Oracle shifts database support goalposts

Oracle shifts database support goalposts

Big Red have updated the maintenance and support across their relational database family – but what are the implications?

Published on 28th June 2023

Earlier in June, Oracle downgraded all its older relational database releases prior to version 19c to Sustaining Support status.

According to third-party support provider Rimini Street, Sustaining Support offers a limited scope of support, which may not be sufficient for a production environment. Rimini Street claimed the price to customers of Sustaining Support is the same as the full Oracle Premier Support.

Premier Support is Oracle’s top tier of support and includes patches, security, legislative changes, bug fixes and access to My Oracle Support. The next level down, Extended Support, runs for a further two to three years after Premier Support ends.

Figures from Support Revolution show that Premier Support contracts include an 8% price rise each year, on top of the 22% of the original contract value customers have to pay for this level of support. Extended Support offers the same benefits of Premier Support but costs 10% more in the first year, then an additional 20% in years two and three, as well as the annual 8% price rise. Sustaining Support provides major product updates for the product release the customer uses and technical support, but no security updates or patches. The cost of Sustaining Support also increases by 8% a year.

The figures from Support Revolution show that a customer running a £3.65m Oracle 19c database installation would end up paying almost £8m in support fees to keep the database running for 10 years.

In its latest Magic Quadrant for cloud database management systems research, Gartner reported that the Oracle Autonomous Database offers the price and predictability of a resource-based model with the automatic scalability of a consumption-based model. Gartner said that although Oracle offers a credit for on-premise support costs based on the amount of cloud spend, which may have cost benefits, the company has a reputation for tough licensing terms and negotiation techniques.

“The perceptions created by these practices linger, resulting in the perception that Oracle’s cloud offerings will be more expensive than others,” the Gartner report stated.

Looking at the changes Oracle has made to the long-term support of its database products, Rimini Street said it appears to be trying to pressure Oracle Database licensees to upgrade to the latest Oracle Database releases that qualify for Oracle Premier Support.

To keep databases running and patched, Oracle said it recommends customers upgrade to 19c, which is the Long Term release. This has a support end date of 30 April 2027 if customers pay for Extended Support, otherwise it will be supported until 30 April 2025.

“If you are currently running 11.2.x/12.1.x, you will need to upgrade to the Terminal release for the database release you are running and then continue the upgrade process to 19c,” the Oracle note stated.

In other words, Oracle requires customers moving from an older version of the database to the latest release to buy each and every upgrade until their system reaches the current release level.

Unfortunately, as Rimini Street CEO Seth Ravin pointed out, this is an extremely costly and disruptive exercise. “There is no appetite to start a project to update a database if it does not have to be updated. It’s not a high priority unless there’s a specific reason and a return on investment for making that change.”

Having spoken to a number of major enterprises that often have hundreds or thousands of instances of Oracle Database, and usually run many different versions, Ravin said, for most, “the reason for not migrating to the latest version is cost”. Not only do IT departments have to find the budget to pay the licence fee, but there is also the additional work required to migrate the database system. “It can take years, and the return on that investment just is not strong enough,” he added.

Ravin described the IT industry as acting as a cartel to get customers to upgrade. “The vendor decides that they only want to service the latest version and they force customers into potentially hundreds of millions of dollars worth of IT project,” he said, adding that such upgrades feed the industry. “If the customer’s not doing something new, nobody’s making money.”

Third-party support does offer an opportunity for some organisations to escape the upgrade cycle. Companies such as Rimini Street and Support Revolution would say their software maintenance contracts offer significant savings over Oracle. But the bigger savings may arise as IT departments start to limit the size of their Oracle footprint.

New projects can be ring-fenced, like a greenfield site, to enable them to be developed using an entirely different database management system. For large, complex, enterprise systems that cannot be migrated away from Oracle, third-party support allows IT departments to avoid having to pay to upgrade to the latest version to obtain Premier Support. When they are finally ready to upgrade, they then negotiate a brand new Oracle contract.

Like many in the IT industry, Ravin would hope customers spend the bulk of their IT budget on innovation that drives business outcomes. However, far too much is being spent on keeping existing systems running. This is where Rimini Street sees its role.

For Ravin, too many people confuse mission-critical systems – such as like Oracle Database, which is often the system of record for enterprise applications – with strategic IT. While a CIO has a good chance to get funding for strategic IT projects that power innovation or drive efficiencies across the business, not many will win out in an argument over funding an upgrade.


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