Oracle pushes on support efforts

Looking to keep its installed base happy, Oracle has quietly undertaken a number of educational and technical initiatives in recent months to beef up its support offerings.

This week at the International Oracle Users Group (IOUG) Live 2005 database user event in Orlando, newly installed Oracle CIO David Thompson highlighted enhancements to the company's database and technology software maintenance policies. He also discussed newly added features, such as live Web conferencing, to the company's MetaLink online support offering.

Thompson, who delivered a keynote on Monday, once served as CIO at PeopleSoft Inc., which Oracle acquired in January after a lengthy hostile acquisition.

Responding to customer demand, Oracle will now support each release of its database and Oracle Application Server for five years, starting with Version 9.2 of the database and Version 10.1.2 of the application server, said Thompson. Customers can purchase additional maintenance indefinitely, but they must contract to do so two years prior to the desupport date.

In addition, the company has been offering new types of content on MetaLink since January. The content includes live product demonstrations, hundreds of proven tips and tricks for customers and an enhanced search engine to help direct customers looking for work-arounds or specific answers, he said. To speed up information delivery, the company has cut the time required to post content to MetaLink from 47 days to two or three days.

Since late last year, Oracle has also been offering Web collaboration technology to help customers directly link up with a technician to troubleshoot problems, said Thompson. The sessions allow an Oracle technician to more quickly diagnose problems, speeding up resolution times by 30 percent, or about 20 minutes per diagnostic session.

Users at the IOUG event were generally upbeat about the support changes, although several found the way Oracle distributes its patches and security fixes to be troublesome.

The quarterly schedule on which security updates are released was a sore spot for Arup Nanda, director of database engineering and operations at Starwood Hotels. The company runs the Oracle Database 10g in a Real Application Cluster configuration, and large security patch kits can be challenging to install.

Nanda said he'd rather get one-off patches as they become available in real time. "Give me the patch when it goes public," he said.

Thompson said users can, in fact, access patches themselves from MetaLink whenever they want.

Despite Nanda's concerns, other users said they prefer the regular patch distributions, which include best practices information and are more standardized than one-offs, according to Ari Kaplan, incoming president of the IOUG and president of Expand Beyond Corp., a wireless management software vendor in Chicago.

One developer who likes the automation is Judi Hotsinpiller, whose government agency supports PeopleSoft human resources applications running on an Oracle database.

"I don't want to talk to somebody," said Hotsinpiller, who asked that the organization she works for remain anonymous. "Things like MetaLink are cool to have. I'm looking forward to Oracle taking (PeopleSoft support) over."

"I believe that extending support for and offering live technical sessions as part of MetaLink is yet another sign that (Oracle officials) are committed to their customer base," said John Matelski, deputy CIO for the city of Orlando. The city runs financial applications that were developed by J.D. Edwards & Co., which Oracle acquired when it bought out PeopleSoft.

During the takeover fight, Matelski, who is also the executive vice president for the J.D. Edwards user group, Quest, had reservations about how Oracle would treat PeopleSoft users. But Oracle, he said, is "clearly making significant strides to continue to support, sustain and educate their customers."

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