How to choose the right Oracle database for your budget and business needs

Oracle has been a market leader in database technologies for a long time and many organisations are reliant on their databases. It is a complex technology to understand and Oracle would be the first to admit that not all its databases are equal. Selecting the right edition of Oracle, the one that meets the needs of your business infrastructure and budget requirements, could save you hundreds of thousands of pounds.

There are four main choices to consider when buying an Oracle database and two primary reasons why choosing the right one is important.

Firstly choosing the right one avoids the over-spending of using a more expensive database edition than is needed, and secondly it avoids the compliance issues of using a "lesser" edition than the situation demands. Most editions of Oracle are licensed in two ways; either per user, which Oracle calls "named user license" (NUP) or per processor license (Processor). Together, these variables create a multitude of scenarios to consider when evaluating the best edition to purchase.

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Getting the right edition of Oracle is especially important given the potential price variance of different editions running on the same platform. For example: a two processor four core Intel chip server licensed per processor for an SE1 instance would cost just under £7,000 list price. An Enterprise Edition (EE) instance on the same configuration would be in the region of £110,800, without including any extra database management options. Adding options could easily increase the total licensing cost to £175,000 for just one EE server.

The same meticulous approach to intelligent licensing is required in the NUP metric scenario. Consider an example of an application that only ever has five people accessing it. An SE 1 license with the same processor configuration above will cost around £500, whereas an EE instance would be over 100 times greater, at roughly £55,000. Making the right decision will make a significant financial difference.

It is also important to note that many application vendors opt to have their products certified for a specific edition or multiple editions of an Oracle database. It is recommended to take into account the cost implications of future application and database growth before making any financial commitments to adopt other software products. In addition, whilst you can go back to Oracle and upgrade from a lower database edition to the next, you cannot downgrade.

What options are available?

Oracle Personal Edition

This option is the least-used Oracle database and is only available for a one person (1 NUP) license at a cost of around £270. The database is generally purchased for a development environment to enable a separate test environment to be created.

Oracle SE1

Oracle's introductory edition comes with both restrictions and advantages. Firstly, it is licensed by NUP (either for five minimum or by total amount of users) or processors (total processors, cores do not matter). Secondly, it is only permitted on a server with up to two processor sockets. This means that if you are running the SE1 database on a server with just two processors installed but capacity for four, you would be breaching Oracle's SE1 licensing rules. It might seem a little complicated but the difference in cost justifies why understanding this fact is important.

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For instance, if the company standardises on Oracle EE but you have five new Tier 3 application deployments this year that only have small computing requirements, you can deploy with a significantly more cost-effective database license that could be easily upgraded in the future as usage demands.

Oracle SE

The middle tier of the three multi-user options, Oracle SE, can offer amazing value for money for any enterprise. Firstly, it is licensed by NUP (five minimum or total amount of users) or processors (total processors only, cores do not matter) with a maximum of four total processors, regardless of cores. The four total processors can be on one server or spread across two servers because Oracle SE comes with Oracle Real Application Clusters included in the price (roughly £13,500 per processor cost in EE). This means you can have a two server database environment with failover and high availability at a significantly reduced cost for all of your Tier 2 and some Tier 1 applications that meet those requirements. Then, in the future, if you need to expand the environment, simply upgrade the licenses and migrate the database.

Oracle EE

Oracle EE, or Enterprise Edition, is the flagship database and a very popular choice due to its track record and wide variety of options. For many customers this is the only platform they have ever considered and the main reason why Oracle databases have earned their reputation for being expensive.

Although there is a cost associated with licensing the EE database itself, there are also additional costs for a wide range of assorted management packs and options that are available to each customer. Keeping track of usage and availability of these options is vitally important when understanding licensing costs. For example, an Oracle EE instance on a server with two processors and four cores each would start at around £100,800 list price (USA). Add up all the most commonly used options and the price for a single server exceeds £230,000.

Clearly, the EE edition is the only choice for many Oracle customers, but as the examples above illustrate, it's essential to consider current actual and projected database usage when making a purchasing decision. In addition, active management packs and options are incredibly important to track in order to optimise both licensing costs and compliance.

When selecting and deploying an Oracle database, it's essential to have the right information about current and future usage, to be able to take into account all aspects of a deployment plus any knock on financial and technical implications.

Note: All the prices quoted are based on 11 July exchange rates.

Carel Gouws is the professional services manager at Snow Software and a software licensing expert.