Oracle Spatial and Graph – No License Required?


Nathan Biggs (@nathanbiggs), CEO

The use of the Oracle’s database option Spatial and Graph has long been a thorn in our side when it comes to refuting Oracle audit findings. Based on what we are now seeing from Oracle, we think it has been annoying for them too. This blog post reviews the announcements from Oracle about this feature no longer requiring a license, updated pricing documents, and changes (or lack thereof) to binding program documentation.

History of Spatial and Graph in Oracle Audits

The Spatial and Graph option from Oracle is a useful tool for those customers tracking geolocation of objects. Spatial and Graph provides for three-dimensional asset location tracking, while the free version (called “Locator”) tracks two-dimensional asset locations. Spatial and Graph has historically been on Oracle’s technology price list for a (per-processor) list price of $17,500.

The problem, which House of Brick has run into during the many audits where we have helped defend for our clients, is that any use of the free Locator functionality will automatically trigger Oracle’s database to record the usage of the license-required Spatial and Graph option. This becomes an audit negotiation quagmire when the only way to prove that the paid option has not been used (as the script data falsely asserts) is to get the application team to dig into the source code to show that only Locator functions were invoked. Neither our clients, nor Oracle LMS representatives, have been particularly interested in combing through the application code. Because of this fact, our experience has been that Oracle may claim a Spatial and Graph deficiency in their findings, but it has been pretty easy to get them to remove that claim when we assert that we have only been using Locator. The bottom line is that we believe this potentially false assertion in the audit findings caused Oracle as much of a headache as it did for us and our clients.

Oracle’s Announcement

In a blog post published on December 5, 2019 entitled Machine Learning, Spatial and Graph – No License Required!, William Hardie (Oracle’s Vice President of Database Product Management) made the following announcement (emphasis added):

In keeping with Oracle’s mission to help people see data in new ways, discover insights, unlock endless possibilities, customers wishing to utilize the Machine Learning, Spatial and Graph features of Oracle Database are no longer required to purchase additional licenses.

As of December 5, 2019, the Machine Learning (formerly known as Advanced Analytics), Spatial and Graph features of Oracle Database may be used for development and deployment purposes with all on-prem editions and Oracle Cloud Database Services.

Oracle Vice President James Steiner further confirmed that Spatial and Graph is available for free for all versions of Oracle database in his own blog post on the same date.

This is fantastic news for anyone who is using Locator or wants to use Spatial and Graph. The potential challenge, however, is that blog posts are not contractually binding. Anyone who has followed House of Brick for any amount of time will know how seriously we treat the contract, and how we vigorously reject Oracle’s restrictive claims that are not based in the contract. So, what other evidence can we find that Spatial and Graph are truly no longer licensable products?

Updated Price List

On the same date as these two blog posts (December 5, 2019), Oracle published an updated Technology Global Price List. The Spatial and Graph database option is not listed, and thus likely no longer available for purchase. While the price list is not itself referenced by the license agreement, this change adds credence to the validity of the announcements made in Oracle’s blog.

Updated Database Licensing User Manual

Unlike the price list, product documentation is in fact part of your Oracle database license agreement.  In a sample license agreement posted on Oracle’s website, Section C, Rights Granted, states the following (emphasis added):

“Upon Oracle’s acceptance of your order, you have the limited right to use the programs and receive any services you ordered solely for your internal business operations and subject to the terms of this agreement, including the definitions and rules set forth in the order and the program documentation.”

Since the “program documentation” is referenced in the agreement, it is thus included as part of the binding contract (as always, this should be validated with your own legal advisors). This documentation is of course, subject to change from time to time, and with each new version of the database.

In December of 2019, Oracle released an updated Database Licensing Information User Manual. Mr. Hardie made a reference to this documentation in his blog post announcing the licensing change. In this updated document, in the section on “Permitted Features, Options, and Management Packs by Oracle Database Offering,” Table 1-14, shows the following:

This table indicates that Spatial and Graph is an “included option” (as opposed to an “extra cost option”) and may be used in Oracle Database 19c across all versions of the database. It should be noted that this option was not previously available for Oracle SE2 users.

Furthermore, Table 1-17 in the document indicates that the use of Spatial and Graph includes a restricted-use license to the Partitioning option:

This document is contractual evidence that the Spatial and Graph option is now free to use for any licensed Oracle Database 19c user. The version is something that you need to consider, however, as this documentation is for Oracle Database 19c only. The program documentation for Database 12c, for example, still lists Spatial and Graph as an option that “can be purchased with Oracle Database Enterprise Edition.”

Conclusion and Recommendation

Oracle’s announcement that the Spatial and Graph option is now included with the Database for no additional charge is terrific news, and will provide extra functionality to our clients without the need to purchase costly licenses. It will also help clients avoid the audit hassles that have come up far too many times surrounding the use of Locator functions.

The contractually binding Oracle Database 19c program documentation clearly indicates that Spatial and Graph is included, but only for that version. Program documentation for earlier versions have not (yet) been updated. This means that from a purely contractual point of view, no “included license” can be assumed. From a practical point of view however, we believe that the vice presidents claiming that this is a free feature for all versions of Oracle Database are reliable. If, for instance, Oracle audited your use of Database 12c, and found that you were out of compliance for Spatial and Graph, you could ask them to show you on the price list what the purchase price would be for that option. Since it is no longer listed, they would have to make something up. While we do not put it past Oracle to make things up, we do not believe this would ultimately be an argument that they would engage in as part of an audit.

So, if you are considering using Spatial and Graph for any version other than 19c, we recommend that you review this information with your legal advisors. Once they are comfortable with the situation, we see no reason why you should not proceed with using Spatial and Graph without purchasing any additional licenses. For those of you who may have recently purchased Spatial and Graph licenses, you may want to consider approaching Oracle to inquire about a refund.

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