Licensing Quandries

eWeeks Lisa Vaas has got it right, the new dual core licensing flap is really a broader issue – in general, the new directions in hardware and software are making software licensing a mess. Take the dual or multicore CPUs coming down the pike from Sun, Intel, AMD and other chip vendors. Dual core puts two complete CPUs on one chip. Sun and Intel are already delivering on dual core and both have 4 and other multi-core designs due out in 2005. The problem is that a dual core chip does not give a linear doubling in performance. The uptick is dependent on quite a number of variables in computer architecture and system load and usage. Suffice it to say that the second CPU boost performance in the 40-80% range. But some software vendors want to charge for 2 CPUs in the per CPU licensing that has recently become popular.

IT shops are calling foul because they dont have two CPUs but more a relativistic smear like trying to describe the position of the two electrons in a Helium atom. IBM and others are saying dual-cores are 2 CPUs while that great Gray Knight of Licensing, Microsoft, seeing an opportunity to burnish their tarnished image have pledged to charge for one CPU even if its dual core. This observer wonders if Redmond will be singing the same tune in 2005 when multi-core CPUs start to appear?

But as Lisa points out the issues get even more interesting with the new grid or on-demand computing being touted by IBM, Oracle, and Sun among others. For example, what happens for the Tour de France ? The Tour has one big database and very limited usage of it from August through to May of the next year. Then for a two month period in June and July their usage folows a pattern like the fabled Alpe dHuez ramping up a steep slope until it reaches a peak of say 1000 times higher than the off peak load and the duplicated databases multiply by a similar factor. Then the load descends steeply after the 24 days of the Tour – what databases does the Tour pay for ?

Migration from per User to per CPU Licensing

The licensing issues on Web usage have brought about the move to per CPU licensing. How do you charge for a database and application servers which are not neatly tied to a finite and easily identifiable set of named users ? This was the old licensing model – software on a per named seat basis. IT shops paid for 50 named users. This works by requiring each user to be in a list of sign-on names with password to access a package. Some software firms relaxed this and allowed usage up to a number count – say 50 users, but that pool of users could be drawn from 200 named users. The 51st user who attempted to signon was locked out.

But on the Web where the pool of users may be tens of thousands if not millions the question becomes how do you charge for that number of users – especially when users usage on a Web system is quite uneven depending on nature of the connection, pace of interacting, and nature of the work/requests. So per CPU licensing was born (or truly reborn, given the old mainframe daze).

Finally dont expect licensing to get any easier for two reasons. First, the pace of change in CPU used to be Moores Law Consistent – a doubling in computing power for the same price every 18 months + or – 2 months. Now that plus or minus is closer to 4 or 5 and/or the doubling is maybe a factor of 2.3 or 1.6 as delivering ever larger chips and associated architected computers (appropriately balanced memory, bus, peripherals, etc) becomes ever more challenging. Second is the problem of Web Services – what if a system spawns off or delegates sub-tasks to many internal and external players and does so choosing among players by lowest current bid for guaranteed service. This is a highly non-trivial problem – a)how do you decide what to bid for rendering your service and b)how do you charge for your overall service when you dont know exactly what bids will be forthcoming ? And I used to think the charge , spin, mass and magnetic moment of sub-atomic particles was epitome of confusion. Wait until you get to say to IBM for its On Demand service – Garcon, my bill please. Ahh the quantum physics of licensing bills!

(c)JBSurveyer