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 based in Chicago. Oracle said the upgrade will include manageability and performance enhancements, plus other new features.

Users at the IOUG conference here said the new release could provide some benefits, such as increased automation of database 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.

Cost and Comprehension

Oracle, which this month adopted a more conciliatory tone in an attempt to smooth over upgrade issues with users of its business applications, declined to comment about the database side last week. But it has consistently defended the processor-based database pricing it announced last June.

However, Garry said that most of the Oracle users who took part in a teleconference on Oracle's pricing that Meta hosted last month indicated during a poll that they don't fully understand the details of the software vendor's licensing model. Cost issues may eventually make some users rethink their allegiance 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 Johns 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."

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