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A growing number of Oracle users are not happy with what they’re getting.

Why? The products cost too much. The products are suddenly springing security leaks. DBAs now have a god-awful amount of patches to install, and nobody told them they were coming or what they meant. Technical support has been outsourced and automated, meaning you can’t talk to a human being unless you pay ample money for the privilege.

Those are just some of the details behind Oracle Corp.’s sagging customer reputation, which is now at a 12-year low, according to a report put out earlier this month by Techtel Corp.

Techtel measured the database giant against competitors such as Microsoft Corp. and IBM by surveying about 650 U.S. businesspeople with buying influence or purchase authority for IT and communications products and services.

According to Mike Kelly, author of the report and CEO of the Emeryville, Calif., market analysis firm, those surveyed were asked to rate Oracle on product features and functions, service and support, standards and compatibility, vendor reliability and accountability, and pricing and licensing. Oracle came out “significantly lower” on all five ratings when compared with IBM, Kelly said.

The report offered tantalizing facts but no specifics behind the numbers. For example, the report found that one in four potential Oracle customers has a negative opinion of Oracle. That compares with about one in 10 potential IBM customers who has a negative opinion.

The report also found that fewer than half of IT professionals surveyed trust Oracle, compared with 80 percent who trust IBM. A large portion of those distrusting professionals work for organizations that employ more than 5,000 employees, making the lack of trust a serious threat to Oracle’s future revenue, the report postulated.

Click here to read about Oracle’s most recent earnings report.

The researchers didn’t ask why customers are losing trust and respect for Oracle, but users contacted for this story were happy to supply specifics.

Mike Wessler, a contractor for Indianapolis-based Perpetual Technologies Inc., said there are two basic veins of enterprise unhappiness with Oracle: managerial and technical. “The people who have to pay the Oracle licenses, which have never been cheap,” are unhappy with Oracle because of high costs, he said.

On the technical side, unhappiness is growing because of two convergent causes, Wessler said: new products with features that don’t always work as promised, and the outsourcing of support.

“[Oracle has] a lot of new products out, with a lot of new features that don’t always work as promised,” he said. “Then, when you’re forced to use them, you have to go through Oracle support services. The change has been [coming about] over the past couple of years, with a lot of outsourcing to India. In many cases, it’s difficult to communicate effectively and to close trouble tickets effectively, and that’s a frustration many people have suffered, both with the database and on the Applications Server.”

But Noel Yuhanna, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., said Forrester hasn’t come across any major complaints regarding Oracle’s customer support —at least not from those who can afford to pay for higher levels. “Oracle does have depth in support, and there are multiple levels,” he said. “If you’re a [small to midsized business], you might not be getting the best support.”

And not all users are unhappy with support, by any means. Rich Niemiec, CEO and principal of TUSC (The Ultimate Software Consultants) and past president of the International Oracle Users Group, said support, via MetaLink, is better than ever.

“Most people who talk to me do self-support, because all the information repository is there online,” said Niemiec, in Chicago. “Since MetaLink went up, we have never had a support question. We don’t have one that’s not answered there.”

Yuhanna said pricing and licensing are primary—and somewhat traditional—concerns for the Oracle users he deals with. “That’s the No. 1 concern we’ve seen over the past two to three years,” he said.

Next Page: Users say Oracle didn’t tell them about its new patch set.

But security is a newcomer to the list of Oracle customers’ concerns, Yuhanna said, and one that Oracle users aren’t necessarily used to dealing with. Oracle rolled out its first monthly patch set at the end of August. According to Craig Read, IT director at Toronto-based MTrilogix Inc. and president of the Toronto Oracle Users Group, many users were disgruntled at the lack of communication from Oracle on the patch set.

Click here to read about the Oracle patch work that confronted DBAs recently.

“Our user community was never informed,” he said. “We canvassed members, and 90 percent said ‘No, we weren’t informed.’ We had to inform them that Oracle was doing [a patch set] and we had to tell them why it was a good thing.”

Where Read sees Oracle as losing ground to IBM in terms of customer loyalty is in the fact that it’s positioning itself as a horizontal platform, as opposed to IBM’s dogged pursuit of vertical business processes.

“A lot of people want to do things specific to their business processes,” he said. “It’s not cheap to do that with Oracle. The market’s really fragmenting, as well, and [businesses] want something that fits their business and maps onto it.”

But this all may add up to a puddle of unhappiness, rather than the ocean that Techtel believes is threatening to drown Oracle sales. “Over 50 percent of people in the IOUG run other databases in addition to Oracle,” Niemiec said.

“In over 30 percent [of IOUG members surveyed about one and a half years ago] where Oracle isn’t the primary database, over 95 percent said Oracle had superior technology. … Oracle’s literally at the top of their game from a technology perspective.”

Oracle is teaching its sales forces to play nice. Click here to read more.

Users agree that, no matter how unhappy they may be at the core, Oracle’s technology is solid. “I see no reason or desire to move to [IBM’s] DB2,” Wessler said. “There’s simply too much invested in Oracle. A lot of projects are written for Oracle; your developers are trained in Oracle; your infrastructure and administrators are geared for Oracle.”

Oracle users’ growing unhappiness won’t force large migrations from Oracle, users said, but it is already forcing small shifts onto, for example, open-source databases like that of MySQL AB.

“What I see happening is small projects, those that exist in maybe an Access database that needs expanding, instead of moving to Oracle, you might move to MySQL or another freeware database like that,” Wessler said.

Forrester’s Yuhanna concurred. “That’s a trend going on with smaller databases,” he said. “The fact is that just like Sybase [Inc.] announcing their free database on Linux for the SMB [small and midsize business] market, [the market for] open-source databases is heating up, with the penetration of open source in the entry level, which is the SMB market. It’s obviously impacting all database vendors.”

But what matters is that loss of trust hurts companies in the long run, Techtel’s Kelly said. “What we’ve seen in the past, the kinds of things that make opinion go down are companies that lose touch with listening to the market,” he said. “They become what’s characterized as arrogant. They’re right, we’re wrong. After a while, you have a lot of customers who don’t agree with what you’re doing and how you’re treating them.”

And in Oracle’s case, this loss won’t be papered over by, for example, the potential acquisition of PeopleSoft Inc., Kelly said. “If people don’t like Oracle, what happens to the problem of not wanting to buy from Oracle [after the company has purchased PeopleSoft]?” he said. “It’s a deep problem that even acquisitions won’t overcome.”

Oracle declined to comment for this article.

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