Fast track multicore licensing negotations to avoid an ugly trap

IT professionals need to begin negotiations now, rather than later, to get their multicore licensing contracts in order or face serious problems down the track.

Delivering this warning last week at a Computerworld breakfast briefing, entitled Strategic technologies for 2006 and beyond, Gartner vice president and research Fellow Martin Reynolds predicts serious licensing problems as a result of new multicore systems.

"Negotiate now before reaching crunch point; you don't want to be replacing your servers in 2010 only to find you are caught in an ugly trap," he said. "Check out alternatives and have weapons in hand before the fight starts."

Today, most processor chips - from desktop systems up - have two or more processing units.

This isn't the first time Gartner has warned that with dual-core processors, software licensing issues could trip up early adopters.

Each vendor has taken a different approach to licensing. For example, over at Oracle each core on a multicore chip is considered one-half of a processor for licensing purposes.

However, each core on Sun's new UltraSparc T1 chip (which can contain as many as eight cores) will be considered one-quarter of a processor for licensing purposes. The cores in all other multicore servers will continue to be considered three-quarters of a processor for calculating software costs.

Previously, Gartner vice president Andrew Butler warned dual-core processors could increase software licensing costs by up to 50 percent.

"All four ... happening at the same time is a recipe for software pricing mayhem," Butler said, before urging enterprises to protect themselves by initiating contract negotiations immediately.

Gartner also predicted software licensing "by core" could double price relative to performance.

"If a new, dual-core design offers only a 50 percent improvement, a doubling in the licence fee becomes a tax on technology innovation with little return," Butler said.

Vendors contend they will remain flexible on per-processor pricing.

Microsoft Australia's server business group director, Tony Ward, said users must ask if the performance of dual-core processors is equivalent to two physical processors.

"If you do get the same performance it doesn't matter," he said.

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