House of Brick clients were running Oracle on VMware, including RAC. While we do not have any record of RAC-specific support requests being submitted at that time, we do know that these customers were receiving positive technical support from Oracle, even when Oracle knew they were running on VMware.

In an effort to be rigorous in our position as an independent thought leader, we are re-posting Nick’s blog in its entirety.

Original blog post by Nick Walter | Sep 24, 2020 | AWSCloudOracle Licensing

Licensing Oracle RAC on AWS is tricky, because Oracle wants to deter people from running it in any cloud environment but their own.  While they have not outright forbade support for RAC on AWS, they have made some public statements to attempt to discourage users from doing so. Oracle released this brief in June of this year, and which purports that Oracle RAC is not license-able nor supportable in any cloud environment except Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI).  While the document contains many claims, they can be broken down into two categories: licensing and support.  Setting aside the support claims for the moment, which are the bulk of the document, this blog will focus only on licensing.

Oracle’s policy on licensing software in Amazon EC2 is relatively clear and straightforward, which is unusual for Oracle. This extra-contractual policy grant by Oracle is contained in two documents. The main document Licensing Oracle Software in the Cloud Computing Environment lays out the rules for licensing Oracle software on a vCPU basis, instead of the normal contractual rules that tie Oracle licensing to physical processor cores.  The second document, Oracle Authorized Cloud Environments, is linked from the first and details specifically the Oracle software products to which the policy applies.  While the list includes the majority of Oracle database products, Oracle RAC is conspicuous in its absence.

Keep in mind that both the Cloud Licensing Policy and Oracle Authorized Cloud Environments documents are non-contractual documents. Pay particular attention to the footer, which states that the document is for educational purposes only and may not be included as part of any contract. While these documents are non-contractual, Oracle has made the extra-contractual grant of cloud licensing rights very publicly, and House of Brick has seen Oracle accept usage of them without challenge during software audits.

Based on these two documents, many DBAs will immediately jump the conclusion that Oracle RAC cannot be licensed on a vCPU basis in AWS just as Oracle seems to claim.  And those claims are correct. Oracle RAC cannot be licensed in Amazon EC2 on a vCPU basis. That does not mean, however, that Oracle RAC cannot be licensed in EC2 at all.  The vCPU licensing model is only one way to license Oracle products, and an extra-contractual one at that, so there are alternatives worth exploring.

The first alternative, available for larger enterprises, is the use of Unlimited License Amendments (ULA). Any organization with a ULA in place with Oracle has a right to unlimited deployment of certain Oracle products. If Oracle RAC is on the list of products included in a ULA, then there’s nothing stopping an organization from using unlimited Oracle RAC in EC2. Organizations with ULAs in place should check the fine print however, as sometimes there are clauses which forbid ULA usage in public cloud environments during the term of the ULA. Also, most ULAs we have reviewed specify that deployments in public cloud environments cannot be included during ULA certification. ULA certification is the process of counting license usage when converting from a ULA back to core-based licensing. While House of Brick generally does not encourage clients to look into ULAs, as they are often financially unfavorable in the long run, it can be an effective means of getting unlimited rights to deploy Oracle solutions in EC2.

The second alternative is a bit more counterintuitive but offers very promising options for organizations that find ULAs unattractive. One can simply use the traditional physical processor licensing rules to license a known set of physical servers in EC2. While many database professionals may not be aware of this, AWS offers customers the option to deploy entire dedicated hosts on a pay-as-you-go basis in EC2. These dedicated hosts can then house EC2 instances that are provisioned and managed in exactly the same as any other EC2 instance. Any organization with an AWS presence can leverage this feature right now with their existing account using the VPCs and AMIs already defined. Take a look at the AWS documentation on dedicated hosts for full details on how to implement this alternative.

From a licensing perspective, once there are known physical hosts with known physical socket and core counts, they can be licensed for Oracle products in the same manner as any on-premises physical host or collocated server. Sum the cores on the dedicated hosts and multiply by the core factor to determine the required number of Oracle Database Enterprise Edition and RAC licenses required. That’s all there is to it.

Of course, beyond the licensing issues, there’s still the issue of finding performant configurations that will work with RAC, but that’s a topic for another day. Until then, we hope you’ve found this information useful. As always, feel free to reach out to us if your organization is in a bind with Oracle licensing or Oracle databases in the cloud. Our expertise has helped many of our clients overcome these challenges and we look forward to the opportunity to help you as well.

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