Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Is Oracle Technology Too Darned Expensive?" - Some Thoughts

An interesting article, "Is Oracle Technology Too Darned Expensive?", popped up this morning on I tried, I really did, to leave this particular article alone...but the pressure kept building and my gasket finally broke. I just can't let the article pass. It hits on subjects too near and dear to my heart, especially the portion of the article that casts Oracle Support in a "less than flattering" light.

The article focuses on four major points:

1) "Nearly half of all Oracle customers will at least consider lower-cost alternatives to Oracle technology this year -- and the main reason they cite for doing so is Oracle's high prices, a new survey finds."

2) Support: Do You Get What You Pay For?

3) Buy in bulk to get deep discounts

4) At least Oracle's price list is easily accessible

Let's take another look at these points, one at a time in the order presented...

"Nearly half of all Oracle customers will at least consider lower-cost alternatives to Oracle technology this year -- and the main reason they cite for doing so is Oracle's high prices, a new survey finds."

On the surface of it, I can't disagree with this point. We do the same thing in my shop every year. In fact, we're going through the exercise right now. And, in doing so, we continue to reach the same conclusion: although the price is higher, so is the value.

One example of Oracle's higher value is in the area of scalability: we can't live with degradation in performance as we add more users and transaction volume to our enterprise applications. DB2 and SQL Server just don't scale up as well as Oracle.

The idea here is that simply focusing on price is very misleading. While a Kia may be have a lower price than a Lexus, the additional value of the Lexus (reliability, resale value, and even creature comforts) merit consideration in evaluating which car offers the best value. I suspect that, while nearly half of all Oracle customers may consider lower-cost alternatives this year, the number of Oracle customers switching to those alternatives will constitute a substantially smaller number than half. That's because Oracle technology represents a better value.

"Support: Do You Get What You Pay For?"

This is the part that really broke my gasket! I think some of us do get what we pay for. I also think that the same opportunity exists for all Oracle customers, so long as our expectations are realistic.

I own a Toyota Tundra truck - 4 years old, 52,000 miles, looks and runs like the day I drove it off the lot. My truck is in great shape because I take ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of it. Yes, my mechanic does much of the work. But it's my job to manage the maintenance and repair of my truck. I get what I pay for from my mechanic. My relationship with Oracle Support works in the same way.

I’m looking for help from Oracle Support in fixing my Oracle technology issues, but I do understand that ultimately it is my responsibility to manage my issues to resolution. I like to approach Oracle Support through a concept I recently learned called "Save Yourself".

A few years ago, one of my sons and I spent a weekend whitewater rafting on the Kern River. As our guide prepared us for the trip, he introduced us to the concept of "Save Yourself". The idea here is that each rafter's journey down the river will be somewhat unique. In addition, each rafter brings different levels of skill in rafting, swimming, and navigation. The guide would help us avoid the known trouble spots and would do his best to help us in bad situations (i.e., a capsized raft or a rafter overboard). However, the ultimate responsibility for saving ourselves would rest with each of us. My son and I found this out the hard way when our raft capsized and we each had to save ourselves, using a combination of what the guide had taught us a few minutes before (swim downstream at an angle that gets you to the raft or to shore - my son and the guide made the raft, I made it to shore) and the swimming skills we had developed long before this whitewater trip. Oracle Support works in much the same manner as my whitewater rafting trip.

Much like each rafter's journey down the river, each customer's implementation of Oracle technology will be somewhat unique. The uniqueness may come from hardware or software configurations, business processes, business intelligence and reporting needs, some combination of these, or from something else altogether. Whatever the source, you can rest assured that each customer's implementation of Oracle technology will be unique in some manner. So if we accept the premise that each implementation of Oracle technology is somewhat unique, it's probably also fair to say that Oracle Support cannot track each unique nuance from each of the thousands of customers using Oracle technology. If that's true, then the first step in applying the concept of "Save Yourself" to the arena of Oracle Support is to for each customer to understand their specific implementation of Oracle technology and the impact that their unique implementation may have on the functioning of that technology.

In much the same way that each rafter has a different level of skill, each customer has different sets and levels of skills available. Let me be clear on this point: the more you understand Oracle technology, the more satisfied you'll be with Oracle technology. This is not MS Office: run the install disc, register the software online, fire up Excel and get to work. Oracle technology is pretty complex stuff with lots of moving parts to meet pretty complex needs. Using Oracle products requires an investment in skills, either by purchasing the skills through new hires or consultants, or by investing in training to develop skills in-house. I continue to be flabbergasted by the number of users who don’t even read Oracle’s “Concepts” manuals before they begin using the products. If you go whitewater rafting without knowing how to swim, odds are pretty good that you'll eventually drown. Ditto for Oracle technology: to successfully utilize it, you need some basic skills for working with it. So step two in "Save Yourself" consists of possessing the skills necessary skills to work with Oracle technology (or at least develop a basic understanding of the Oracle technology you're utilizing).

Finally, there is a process to supporting Oracle technology. It’s very tough to gain much value from Oracle Support if you don’t understand how the support process works. When I hear or read stories about customers frustrated with the level of service received from Oracle Support, I typically start by asking a few questions (I’ve included references to more info via Metalink Doc IDs – Metalink login required - where appropriate):

1) Did you research your issue on Metalink (Metalink Doc ID 418297.1)?

2) What did the Configuration Support Manager (Metalink Doc ID 418277.1), Remote Diagnostics Agent (Metalink Doc ID 419359.1) or (for E-Business Customers) Support Diagnostics (Metalink Doc ID 418300.1) tell you about your issue?

3) What severity rating did your SR start with? What severity rating does it have now?

4) Has anybody on your team taken the Oracle Advisor Webcast "Working Effectively With Support?" (Metalink Doc ID 418294.1)

5) Where did you leave off in the Oracle Diagnostics Methodology? (Metalink Doc ID 312789.1)

6) Did you attempt to escalate the Service Request and, if you did, were you successful in doing so? (Metalink Doc ID 199389.1)

7) If you did escalate, did you consider engaging an Oracle Support Duty Manager?

I’ll usually find a problem to “zero in on” just by the answers I receive to these simple, process-oriented questions. Much like successfully navigating a river in whitewater rafting requires a guide with knowledge of the river, understanding how to work through the Oracle support process requires learning from a knowledgeable guide. I learned about the process of supporting Oracle technology from a great “river guide” within the Oracle Support organization. There are similar guides from Oracle Support waiting to teach you about the process of supporting Oracle technology through free Metalink Advisor Webcasts (Metalink Doc ID 405149.1) and user conference sessions (such as the Oracle Support sessions at the recently-concluded Collaborate 07). So the third step in the “Save Yourself” approach is to understand the Oracle Support process.

Black & Decker takes steps to reduce the probability that you’ll cut off a finger with one of their power saws. However, they can’t eliminate the possibility that you’ll hurt yourself if you’re not knowledgeable about the safe operation of power saws. Oracle Support is in a similar situation: they can take steps to reduce the probability that you’ll encounter an issue related to Oracle technology, but you do need to be: 1) knowledgeable about your implementation and use of Oracle technology, 2) possess some basic skills relating to Oracle technology, and 3) understand how to leverage the Oracle support process. The final responsibility to “Save Yourself” is yours. I get what I pay for from Oracle Support. How about you?

Buy In Bulk To Get Deep Discounts

Didn’t we learn about this in Econ 101? Buy in bulk and you’ll get a better unit price. It works for widgets, clothes, tires and just about anything else you can buy. Makes sense that it would work for software too. It certainly holds true with Oracle…my shop has bought in bulk to get very deep discounts on Oracle products. Enough said.

At Least Oracle's Price List Is Easily Accessible

It’s true. You can get it here.

So, as you have probably figured out by now, I do have a few issues with the negative tone of the SearchOracle article. My perspective is that, although it is expensive, Oracle technology also renders high value in return for the cost of my investment. I represent a large customer and, frankly, we have yet to find a better deal...


Noons said...

for once I'd like to see Oracle evangelists actually say the truth?

It's not just the list prices, man, and you know that perfectly well!

Do you have the foggiest idea how much it costs to resource and test the implementation of an Oracle quarterly patch, for example?

What, we now just plonk patches willy-nilly in production, without testing them first? What sort of IT shop do you folks run where that is the policy to patch production environments?

Furthermore: when I'm paying a FORTUNE for access to Oracle support, the very LAST thing I want to hear from them is: "did you research your issue on Metalick?"

get this straight: I am the one PAYING, I don't have to research ANYTHING, it's Oracle support that SHOULD be doing that!

Apparently it's hard to understand that list price is the least of our worries. Let's hope it doesn't take another tech-wreck before Oracle wakes up...

fteter said...


Thanks for the comment and the energy behind it.

I'm gonna have to disagree with you on a couple of points. It's not just list prices, it's the benefit you get in return for the dollars you pay - the value. The truth is that this stuff is pricey. The truth is also that you get what you pay for.

Yes, I do have more than a foggy notion of how much it costs to resource and test Oracle quarterly patches. We went to automated test tools to cut that cost.

And, no, my shop does not patch directly into production - we actually go through at least a couple of test iterations with a patch before application in production. Not sure where you got the impression that we patch directly to production, but rest assured...we don't.

So far as researching on Metalink goes, I'll go back to the analogy of my truck. I research the maintenance bulletins from Toyota as well as issues experienced by other owners of the same model year. It's been fruitful more than once - the ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of my truck is mine. Ditto for my use of Oracle technology.

Regardless of our different viewpoints, thanks for putting in your two cents.

Bit said...


I am glad not to be your boss, work with you on the same project etc. because you simply fail to take your own responsibility that the original article describes so well.
Oracle Support is documenting well known problems and solutions on Metalink so you can access it 24x7 without interrupting your work, or taking up resources from an engineer who already documented the problem for you.
Of course you can try and ask for a nanny and they will listen when time permits, but you'll never build up the knowledge to become a respected Oracle guy, or even get a good relationship with the support teams you work with.
True, they should not ask you if you researched the issue on Metalink, but hopefully you DID research it on Metalink. Which is filled with articles written for you, because you pay for it.

Alex said...

I will start with thanks for nice points and good sum up on what average DBA should know about Oracle Support. I'm sure that quite a few people should find it useful.

However, I do agree with Noons that support quality lacks quite a lot - and we do NOT get what we pay for. There is standard support fee (22% - forgot what part of it is for upgrades and what for support) and if I pay them - I expect to get qualified support.

I do agree that we should do our homework but, hey, in this case it must be free. If I pay 22% I expect that support engineer has at least remote clue on what's going on and can him/herself search support articles more efficiently than I can. Otherwise, why would I pay?

Ricardo Mayerhofer said...

You don't have to pay toyota to take care of your truck. So why do you pay oracle to "save yourself"?

fteter said...

@Ricardo Mayerhofer: actually, I do pay Toyota to take care of my truck. Although I take care of some of the light maintenance and any customizations on my own, Toyota does a better job on significant maintenance. And don't forget that the cost of warranty maintenance was built into the original purchase price of the truck...I pay Toyota for maintenance much like I pay Oracle.

SGA said...

I'm about to buy Oracle in my company. I really have a concern regarding the support fee. The sales representative is giving us 2 years paying 22% of the total license. I'm concern that afterwards they will increase the price significantly and I will get in problems by a big fee cost. Can someone tell me their experience in this matter?

jbo5112 said...

I realize this post is quite old, but I feel an overwhelming urge to disagree. Oracle has been some of the least reliable software I have used. Every month or two, I get ORA-600 errors with the complex ad-hoc queries I do, requiring me to rewrite them. Metalink was a horrible labyrinth to have to navigate for answers, only outdone by its less usable replacement My Oracle Support in Flash. In the end, most of my searches conclude that the problem is the result of a known Oracle bug that has no planned fix. I generally expect my beta software to be better than this.

We cannot afford the Oracle support anymore, and therefore have no idea why I'm getting daily ORA-600's that halt the database because Oracle charges subscription fees for me to see documentation on their software bugs to fix my system. We're looking at cheap alternatives that scale better.

MySQL and memcached scale to run Facebook, running 13 million queries per second on MySQL (peak). Try running a profitable company while buying Oracle Enterprise RAC licences and support for ~50,000+ CPU cores or starting a small, low-income (or no-income) web site while buying Oracle CPU licenses from ad revenue.

There are also a variety of "NoSQL" solutions where if you can design your application correctly, they can make Oracle look like it's using zip disks. While some have paid support available, there's also free mailing lists or forums, and you don't need a service contract to get help with a bug in the database. Oracle support can't touch getting bug support from a lead developer.

fteter said...

@jbo5112: dang, wish I'd seen this comment earlier - somehow it wound up in blogger's spam comment bucket and I just found it. My apologies.

You do raise some strong points: 1) the Oracle support pricing model must change, as it's becoming a barrier to using the products; 2) while I'm OK with researching in MetaLink as a step in the diagnostic process, I do want the ability to talk to a lead developer quickly when the need arises - seems like Oracle developers are often insulated from customer issues by layers and layers of process.

Where I'll disagree with you is on reliability and scalability. The Oracle database carved out a place in the market through peerless scalability. So far as reliability, it's pretty rock-solid.

So far as your ORA-600 issue, the frustrating part (at least the part that frustrates me) in your story that your situation didn't seem to get to the right people (that insulation thing I just mentioned). Let me know if you'd still like to get to the bottom of it.

@SGA: I've heard some incidents of support fee "uplift" (what a name for a price bump) after a few years, but they're few and far between. Typically from 22% to 25% of list. Can't say it won't happen, but I can say it's not the norm at this time.