July 30, 2007

License Server is Dead: Who's Next on the Oracle Chopping Block?

For the longest time, Hyperion was a trusting company. If you bought a copy of Essbase (my examples always use Essbase, because I think it's neato), you were e-mailed a license key. This license key controlled how many users you had and to what Essbase modules you had access. For instance, you might only have access to the Essbase Spreadsheet Toolkit, so if you tried to access Essbase SQL Interface, the Essbase server would politely balk, tell you that you didn't have the rights to use that function, mock your sock collection, and nicely error out. What the license key did not do was limit on how many servers you could install the license key. The license key also never expired, so someone with an Essbase 3.2 license key could download Essbase 7.0 and activate it with the same license key.

Wait, you ask, how did Hyperion ever stay in business with such as weak licensing scheme? Simple: they trusted their clients to honor the contractual agreements they made when they bought the software.

Trust only got the Hyperion executives so far: when Essbase 7.1.2 came out, they decided to play hardball and institute an embedded technology from Macrovision called FlexNet. The goal of the innocuously named "Hyperion License Server" was to switch from a contractual licensing scheme to something more… what's a good synonym for draconian… technology-based. Gone were the days of a simple license key: Hyperion began to send out license files. These license files were the devil's work.

To begin with, license files could only be used on a single server and this server's name was embedded (with an encrypted check sum!) in the license file. If a server was renamed or a server crashed only to be replaced (for a week or so) by a differently named server, Essbase would stop working after 72 hours (and it would scream a lot in the meantime).

The truly egregious thing about the license file is that it had to be generated by a human (at Hyperion) based on information supplied by a human (at a customer site). This process often took up to 3 days (longer at quarter- and year- end) and rarely did the license file work on the first try. In defense of the licensing department, they did get quicker at regenerating these files as time went on, but they were still a bottleneck.

When System 9 came out, things got even worse. Pre-System 9, only Essbase utilized the License Server so the Hyperion Planning and Financial Management users (among others) of the world were spared the License File Water Torture. With System 9, most every product became a slave to the all-controlling entity of the License Server. We've done a lot of System 9 installations since 2005 when it came out, and we've always told people that the greatest uncontrollable factor affecting how long the installation would take is if Hyperion got the license file correct the first time.

When Hyperion ceased to exist at the end of June, Oracle took the greatest step forward in the history of software company and customer company relations: they killed off (functionally, at least) the License Server. Behold, the secret to unlocking all that you desire:


The master license files/keys on this site are astounding in what they allow a company to do:

  • They give you access to every single product Hyperion makes and every single option in every one of those products. Oracle obviously doesn't care about nickel and diming a client for some minor bit of added functionality.
  • They can be installed on as many servers as you'd like. If your server fails or is renamed, no more begging Hyperion for a new license file.
  • They never expire.
  • They are good for an unlimited number of users.

Before you get inspired to immediately install every product and roll them out across your entire organization, read the fine print at the top of this panacea:

"These master license keys / files unlock all features of the particular product; however, your specific product use is governed by the terms of your license agreement with Oracle."

In other words, these files are here to make your life easier, but don't use any product you're not licensed to. If you only own Planning, don't download and install Essbase. If you only own 100 users of Essbase, don't roll out Essbase to 1,700 users in 180 countries. Be honorable and Oracle will treat you honorably.

While it's obvious that you can't use applications/modules in production environments if you don't own the licenses, there's a gray area around development. If you're merely trying out functionality in a development environment to see if you want to buy it, does this violate the licensing agreement with Oracle? Some other blogs have speculated that if you use it for 30 days or less, you're okay. Definitely don't try to use it in production, and you should probably be fine. I doubt Oracle's army of contract enforcers is going to hit you up for a single user developer's copy of Visual Explorer. It's up to you, though, to make sure that production doesn’t exceed your licensing agreement or you risk an Oracle Army artillery strike on your IT budget.

Note: the License Server still needs to be installed at the moment, but the master files in the link above make it so that it won't annoy you. I'm sure that Oracle will do the right thing and remove the License Server entirely in the next release of Hyperion (hopefully in 9.3.1).

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