Oracle Moves to Mollify Frustrated Sun Customers

Oracle says it's begun addressing lingering questions by hardware customers on just what its strategy is.

Oracle has begun a series of briefings to outline its server strategy and provide guidance to Sun customers wondering what the database giant will do with the newly-acquired server hardware business.

The move comes after a Gartner report published at the end of June detailed a number of complaints Sun customers made to Gartner analysts. The IT research firm said more than 100 Sun customers had contacted it in the five months following the January acquisition to express dissatisfaction with Oracle.

Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) is kicking things off with analyst meetings this week at its Redwood Shores, Calif. headquarters and launching a customer road show beginning next week that will hit 80 cities worldwide up to and even after its big OpenWorld conference, set to take place in San Francisco in September. A spokesperson for Oracle said many of the complaints outlined in Gartner's report will be addressed during the road show and at OpenWorld.

In the report, Gartner analyst George Weiss detailed several issues he said Sun customers are grumbling about. For one thing, he said Sun customers are frustrated by what has been a limited product road map for server hardware and operating systems. Customers believe Sun's UltraSparc process "isn't going anywhere" and also said they would prefer the Solaris operating system on x86 if Oracle would support the OS on non-Sun hardware as well.

Oracle has, however, supported Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) processors with its Exadata 2 OLTP servers and announced support for the Xeon 7500, which is positioned as Intel's response to the RISC market. In his recommendations, Weiss says customers should limit UltraSparc purchases until Oracle demonstrates UltraSparc products that can match the Exadata and Xeon 7500 in terms of performance.

Weiss sad that Gartner clients are nearly unanimous in their view about the acquisition's impact on their server planning: It was easier to deal with Sun prior to the acquisition, even though Sun was in serious financial trouble and suffered what many observers believed to be a lack of leadership.

"Many customers generally feel their sales reps are confused," he wrote. Most users said they want to move off the older SPARC servers for cost reasons. They remain loyal to Solaris but not the underlying processor and want reassurance that Oracle will support Solaris on either regular x86, Nehalem-EX or other platforms.

Gartner's Sun clients said they liked being able to run up to 64 domains and local domains (LDOMs) on UltraSPARC T2 systems with Solaris for free. But now Oracle will charge for Solaris, and licenses will be per core instead of partitions, which is typical Oracle license policy. As Weiss noted, there are persistent rumors that UltraSparc will be killed off.

The report also conveyed customer concern that Oracle isn't doing much to create incentives and retain independent software vendors (ISVs) for x86 Solaris, and that Oracle has withdrawn support for OEM hardware. Sun was not the only vendor selling hardware with Solaris, HP and Fujitsu were also partners, and Solaris runs on IBM x86 servers. Without OEM support from Oracle, those vendors will drop their Solaris support.

Then there's maintenance contracts, one of the more lucrative aspects of the OEM market. Clients have asked for long-term contracts, up to five years, but Oracle has not provided that, and these customers are wondering what their options are.

Weiss concludes that Oracle must support Solaris on Sun hardware and other OEM platforms; must clearly differentiate its preferred OS, Solaris or Unbreakable Linux; support the UltraSparc CMT systems and differentiate between UltraSparc and x86 and reconsider its plans to skip the commodity server market.

"Until Oracle reassures users of its ability to drive technology leadership, together with a strong compelling vision and ability to execute on the hardware road map, Gartner believes clients will continue to migrate away," he concluded.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: Oracle, server, Sun, hardware, UltraSPARC

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