Oracle pushes database upgrade, but users still leery

As Oracle Corp. prepares to roll out a database upgrade that’s due for release next month, users and analysts last week said software pricing and support issues are affecting the company’s relations with some of its database customers.

Oracle executives detailed plans for Release 2 of the company’s Oracle9i software at a conference run by the International Oracle Users Group (IOUG), an independent association of database users that’s based in Chicago. Oracle said the upgrade will include manageability and performance enhancements, plus other new features.

Users at the IOUG conference in San Diego said the new release could provide some benefits, such as increased automation of database cluster management and improved performance on decision support applications. But several attendees noted that Oracle needs to overcome some stumbling blocks if it wants to keep users from considering a switch to Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server or other rival databases.

“I think customer relations is an issue [for Oracle],” said Charlie Garry, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Both Meta and Gartner Inc., which is also based in Stamford, took Oracle to task for its database pricing policies in reports released last month.

Oracle, which this month adopted a more conciliatory tone in an attempt to smooth over upgrade issues with users of its applications, has said that the processor-based database pricing it announced last June was meant to simplify licensing for users. Last week, an Oracle spokeswoman noted that the standard edition of Oracle9i is priced to be directly competitive with SQL Server.

Cost Could Be an Issue

Garry said many IT managers still don’t think SQL Server offers the kind of data availability and system performance that Oracle9i does. But cost issues may eventually prompt some users to rethink their allegiances to Oracle, Garry added.

“Oracle is getting a little pricey right now, and it’s a bargaining chip to have [SQL Server as an option],” said Douglas White, a database administrator at a major U.S. university. White’s school, which he asked not be identified, uses Oracle8i and Oracle7 and is running the first release of Oracle9i in test mode.

“We’re used to Oracle, and it’s what the users want,” White said. But he added that some database administrators at the school have started to rely on SQL Server instead.

Oracle’s pricing is confusing, said Mindy Bohannon, a lead IT analyst at Cleveland-based industrial manufacturer Eaton Corp. “They change it every year,” said Bohannon, who works in Eaton’s e-commerce group and uses Oracle8i to power the company’s Web site.

Support was another issue raised by some users at the IOUG conference. For example, Chris Colclough, a senior professional staffer at John Hopkins University’s applied physics laboratory in Baltimore, said an Oracle customer support worker used to come by on a regular basis. But those visits have stopped, he said.

While Colclough said Oracle’s overall support is adequate, he added that the on-site visits were useful in resolving “the more esoteric problems.”