Oracle has changed the licensing pricing for some of its lower-end multi-core servers in order to be more competitive with database rival Microsoft.

Oracle made the move a few weeks ago in response to requests from distribution partners but chose not to publicise it, unlike two previous changes in its multi-core licensing that took place in July and December 2005. Details of the most recent licensing changes can be found here. An Oracle spokeswoman confirmed the move late Friday.

Oracle announced distribution agreements with Tech Data and Ingram Micro in 2006 as a way to attract more small to mid-size business customers. Oracle used input from those distributors to put in place the right packaging and pricing to speed up its growth in the SMB market, according to the Oracle spokeswoman. Oracle's reseller partnership with Dell has also increased sales of Oracle's software in the mid-market.

"We can go down into SMB but Microsoft can't move up after two decades of attempts," the Oracle spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We are now building on that success by adding more high volume distributors. Every deal we get from these new partners would have gone to Microsoft a year ago."

Under the changes that came into effect 16 February, Oracle has removed some restrictions on the licensing of its low-end Standard Edition and Standard Edition One databases for multi-core servers, making the cost of software substantially cheaper. The move brings Oracle more into line with Microsoft's pricing of its SQL Server database charging per processor socket not by number of processor cores.

Pricing for Oracle's higher-end Database Enterprise Edition remains the same and rather torturous since it depends on a formula that uses a variable processor factor multiplied by the number of processor cores to determine the price. The processor factor is 0.25 for Sun's UltraSparc T1 chips, but 0.50 for chips from AMD and Intel and then 0.75 for all other multi-core chips including those from IBM.

In July 2005, Oracle announced it would no longer charge an individual license for each processor core, instead defining each processor core on multi-core chips as 0.75 of a processor. Then in December of that year, the vendor changed that model to bring in separate pricing schemes for different vendors' chips.

At present, Oracle is without an executive to oversee its product pricing and licensing.

Jacqueline Woods, who was vice president of global pricing and licensing strategy at Oracle, recently left the company to join General Electric. A GE spokeswoman confirmed that Woods had joined the company as global director of segmentation. Oracle wouldn't comment on Woods' departure or who will replace her.