The True Cost of a Core

Servers are becoming more powerful as manufacturers are finding new ways to get more cores into a CPU. Today it’s not uncommon to see hexa and octa-core processors shipping at the same price points the dual- and hexa-cores shipped yesterday. Where manufacturers once got their performance improvements through raw CPU speed, they are now getting their getting the majority of performance improvement through more cores in their processor chips.

Unfortunately the economics of additional cores for performance aren’t the same as improvements through improved clock cycles because software manufactures have largely tied their technology licensing to the number of cores on a system, and their pricing isn’t decreasing as the number of cores on these new servers increase.

For example, say you buy a basic server with two hexa-core processors, so you’re looking at 12 cores on the box. Now let’s suppose the list price for Oracle Database is $47,500 per core. So your list price to run an Oracle database on your new server will be $285,000. And that’s not counting tuning packs, diagnostic packs, management packs, or even maintenance — which is calculated as a percentage of the base price. It turns out the cheapest part of this equation may be the hardware!

So if you’re planning on running software from the big vendors, conduct a solid sizing exercise and be sure to buy just the number of cores that you need. Leave empty sockets for growth, but you might want to choose models that let you scale with fewer cores to avoid breaking the bank. Avoid sharing servers with more than one software package that is licensed per core (i.e. Informatica and Oracle DB), or you could end up paying double for server capacity that you’ll never be able to fully realize. And when you DO add cores, be sure to also purchase the additional licenses to stay in compliance. I’ve heard that software vendors’ compliance teams occasionally check up on you, and running with a few extra cores could break more than your annual budget.

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