Oracle DB under threat?

Oracle DB under threat?

Summary: Oracle's database is under the spotlight in SAP shops. This is what I am learning about the current state of play.

TOPICS: Oracle

I'm in Sydney Australia attending Mastering SAP. Why? It is always good to get another perspective on the world. Short of New Zealand and Antarctica you can't get much farther away from Palo Alto and Walldorf.

During the initial SAP InsideTrack session the crowd decided (among other things) that it wanted to discuss database strategies. Local government was heavily represented and they take a risk averse view of their IT landscape.

Almost from the get go there was much discussion about formulating strategies going forward that embrace a possible move to SAP HANA. RIght now, many SAP shops use HP/Oracle as their preferred platform upon which to deploy SAP but there are other combinations including Microsoft/SQL Server and IBM/DB2.

It is an open secret that SAP would like nothing more than to see those Oracle shops transition to HANA but that is not what motivates those I met. The common thread in the various conversations can best be summed up in two words: fear, TCO.

Customers believe that over time, Oracle will continue to increase costs at a time when they think their interests are better served by reducing or maintaining the cost line. However, a switch to another database is far from trivial. Much as they might wish to switch, there are genuine technical concerns over the ability of alternatives to match the capabilities they already get or worse still, they worry that their current systems become unstable.

Regardless of the final decision, all were talking about having a homogenous environment. That is counter intuitive to me because it inevitably leads to risks attached to single vendor lock on. Recognising that, those I spoke with said they would prefer to deal with a vendor which is perceived to play fair. That excludes Oracle which is a master at account control and price increases. Does that mean SAP becomes the de facto alternative?

No. In one reported survey, the overwhelming choice was SQL Server. That will surprise some people but in discussions last week at Microsoft Convergence, I sensed that customers are comfortable making direct comparisons between Oracle DB and MS SQL. Surprising to me, IBM DB2 comes way down the list despite the fact IBM is one of SAP's largest SI partners.

When it came around to a discussion on HANA, there was much debate about whether customers will put their OLTP systems on this as yet to be available database. The question in my mind is whether there is any real advantage in moving to HANA which today, can provide huge speed improvements in analytic style scenarios. The answer is a heavily qualified 'maybe.'

HANA's columnar store thrives on complex aggregation queries but is slow when trying to replicate what amount to row store calculations where an Oracle performs very well. SAP says it has the Business Suite running on HANA but it is only in dev/test environments. The company will spend the next year or so figuring out which of the 1,000 plus SAP database tables can benefit from HANA and which cannot. Eventually - and I am thinking in the 2017 timeframe, customers can expect to see an optimised version of the BusinessSuite running on HANA. At that stage, we will know whether HANA really is the database of the future for SAP shops or whether customers will be stuck in mixed environments. The good news is that customers have plenty of time in which to work out a long term OS/DB/hardware strategy.

In the meantime, no one should expect Oracle to stand idly by. It recently announced what amounts to a replacement for its ageing analytics engine and it is clear that Oracle wants its customers on a combination of hardware and software. That will be enforced through making key capabilities needed by enterprise only available on a combination of Oracle kit. Even so, customers should be aware that this amounts to Oracle shoehorning the database onto ageing Sun boxes.

Those customers who have informed Oracle they are looking at alternatives are the focus of much sweet talking. The worry as one person said: "I don't know how they do it but whenever we talk about reduced cost they somehow come up with something that gets us to pay more."

The Australian experience is not an outlier. More broadly, I see this type of discussion occurring around the world. It is a topic that could have significant long term impact for everyone.

CIO Advisory

  • There is no rush to do anything. Keep calm and do not be wooed into making an early choice that you later regret.
  • Use this opportunity as a way of redefining long term database/hardware strategy. The inevitable death of Itanium should serve as a spur to rethink.
  • Long term DB strategies need to embrace your perception of analytics requirements and the impact of non transactional data on workloads. It will not be possible to size with precision so allow for plenty of headroom.
  • Ensure you understand different vendor cost models and how those change as your requirements increase.
  • Start considering what types of scenario will be best suited for high speed databases like HANA. Watch for emerging business solutions you may need to consider adding into your applications landscape and how they impact your database strategy.
  • Make sure that you understand where SAP will make significant enhancements over the coming year but expect to see the core remain stable apart from bug fix and tweaks. Size those loads and negotiate hard for commodity pricing.
  • Regardless of vendor, be aware of the long term risks of single vendor lock in. They are real.

UPDATE: I received this response from one insider among the companies represented: "Regarding DB2, a great deal of activity Is occurring where Oracle is displaced in large strategic outsourcing engagements and IBM GBS/GTS is brought in to do an entire transformation of an enterprise using SAP particularly if mainframes are involved. A survey is very unlikely to represent these environments  due to the very closed nature of these deals ($100m-$1B)."

    Topic: Oracle

    Dennis Howlett

    About Dennis Howlett

    Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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    • Oracle has always had predatory pricing.

      Oracle's pricing and total cost of operations have always been significantly higher than the competition when you compare licensing cost, training, maintenance and all other costs. Shocking as it may be in a company running mostly non-microsoft stuff, we recently completed the long move to MS-SQL server, it's been up for about six months now. Our DB guys are pretty happy with the performance and features, and our finance folks are very happy with the cost.
      • About my experience

        Having worked as a developer on many SQL Server and Oracle systems I am generally happier with the SQL Server driven ones.

        It's not that Oracle can't theoretically be more powerful. It's just that SQL server is easier to maintain which frees up more time for the DBAs to optimize and chase issues.
    • MS SQL vs. DB2

      Larry Ellison is right about HANA. It is no where near the stage where it can replace traditional RDBMS. When SAP has a single customer which runs HANA as their SAP DB, we can talk about it. It may happen, but they are years away from replacing Oracle 11g.

      Unless this was a small business crowd, I cannot believe that MS SQL was preferred over DB2 and Oracle. DB2 and Oracle are open platform, MS SQL is closed platform on MS Server. What enterprise customer would put SAP on MS Server? MS SQL has no control over cache and block sizes. MS SQL has little indexing capability. It has no PureScale or RAC comparable technology. You can go on....
      • Not small

        I don't disagree with the fact HANA is nowhere near but that's today. SAP have a very large developer group working on this stuff and have been pretty candid about what will and what will not work as of today. That's not to say stuff that doesn't work today won't work in the future. The point here is that it is creating opportunity for SAP to open up that debate within a large customer base that won't all move tomorrow anyway.

        These were mainly largish government organisations - Oracle won't have trouble figuring out which ones. More to the point, it is a story I have heard repeated elsewhere the last few weeks and expect to hear repeated once we get to SAPPHIRE.
        • Any reasons for picking SQL server over DB2?

          I'd be curious if anyone spoke as to why they'd go to SQL server over db2
        • Why pick SQL server over DB2

          Skill set availability. You can get a solid team of SQL server DBAs without spending a lot of time recruiting.
      • The only Oracle platform that is truly open

        is MySQL. Unless Oracle open sourced 11g over the weekend and I haven't caught up with it yet.

        And anyone pontificating about SQL's lack of indexing has clearly never been within fifty yards of a SQL Server.
        • Open != open source

          Don't confuse open source with open systems. What he meant is that both Oracle and DB2 are available on multiple platforms (including what is frequently referred to as open systems, i.e., UNIX), hence why people will some times call them "open platforms" or "open databases". MS SQL, on the other hand, is ONLY available on Windows. Although it is NOT a closed system, people tend to call it that.
          The term "open platforms" is a leftover from the birth of UNIX during the reign of mainframes. Anything NOT mainframe was (and still is) called an open system, although closed systems today are not as common so younger people tend to label "open" and "closed" freely. Just like you, you thought that "open" meant "open source".
      • RE: MS SQL vs. DB2

        "I cannot believe that MS SQL was preferred over DB2 and Oracle. DB2 and Oracle are open platform, MS SQL is closed platform on MS Server. What enterprise customer would put SAP on MS Server? MS SQL has no control over cache and block sizes."

        No doubt Oracle and DB2 both hold a performance edge over SQL Server. And you are right that you are limited to running SQL Server on Windows Server. However, the gap between Oracle or DB2 and SQL Server performance wise has been closing since SQL Server 2005. The indexing capabilities that SQL Server has are adequate given prudent database design. SQL Server does allow control over block size and caching. I admit I don't know how much control you have or whether it's adequate enough. I've seen SQL Server implementations in applications that are pretty large in scale (about a terabyte), and as with all applications of this size, performance was always a consideration during design but it wasn't untenable. If the organization is already using Windows Server and SQL Server throughout their organization, I can see why they would prefer to use it with SAP if they have a choice.
        • Up to 20 gigs

          I have no experience with really large databases but for ones of up to 20 gigs MS SQL is much easier. Backup/restore is faster. Installation is simpler. Developers can do all database stuff they need for development purposes.
          With DB2 and Oracle not so much. Maybe they are great with huge databases but if you use one or the other you will have to have a dedicated database admin in your team.
        • SQL Server performs and is manageable

          I run a 1.5TB database which is heavily loaded and MSSQL server flies.. We are currently testing SQL 2012 and will be moving to it.. before you make comments about Oracle VS MSSQL read some impartial stats and you'll quickly see that MSSQL is matching or outperforming Oracle in several areas and from a TCO point of view.. there's no competition. From a management point of view I'm a single DBA and I manage 12 MSSQL server systems of various complexity and load, most are mission critical. We have a single Oracle Data Warehouse which costs more to administer than ALL the MSSQL servers put together so we're moving that to MSSQL Server. And MSSQL Server 2012 has columnar indexes in data warehouse environments and the performance is amazing.. Row and Page level compression is nice as well.. And the administration tools for Oracle are a joke. I can't comment on DB2 as I have no experience but organisations are slowly waking up to MSSQL's benifits.. Historically there was always a premium, paid and a shortage of, Oracle DBA's.. in the current job market I can get significantly more as a senior MSSQL DBA than as an Oracle DBA and there is a real shortage of experienced MSSQL DBA's 'out there'.. the future will be interesting..
        • hey

          "No doubt Oracle and DB2 both hold a performance edge over SQL Server"
          Have you used SQL Server?

          It would be too hard for me to say that SQL Server has a performance advantage over Oracle and DB2. I have used Oracle, behaves ok, and never used DB2. However, the current top 10 positions of the tpc-e benchmark, (the most up to date benchmark) is all SQL Server. Having worked with 2.2 billion rows in 1 table on SQL Server I have no problems with recommending it to anyone. SQL Server is extremely fast.
        • TCP-E

          Yes, I use SQL Server every day (alongside Oracle). I actually prefer it from a development standpoint. If you click on the all results link on the TCP-E, you'll see that SQL Server is the only that submitted any performance benchmarks (a shame really), so that would explain why they have the top 10. I you read my post, as no doubt you did, you'll see that I have seen SQL Server perform admirably in large scale implementations. However, based on the features in Oracle's optimizer and indexing options Oracle will continue to have a performance edge. I prefer SSMS over SQL Developer. I prefer MS-SQL over Oracle SQL. SQL Server is cheaper than Oracle, but I don't really pay the bills so I don't care. In the end I'll work with whatever datasource my company is using to get the job done.
        • @ bmonsterman

          @bmonsterman Don't be so naive. Oracle keeps submitting results for other tpc benchmarks but not for the one that matters. Wonder why! Same for DB2 and others.
        • @panoslondon1

          "Don't be so naive. Oracle keeps submitting results for other tpc benchmarks but not for the one that matters. Wonder why! Same for DB2 and others. "

          Call it naivity if you please. I'm not sure that TCP-E is the only one that matters. Nevertheless the comparison is incomplete without submissions from Oracle and DB2. I prefer to stay out of religious DB dialog. My statement that SQL Server performs well with large applications stands. I'm not going to disparage other vendors to make my point.
        • I doubt it !!!!

          How can u pretend Oracle or DB2 are faster than MSSQL ???

          Do you have any serious studies who prove that on the same hardware for the same test Oracle is better ???

          Usually to have an efficient Database you need a good specialized DBA, Are you a DBA in those 3 databases ? If not how can you really compare them.

          If you look on some of those benchmarks
          MSQL seems to match and even be faster than DB2 and Oracle on the same price hardware
    • What about SYBASE ASE?

      Hi Dennis

      In my recent experience SAP is suggesting to move to ASE or IQ from Sybase if you don't want HANA. In my company ee are in the worst situation HP Itanium / Oracle 10g so we need to move on and upgrade. Is a big issue when we have a 5 year agreement with HP.

      Oracle has been rough with the Itanium issue and SAP is taking a position of giving alternatives but not a guidance for big customers.

      For your info our DBs of SAP ERP are more than 4 TB and not in Unicode, so imagine the probelm to move to another DB. But we need to consider options.

      For your info if you want to move to ASE DB you need to convert the DB to unicode.
      • Sybase ASE

        Sybase ASE in my experience is really slow when compared to SQL Server and also very expensive, as expensive are oracle.
        • Sybase ASE

          Really? - Sybase ASE _can_ outperform MSSQL in any OLTP test you would like to consider - It all depends on configuration. MSSQL is limited to Windows Servers - Sybase will run on a number of platforms - notable Linux x86_64 servers.
        • @kyleamadio

          What tests have you actually performed then? Cause I have recently made a migration from Sybase to SQL Server and have exactly the opposite evidence. Sybase dodgy query plans, stored proc recomplilation that never happens, statistics that don't update, list is endless. Software is broken, never mind the hardware and configuration.