Oracle Soft Partitioning Policy: A License to Steal

What is Oracle Partitioning Policy?

The Oracle soft partitioning policy is a guideline for how Oracle licenses its software, including databases and middleware, when used in virtualization environments like Solaris, IBM LPAR, Oracle VM Microsoft Hyper-V, and VMware. This document is not a legally binding contract but rather a way for Oracle to enforce its licensing policies.

What is included in the Oracle partitioning policy document?

The Oracle partitioning policy document outlines the virtualization technologies that are eligible for sub-capacity licensing, which allows you to license only a portion of a server or group of servers rather than the full capacity. This means you only pay for the processors that are allocated to the instance running Oracle software. The policy document distinguishes between two types of partitioning: hard and soft partitioning technologies

What is Hard Partitioning?

Hard partitioning in Oracle refers to approved technologies that can be used to limit the number of software licenses required for a server or cluster of servers. Some examples of hard partitioning technologies include Oracle OVM and IBM LPAR. It is important to follow Oracle’s instructions when setting up hard partitioning, as failing to do so may result in the need to license the entire server or cluster rather than just the instance running Oracle software.

From Oracle partitioning policy document: 

Oracle-approved hard partitioning technologies, as listed in this section of the policy document, are permitted as a means to limit the number of software licenses required for any given server or a cluster of servers. Oracle has deemed certain technologies, possibly modified by configuration constraints, as hard partitioning, and no other technology or configuration qualifies. Approved hard partitioning technologies include: Physical Domains (also known as PDomains, Dynamic Domains, or Dynamic System Domains), Solaris Zones (also known as Solaris Containers, capped Zones/Containers only), IBM’s LPAR (adds DLPAR with AIX 5.2), IBM’s Micro-Partitions (capped partitions only), vPar (capped partitions only), nPar, Integrity Virtual Machine (capped partitions only), Secure Resource Partitions (capped partitions only), Fujitsu’sPPAR. All approved hard partitioning technologies must have a capped or maximum number of cores/processors for the given partition.

What is Soft Partitioning?

Oracle soft partitioning refers to virtualization technologies that are not considered hard partitioning by Oracle. In these cases, Oracle requires that all physical hosts be licensed. Examples of soft partitioning technologies may include virtualization solutions not specifically mentioned in the Oracle partitioning policy document as eligible for hard partitioning.

“Unless explicitly stated elsewhere in this document, soft partitioning (including features/functionality of any technologies listed as examples above) is not permitted as a means to determine or limit the number of software licenses required for any given server or cluster of servers.”

Please note that this document is not a legally binding contract.

“This document is for educational purposes only and provides guidelines regarding Oracle’s policies in effect as of February 14, 2022. It may not be incorporated into any contract and does not constitute a contract or a commitment to any specific terms. Policies and this document are subject to change without notice. This document may not be reproduced in any manner without the express written permission of Oracle Corporation.”


  • The Oracle partitioning policy document is not a part of any contract with Oracle.
  • There is no connection between this policy document and any contracts signed with Oracle.
  • It is unclear if Oracle can override contract terms with the publication of a policy document on its website.
  • There may be differing interpretations of the partitioning policy and Oracle’s license definitions in contracts, which can have significant effects on license counting.

Oracle Processor License Definition

During an audit, Oracle’s audit organization (LMS) will use the Oracle OMA for licensing definitions. The Oracle OMA and Schedule P, which covers Oracle Programs, can be found under the “Rights Granted” section

“Upon Oracle’s acceptance of Your order, You have the non-exclusive, non-assignable, royalty free, perpetual (unless otherwise specified in the order), limited right to use the Programs and receive any Program-related Service Offerings You ordered solely for Your internal business operations and subject to the terms of the Master Agreement, including the definitions and rules set forth in the order and the Program Documentation.”

The following text discusses Oracle’s processor definition and how it should be licensed

“Processor: shall be defined as all processors where the Oracle programs are installed and/or running.“

The Oracle contract’s processor licensing definitions do not mention the partitioning policy document and do not require licensing for processors that are not running Oracle software. However, Oracle sales and audit teams may refer to the partitioning policy document as the way to license Oracle software in virtual environments. To protect against potential Oracle claims regarding licensing in VMware or other soft partitioning environments, it is advisable for Oracle customers to document that they have not used unlicensed hosts for Oracle environments as part of an “audit defense” strategy.”

VMware blog/recommended approach: 

  • Dedicate a vSphere cluster for Oracle software
  • Use a vSphere cluster with a VM-host affinity rule to bind Oracle hosts to a set of ESXi servers dedicated to Oracle workloads within the vSphere cluster.
  • Use VM vCPU affinity to bind the Oracle VMs to a specific number of physical cores within a physical socket of an ESXi server.
  • Note: Oracle may not accept these options, but they may be used to mitigate risk in the absence of a contractual agreement with Oracle.
  • Document Oracle licenses in VMware through vMotion events (more information can be found in the VMware blog post “Oracle VMware vSphere SAN preparing Oracle audit“)
  • In the event of an audit, present this documentation to Oracle in an attempt to make them prove that you have used processor licenses outside of your license grant.
  • It is worth noting that Oracle has not taken legal action for deployments on VMware and generally does not want to engage in litigation over Oracle licenses on VMware.
  • However, some customers who have refused to pay for licenses when found to be running on VMware have been successful, while others have ended up paying significantly more than they anticipated
  • It is important for companies to carefully evaluate their licensing options and develop a strategy with management support, especially considering that this document also applies to Oracle Java licensing.

Additional notes

  • Oracle has recently taken a softer stance on customers who are non-compliant with software audits involving VMware but still requires hosts in vCenters to be licensed unless there is no Oracle software running and the customer agrees to network and storage segregation.
  • Oracle may require licenses for the entire server if IBM LPARs are not configured correctly.
  • Oracle views Nutanix AHV as soft partitioning and requires licensing accordingly.
  • Oracle Unlimited License Agreements (ULAs) used to be a popular solution for running Oracle on VMware, but they can be complex and may not be the best choice in all cases. It is important to understand the terms and use cases before signing a ULA.

Oracle often proposes an Oracle ULA as the vehicle to solve this challenge:

  • Oracle ULAs may not be the best solution for running Oracle on VMware or other virtualization technologies, especially when stepping out of a ULA.
  • Certification processes for ULAs only count licenses that are “installed and running,” which may not align with Oracle’s licensing policies and may result in having fewer licenses than needed for compliance in VMware environments after leaving the ULA
  • The use of virtualization technologies often continues to grow after a ULA has ended, which may quickly increase the need for Oracle licenses beyond the current estate, especially in hyper-converged environments.
  • It is important to carefully review your situation and develop a strategy with Oracle license experts before deciding on a ULA.

Expert advisory 

There are several reasons why organizations may choose not to follow Oracle’s partitioning policy for software licenses:

  1. Lack of legal binding: The Oracle partitioning policy is a non-contractual document and is not part of any signed contract with Oracle. This means that it does not have the same legal weight as the terms of a contract and may not be enforceable.
  2. Conflicting definitions: The Oracle partitioning policy may conflict with the definitions of licensing terms outlined in contracts with Oracle. This can lead to confusion and differing interpretations, which can have significant consequences for license counting.
  3. Limited options for virtualization: The partitioning policy only recognizes a few technologies as eligible for hard partitioning, which allows for sub-capacity licensing. All other virtualization technologies are considered soft partitioning and require the licensing of all physical hosts. This may not be practical or cost-effective for organizations using other virtualization solutions.
  4. Oracle’s changing stance: Oracle has historically taken a strict stance on licensing in virtual environments but has recently softened its position and now allows for sub-capacity licensing in some cases. This changing stance can make it difficult for organizations to know how to properly license Oracle software in virtual environments.

Overall, organizations may choose not to follow the Oracle partitioning policy due to the lack of legal binding, the potential for conflicting definitions, limited options for virtualization, and Oracle’s changing stance on licensing in virtual environments. It is important for organizations to carefully evaluate their options and develop a strategy that aligns with their specific needs and circumstances.

How can Reveal Compliance Experts help

Our company specializes in helping organizations navigate the complex world of Oracle licensing, including issues related to the Oracle soft partitioning policy. We offer a range of services to assist companies facing challenges with Oracle licensing, including:

  1. License review and assessment: We can review your current Oracle licenses and assess your compliance with the Oracle soft partitioning policy and other licensing terms. This includes identifying any potential risks or areas of non-compliance, as well as recommending strategies for addressing any issues.
  2. License optimization: We can help you optimize your Oracle licenses to ensure that you are getting the most value for your investment. This may include identifying opportunities to consolidate licenses, negotiate better terms, or take advantage of licensing discounts.
  3. Audit support: If you are facing an Oracle audit, we can provide guidance and support to help you prepare and respond effectively. This may include reviewing your documentation, negotiating with Oracle on your behalf, and representing your interests throughout the audit process.
  4. Contract negotiation: We can assist with the negotiation of Oracle contracts, including terms related to the soft partitioning policy and other licensing issues. Our experienced team can help you get the best deal possible and protect your company’s interests.
  5. Training and education: We offer training and educational resources to help your team understand the complexities of Oracle licensing and how to comply with the soft partitioning policy and other terms.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your organization with Oracle licensing and the soft partitioning policy.