Study: Licensing stalls grid computing

A new report by The 451 Group suggests that the traditional per-CPU software licensing model is throwing a wrench in widespread adoption of grid computing.

Because grids consume computing resources dynamically, growing and shrinking as applications demand, IT managers are finding that they cannot afford to pay for software licenses for every processor available to the grid.

“It’s all butting up against the software vendors, and there’s increasing pressure on them to find some sort of accommodation,” says William Fellows, principal analyst at The 451 Group and lead author of the report.

In the 77-page report, titled “Grid Computing – The Impact of Software Licensing ,” Fellows and others say there is an evolution underway when it comes to pricing software. Grid computing is one of several new data center architectures that is forcing independent software vendors (ISV) to take a closer look at how they price their products, Fellows says.

“What we are seeing is collectively there’s a sense in which all of these things – multicore, virtualization, together with grids, on-demand, utility computing and alternative purchase models – mean that there is a broader, long-term change in the technology market and probably a disruptive impact to software vendors down the line,” he says.

Today, when it comes to grids, companies tend to work around licensing issues with vendors by negotiating custom contracts, writing their own code or deploying open-source applications. But in most cases, they haven’t been able to move beyond initial grid deployments because of application licensing concerns.

“They can’t move their adoption of grid forward without some kind of more flexible way of buying software,” Fellows says.

He says users shouldn’t expect to see changes immediately but notes that software vendors are taking a closer look at the issue.

SAS Technology, for example, which sells analytics applications, says it will begin publishing a price list for its grid-enabled software later this year. In the past, it has negotiated grid-based software licensing on a custom basis.

Other software vendors aren’t so quick to modify their pricing schemes. Oracle, for instance, sells its grid-enabled database software on a strictly per-CPU basis, which enables its powerful applications to run on pools of small, standards-based hardware.

“The assumption Oracle is making is that a customer more than recovers the cost of paying for licenses on many commodity nodes through the savings made by not having to purchase expensive [symmetric multiprocessor] servers,” the report says.

Still, Fellows says that industry-wide change is necessary to promote broader adoption of grids in commercial data centers. The hope is that ISVs will license applications based on business objectives, an approach that will require monitoring and management tools to better track application usage.

“Users need to bring the issue to the table,” Fellows says. “Grids are emerging in lots of different segments and collectively users can have a voice. . . . The evidence shows that where they have expressed a requirement [for a change in software licensing] things have moved forward.”

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